Grand Theft Autolux

Benjamin Bratton likes to play Grand Theft Auto. He prefers, however, to watch someone else play it. “It’s the first video game that you can watch as a movie,” said the SCI-Arc professor, drinking coffee “backstage” at Materials & Applications, an experimental architecture and landscape center in Silver Lake. “It should have won Best Picture the year it came out, as far as I’m concerned.”Bratton, thoroughly looking the part of the hipster nerd with his military punk haircut and gray vintage suit, was preparing to give a talk about the convergence of cinema and architecture in the video-game arena — the kickoff event of M&A’s Show & Tell series, which runs into November. Unlike a typical lecture, his would be accompanied by a live Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas demonstration, courtesy of Eugene Goreshter, the singer and bass player of Autolux, and a gaming whiz himself. Goreshter admitted that he hasn’t had much time for video games lately, as his band is about to go on tour with Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. The musician also revealed that he didn’t really need the glasses he was wearing, “but I thought it would be appropriate to cultivate an illusion of academic superiority.” As local artists, architects, game freaks and students entered the courtyard of M&A (which has seen a lot of visitors this summer thanks to the hugely popular “Maximilian’s Schell” installation, casually known as “the golden vortex”), each was given a tiny radio on which the lecture would be broadcast. “It’s not to be cool,” insisted M&A’s director Jenna Didier. “It creates an ambient, distributed sound so people can choose their own volume.” More importantly, it doesn’t disturb the residential neighbors.“I want to welcome the new SCI-Arc students who are here,” said Bratton, as GTA: San Andreas was projected on the courtyard wall. “We’ll be talking about what you guys might be doing in a few years when you realize that no one’s gonna pay you to design buildings for them.” He told the laypeople in the crowd that Maya, which was created as character-animation software for film, is now commonly used by architects in the design of virtual digital spaces. “Video games are virtual digital spaces — why not design them?” he challenged, asserting that “games are starting to swallow or contain other logics of design or storytelling.”According to Bratton, who is also the executive producer of experience design for the motion-graphics company Imaginary Forces, Grand Theft Auto is a hybrid of three types of game: the first-person shooter, the “drive-around-the-city-and-run-over-shit” and the simulated-city planner. All versions of GTA are based around organized crime, and GTA: San Andreas is set in the gang-banging ’90s. The game’s three locales, San Fiero, Las Venturas, and Los Santos, are instantly recognizable as parallels of San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles — albeit an L.A. “that puts Mulholland downtown and LAX near Malibu.”Bratton deconstructed GTA: San Andreas “as a densely articulated urban condition... [that] figures the city as an unfolding body of smooth surfaces and multiple anti-social agendas competing for the right of way.” At that moment the main character, Carl, a shirtless maniac wearing white boxers with red hearts, a Kaiser hat and a Groucho Marx nose (chosen by Goreshter for their sheer ridiculousness), hacked another victim bloody with a chain saw. It’s worth noting that one can choose to play the game as a pacifist, whiling away the hours listening to gangsta rap or grunge on the radio and checking out Los Santos sights like the “Vinewood” sign or going shopping on “Rodeo.” “The city configures itself around the user’s point of view,” said Bratton, “oozing from the center of a seemingly infinite vanishing-point horizon.”Some people were left scratching their heads.As the stragglers in the audience sat on hay bales drinking Tecate, Goreshter packed up the PlayStation 2. His expertise had unlocked places undiscovered by the novice — like the champagne room of a strip club, or vast desert plateaus where Eugene/Carl could escape his rivals by parachute. Unfortunately, such skills don’t translate to the “real” world. Asked which terrain was more perilous – San Andreas or the music industry — Goreshter said it was a toss-up. “It depends how skewed your view of reality is, and if you know what you’re escaping from.”


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