Gamification gone Wrong

On June 10, 2005 GTA San Andreas was released in Europe for the good old and first iteration of Microsofts Xbox console. An “anniversary” I was reminded of by chance on Twitter and recalled an old, rather inglorious story. Grand Theft Auto was famously the name of the game in the mid-2000s, especially for pubescent village teenagers like me. As someone who played mostly Nintendo at first and later on Xbox, this effect was amplified because for years all you could do was watch the cool Playsie kids get served up one GTA after another and the open-world genre was practically like a gated community in its early days.

Finally, in early 2004, redemption was at hand. The so-called “GTA Double Pack” finally brought Part 3 and Vice City to the Xbox and abruptly ended my existence as a second-class gamer in a village of 2000 souls. From now on it was clear, anything goes here, the sky is the limit. Not only did I shred every piece of content out of both games, but I had already marked the Xbox release of San Andreas in all the pastel colors contained in Vice City on my desk calendar months before. A circumstance, for which I am less ashamed today than for the possession of a desk calendar as such. 

Problematic at the time, however, was not only the theoretical acquisition of the GTA games due to exclusive deals that are still annoying to this day, but also the practical one. Of course I wanted an uncut version, had pre-ordered it long in advance, but on the morning of June 10, 2005 I still couldn’t find a shipping confirmation in my mailbox. Patience was not my strong point at the time, so I decided to spontaneously get the USK16 version and resell it later on. The parental transport service to the nearest shopping center (20 kilometers away) was of course not available at such short notice and on command, and so I suddenly saw the long-awaited hypegame moving into the far distance on release day. 

Panic set in. What was more important at that age than to have a new game in my hands on release day? Absolutely NOTHING. Whoever didn’t send a furious and completely presumptuous complaint email to their trusted mail order company in such a case? Be honest to yourselves! I couldn’t afford to be embarrassed again, I already understood that much at the age of 17. So I put all my trust in my basic fitness, hopefully acquired by playing tennis regularly, and got on my bike to cover the 15 kilometers by myself and to get GTA San Andreas on time, using physical effort. 

It was clear to me from the start that the 15 kilometers included a mountain section of about one kilometer. That this short stretch on a hot summer day would feel something like Alpe d’Huez (notorious mountain stage of the Tour de France), I had not expected. Although I somehow managed to drag myself all the way to the top in one piece, once at the top I had to present my breakfast to the asphalt in no uncertain terms and in the finest manner of a ruminant. After a longer rehydration break and great joy about the banana in my luggage, I dragged myself with the second lung of a marathon runner finally to the shopping paradise, got the game and somehow rolled back home. GTA San Andreas was absolutely insane by the standards of the time, the exhausting trip was of course worth it, and I’ve since internalized Al Neuharth’s saying, “The difference between a mountain and a hill is in your perspective.” However, no one needs to come to me with any kind of gamification stuff to this day. 


GTA San Andreas is part 5 of the extremely successful Grand Theft Auto series and in 2004 was the most expansive open-world game to date, combining digital images of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas in one game and practically inviting players to travel around a fictional US state. It’s still firmly entrenched in meme culture today with “ah shit, here we go again.” George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” was part of the game soundtrack at the time and still causes me physical pain to this day that goes far beyond that of said bike ride.

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