With most of the United States stuck at home, I’ve relied on Grand Theft Auto Online to virtually leave my home and do things I miss, like seeing a movie.
Over here in Kansas, for the last few weeks, most of us have been staying home if we can in isolation. This is the smart and responsible thing to do to help health care workers dealing with an influx of sick patients and it also will slow the spread of COVID-19. However, it still sucks and I still miss seeing movies, going out to grab something to eat and just living outside my home. So, I’ve been using GTA Online to escape reality and my current home lockdown.
It might seem weird. GTA Online for many is that big game where people fly around on jetpacks killing people and robbing casinos. But if you find a quiet server or start a private session with just friends, GTA Online can be a great real-world simulator.
For example, a few days ago I spent an hour in GTA Online driving down to a clothing store and buying some new threads. Then I headed to the casino and did some gambling and bet on some horses. Just a few months ago none of this would have been amazing or exciting, but today things are different. Today, the idea of going out to a big place, filled with people and buying some food or drinks sounds wild, even dangerous.
In GTA Online the world has never changed much, which does mean the timeline of the game is a bit wonky. However, this also means that the game is free from Coronavirus and all the terrible things that have followed in COVID-19's wake. All the stores in GTA Online are open and busy. The traffic still sucks. People still walk around. Even the theaters in the game are still open and you can still watch short in-game films for a small fee. You might have to dodge a random asshole in a tank, but such is life in GTA Online.
GTA isn’t a total escape from the reality of the world. The last time I logged on a man was talking to someone else about how he had been let go from his job. He was low on cash and wasn’t sure what was going to happen. In the background, I head a kid. Another time someone ran by me wearing a hazmat suit and screaming about the virus, shooting people he claimed were infected. And another time I heard someone playing, but their mic was occasionally picking up the news. It sounded like a report from CNN about, what else, the virus and the growing death toll.
It seems we the players are bringing the dark news and reality of COVID-19 into the world of GTA Online. But at least the folks in the virtual city of Los Santos don’t have to wear masks or deal with loved ones dying in hospitals alone.
They still have to deal with people running them over and blowing them up with car bombs, but they’re used to that. That’s normal for them.