Dan Houser, the cofounder of Rockstar Games, is leaving the company. Rockstar, which was cofounded by Dan and his brother Sam in 1998, has been at the forefront of the game industry with the development of the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption games.
Never far from controversy, the studio challenged artistic norms by redefining video games and the potential they offered as works of art in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Offering players the ability to play psychopaths in games like GTA and Manhunt, Rockstar’s creations became the cause célèbre of Hillary Clinton and other pearl-clutching politicians eager to blame video games for school shootings.
Who would’ve thought games could be more than just electronic toys for children, but art? Dan Houser, that’s who – he’s even been portrayed in theatres by Dan Radcliffe in The Gamechangers. Reaping more profits than countless blockbuster movies combined, Houser’s impact on entertainment cannot be understated. The man revolutionised the game industry and is one of the reasons it is the juggernaut it is today.
Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption
Shipping hundreds of millions of copies, for a lot of people the GTA series is definitive of what games are. Games like The Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed owe their open world setting to Grand Theft Auto, much more than any other. Each iteration of the series has expanded horizons for video games, offering players the ability to traverse a fully realised, living metropolis based on real world cities like New York and Los Angeles. To date, the fictional city of San Andreas remains the most realised environment ever depicted in a video game – outside of Rockstar’s own wild west cities in Red Dead Redemption 2, that is.
Beyond its environments, the series brought to video games a level of storytelling previously only seen in gangster movies. If you wanted to play a video game version of Breaking Bad, GTA 5’s where it’s at. For fans of westerns, there’s Red Dead Redemption 2.
Always somewhat overlooked, Manhunt delivered a level of psychopathic violence in video games never before seen. It was even banned in several countries for its gruesome depiction of murder, now commonplace in horror games like Friday the 13th and Dead by Daylight.
Subject to a significant level of controversy in the UK media which falsely connected it to an actual murder (as if people didn’t kill each other before its release), Rockstar’s Manhunt took the stealth aspects of Metal Gear Solid, lending them an edge Hideo Kojima would never dare approach. The game’s release was so controversial that it even caused an almost-mutiny within Rockstar itself, whose employees were tired of dealing with hate. But Dan Houser pushed his way through, and video games are no longer singled out for violent content (even though they’ve only ever been about as violent as an Eli Roth movie). If movies can portray violence, why not video games?
While many video games have tackled film noir and detective fiction, none have done so quite as well as LA Noire. Set in the City of Angels following the Second World War, players assume the role of Detective Cole Phelps as he solves crimes across various desks in the LAPD. The whole thing plays out very much like a series of pulp fiction novels with an overarching narrative as Phelps solves crimes by making players use parts of their brain usually shut off when playing action games. With its innovative suspect interviewing system, players must figure out if they’re being told the truth or lied to (by reading facial expressions, body language and vocal clues), and respond accordingly. To date, there hasn’t been any other game like it – or told a story that comes anywhere close to a detective novel by Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy.
Rockstar Games, through the leadership of Dan Houser, has dared to tread where no other studio has –pushing boundaries in the most ambitious way possible and actually pulling it off. Video games wouldn’t be what they are today without his efforts.
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