Content warning for mostly simulated violence and alcohol use.
The other day, I woke up and hopped on my motorcycle to go to a nightclub called Tony’s Fun House. The Bosnian DJ Solomun was playing a flawless set, closing with a core-shattering remix of Leonard Cohen’s swan song “You Want it Darker”. I went to the bar, got a shot of whiskey and my sight went wobbly for a few seconds. I went to the loo, and when I tipped the freshen-up guy, I swear he gave me a secret cult greeting I had seen some decaying movie star do on daytime television. Then I went to the beach and got on a rollercoaster. No hangover, just fun. It was getting dark and rainy, but still did a few risky missions for my friend Gerald. He helped me so much when I moved to this city. First, I tried to steal a chopper at the airport, but the guards killed me. Twice. So, I gave up for now and did some teamwork with other strangers, stealing a caravan from some rednecks. Got paid for the missions, both failed and successful. Then I came back to my casino penthouse, got more money on the spinning wheel and bought some art for the master bedroom and entrance. Just a normal day in Los Santos. All fine and dandy, unless some teenage modders bomb you from their flying bikes and turn you into a tree.
Quarantine doesn’t exist in Grand Theft Auto Online. Illness in general doesn’t exist, unless it’s mental, and it only happens when you kill innocent people. Opposite gangs are fair game, specially the very nasty ones like Vagos or Marabunta Grande. The ones that treat innocent people badly and give your community a terrible name. When randos insult you, your shotgun gives them a comeback. If the cops come, just blow up their cars. The worst they can do is kill you. Before any witnesses have time to organise a march in your name, you just wake up on the side of the road, your vehicle impounded. Up to you if you pay the fee or respect yourself and nick it, flee to the hills and hide until they forget about you in a couple of minutes. You won’t get bored and radio isn’t shit. Cara Delevingne is the Non-Stop Pop host, and she only plays bangers. FlyLo and Frank Ocean have their own eclectic radio stations, and George from Twin Shadow hosts Mirror Park Radio if you’re in a 2010s hipster mood. Some time ago, you collected a bounty for Maude. The guy called you an inbred moron, so you shot his leg and took him to your car. You played Mexican music all the way across the desert.
This summer, I have been living vicariously through GTA Online. I got GTA V only because it was free on Epic Games a couple of months ago. Then, I installed it and started playing to avoid real life’s boredom and doom. It was a cinematic farcical world of sea, sun and beautiful people. Very soon, I quit the main story and got a lot more invested in the online multiplayer sandbox. The character customisation options, as well as the life and work possibilities seemed a lot of fun.
My character loves dancing at the club and listening to music. She is Latinx, hates racists and loves motorcycles. Her fave is Dinka Akuma, but she’s currently tilting towards the Shitzu Vader. She also really likes convertibles. There are a couple of dancers who’ve caught her eye at the Vanilla Unicorn, but she hasn’t had time to bring them home – as far as I know. Sometimes, I login and there is underwear I don’t recognise on the floor. She also eats a lot of takeaway burgers and pizza when I’m not around. She is still quite skinny. For some reason, character customisation won’t let you have fat characters, even if the NPCs come in all shapes and sizes. One of the best DJs in the world, The Blessed Madonna, is featured in the game in all her fat gender nonconforming badass riot grrrl glory. My character has seen her live a few times and is now wearing the t-shirt. She gets very happy when Madge plays “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson on her set.
My character is covered in tattoos, like Don Cheto’s son in “El Tatuado”. She wears baseball caps like it’s 2003, short shorts like it’s the 1970s, and high heel boots like she could run for her life without spraining an ankle. She also likes smartwatches, and perhaps influenced me to get a smartwatch myself. Mind you, a Samsung. None of that iFruit nonsense. She once met Danny Brown and he didn’t invite her to his penthouse party… yet. One of her bosses reckons he can let her in some day if she does something in return. But she’s kind of busy, sometimes being CEO of Nonconglommo, sometimes leading the Batcats motorcycle club. She can literally print your money, but she often must steal supplies from rivals and coppers before her staff can make products. She wishes she could be kinder to staff. Some of them cough now and then and it makes her paranoid. But as I’ve said before, in this world there is no quarantine and there is no gringo virus.
That’s why I like it. Escapism. Empowerment. Having a hot bath, fun haircuts, driving around listening to music, wearing cute clothes, swimming at the pool, playing darts, dancing, taking selfies, downing a few shots, watching crap television, having colourful art, shooting awful people, going on treasure hunts, joyriding at races and not finishing, doing team missions and doing quite well, basking in the sun, the rain, the very rare snow.
My husband says Los Santos looks a lot like Monterrey, my hometown in the north of Mexico. It kind of does: mountains, desert, tall buildings, convenience stores, massive billboards displaying nonsense, long motorways, twisted roads. The only thing Monterrey doesn’t have is the beach. We know Los Santos is inspired by Los Angeles, but the vibes are still there. After all, California (San Andreas?) used to be part of Mexico and it still kind of is. Look at the language. Maybe that’s why I like this game so much. It reminds me of when I still lived in Monterrey and I would spend hours driving around, listening to music, going to shows, buying cute clothes and snacks, discovering hideaways and shortcuts, having fun. None of the gunshots, of course. The very real gunshots against innocent people were some of the reasons I left. I guess this is a bit of a comeback with a virtual vengeance. Rebuilding the there and the here, experiencing the Hot Girl Summer that never was. Masks optional, mostly for privacy and aesthetics.