UPDATE, 12/4/14: This story appears to have been based on a hoax that was intended to trick us into publishing a false article. An indie developer said as much online last night and in a subsequent e-mail to me, saying that he and a friend decided to play a "harmless" prank to see which of the e-mails they sent to Kotaku in the spring of 2013 would result in a story.
I should have known something was up when the person who contacted me with their driving anecdotes declined to share a photo of their driver's license. They said it was out of fear of a racist reaction if the photo was made public. That should have been a red flag. Instead, in my interest in highlighting a positive gamer experience involving an oft-criticized game, I didn't vet this person's story with the rigor I do with anonymous sources for more weighty stories. I messed up.
How frustrating! A win for hoaxers. My apologies to our readers.
The original story follows...
Several days ago, a woman named Lucia e-mailed me to tell me the positive impact Grand Theft Auto IV had on her life. The game helped make her “a strong, independent black woman,” she told me. Hers was not the kind of e-mail you get every day, certainly not about a game like Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto.
Lucia credits GTA IV with teaching her to drive. This is no small thing. She told me that it helped her in ways her father and her friends could not. She'd been a 22-year-old in Miami who couldn’t get where she needed to go without begging a friend for a ride. The game had helped turn her into someone who could steer down her own path. She was serious about this.
We often hear about the bad influence a GTA game may have on someone. Lucia was flipping that on its head.
Lucia reached out to me because she had read a preview I’d written about Rockstar's next game, GTA V. I think Rockstar’s pledge to improve its series’ driving physics in the Los Angeles/Los Santos-based sequel, caught her eye.
“I feel like Rockstar gets undo criticism for the vehicle physics and the ‘traffic jamminess’ of the world of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV,” she wrote to me. She had liked that in the 2008 game. “I appreciated a vehicle with a bit of heft and weight to it, as it prepped me to be aware of my surroundings and treat the car as an extension of myself.”
She recalled her in-gaming driving and the good habits it ingrained in her: “Waiting for a traffic light to turn green, pulling to a stop at intersections even when there was no light in Alderny, staying to the left and slowing for toll booths... It gives you a deeper appreciation for what Rockstar pulled off in creating a living, breathing world with traffic restrictions most players may choose to ignore.”
Lucia correctly anticipated my skepticism that this really helped her in real life. Driving in a video game is nice and all, but it can teach you to drive for real?
I, for one, remember needing to drive an actual car with a drivers’ ed guy sitting next to me, constantly whispering “slow, please, sloooooow.” That was a while ago. I can’t believe I remember that, but I guess learning to drive really is a big deal when it happens, when you can finally make it official.
“Let's slow down for a minute and go back to the beginning,” Lucia wrote. “Yes, I read the test-primer manuals online. I filled in the bubbles and got my learner's permit. But I couldn't be in a vehicle at all hours. There wasn't always a course available, and I couldn't always convince a friend or family member to give me lessons.
“This is where Grand Theft Auto IV—yes, a video game—filled in the gaps. Virtual practice for real world driving, and I feel it really helped me get up my confidence.”
Lucia told me that she started learning to drive when she was 22.
“I felt driver's ed was a waste of time,” she wrote. “Instead , I took a computer programming class, thinking my father would teach me. Unfortunately my father—an otherwise patient man—turned out to be very demanding and reckless when teaching me how to drive (he took me on the highway my first time out!), and made the experience so nerve-wracking I stopped trying with him. Instead, my boyfriend gave me lessons at the parking lot of Miami Dade community college.”
OK, so we have to give Lucia’s boyfriend some of the credit.
But GTA gets its due, too: “GTA really liberated me by giving me an environment where I was free to screw up while I went over the rules in my driver's manual.”
At the age of 23 she got her license. “I felt at ease during the road test... thanks to my bf, and, of course, the more than reckless baddies of GTA IV.”
Lucia drives a ’97 Honda Accord these days. “I had it repainted dark green like Cal Poly, where I hope I end up,” she told me. “Maybe not Los Santos, but close to it!”
I loved Lucia's story. It reminded me how empowering it is when we transition from being kids to adults, when something like not being able to drive to having a license gives us the kind of sudden, definite life upgrade many of us gamers love to experience virtually in the things we play. Getting a license is a huge deal. It opens a world to us. I think Lucia agrees.
“Thanks to Grand Theft Auto IV,” she wrote, with a fan’s enthusiasm, “I am now a strong, independent black woman.”