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Gaming Memories No. 1: GTA: Vice City/Eighteen means eighteen

Eighteen means Eighteen

I was ten years old when I first heard about Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Sat cross-legged on the floor at my primary school, my friend with more liberal and relaxed parents than myself leaned over and whispered “Have you played Grand Theft Auto yet?” Up until this point our gaming conversations revolved around PG friendly games like Tarzan or Crash Bandicoot, so this was the schoolchildren equivalent of someone offering you drugs at a strictly alcohol only party.

He described every detail with such gusto that I was left feeling a mixture of jealousy and excitement. I returned home that afternoon and asked my mother if she would buy me a copy, but bearing in mind I was eight years off the eighteen certificate, the answer was of course a resounding “No”. She refused, fully aware of the games violent content, glamorisation of crime and to top it all off, the presence of virtual strip clubs.

I was gutted. All I wanted to do was play the game. I didn’t care about hanging out with computer generated naked women – I was ten. But no matter how much I pleaded, all I was left with were three soul crushing words: “Eighteen means eighteen”. Later though, in 2005 on a family holiday in California, the stalemate between Vice City and my mother would finally come to an awkward conclusion.

Our first week of the holiday saw no issues. We were in San Francisco, ticking off entries on our tourist attractions list; Alcatraz Island, famous for being used in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and once being a prison or something; Knob Hill, which is hilarious when you’re a thirteen year old boy (and still mildly amusing when you’re a twenty-seven year old man) and Pier 39 where we all chowed down on some fresh clam chowder. Everything was going smoothly.

In week two San Diego was the plan, so we headed to San Francisco Airport. On our flight, we were upgraded to business class seemingly out of the blue. As we were called to board my parents looked around confused as if they had accidentally drawn a winning ticket in a lottery. “No, this can’t be right we’re booked into economy” my mother said to the flight attendant, being very honest and very British and therefore unable to accept anything that seemed too good to be true.

“Yes ma’am, but you’ve all been upgraded. Please, this way”

As we entered business class and found our oversized seats it felt as if we’d entered another world, something which only the upper echelons of society should ever behold. “Look at the legroom!” My father shouted wildly, being six foot two and spending the last twenty years having his knees crippled by economy seating “and free drinks!”

In San Diego we decided to get the bus into Mexico as we were so close it would be a shame not to visit. We all got on board and began heading south, unaware of what lay ahead. At the border our emotions ran high due to the many irrational thoughts that come with any travel situations involving a passport, like “I really hope I don’t have a kilo of heroin hidden away in my anal passage” or “If someone has put a knife in my bag I’m going to be fuming!” But we made it through. We were in Mexico, or some version of Mexico that definitely wasn’t a true representation of Central American culture.

Our first stop was the long and linear main street which extended out like a tongue from the mouth of the border. Its sides were lined with endless discount pharmacies, one dollar fajita restaurants and the occasional strip club. This clearly wasn’t the local Mexican culture a family from small-town England was expecting. We quickly realised this was a wasted trip and after having some questionable ‘chicken’ fajitas we started to head back to the bus. On the way back, walking past one of the seedy strip clubs, a promoter called out to me “You wanna’ come inside for some hot girls?”

My family turned around, stunned. “He’s only thirteen!” My mother yelled.

“Thirteen, eighteen, what’s the difference?” The promoter replied.

“See Mum! I told you!” I said quickly realising I should have asked this promoter to buy me Vice City three years ago instead of my mother.

The next day we found safety in our tourist attraction list and visited the much more child-friendly San Diego Zoo. There would be no chance of somebody buying me an eighteen certificate game here, but there was admittedly some of the rarest, most majestic extant species from the Animal Kingdom. I probably ate a churro as well.

Thirteen year old me and my older brother at San Diego Zoo (We still have that novelty cup to this day)

GTA: Vice City

Even though Vice City never entered our home formerly it somehow ended up in my Xbox’s disc drive, much to my parent’s disappointment. My brother is three years older than me and by this point was the same height as my father (I still had a few more years to go before breaking the six foot barrier). I suppose he could have bought a copy underage by borrowing one of our father’s suits and drawing on a pencil moustache. Or perhaps my friend lent me a copy. I don’t fully remember.

What I do remember though is being in awe playing my first ever GTA game and actually my first ever sandbox game. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, which as a ten year old with a strict bedtime was extremely liberating. Most of the time though I just drove around the city trying to do stunts of any ramp I could find (which is actually quite sweet considering I had a selection of high powered weapons at my disposable). There was also the option to play any CDs uploaded to your Xbox through the in-game car radio. As my brother, who was learning guitar at the time, was obsessed with Jack White all of my car chases were accompanied by the blues rock of The White Stripes early albums which I still listen to today. 

I’ll always laugh at the fact that my friends and I had no understanding of how to play the game. We thought the aim was to get rich in any way imaginable. This resulted in us beating up hundreds of people in the street who occasionally dropped a few dollars. If we were lucky, we would pounce on somebody rich and they would drop one hundred dollars. Just imagine how long that would take to earn a respectable income in the game (for any ten year olds reading this, there is no way to complete GTA Vice City by continually beating up pedestrians and also CDs are like a tiny physical Spotify that contain around ten tracks each).

The highlight though was the cheats. Flying cars made every chase even more enjoyable knowing that a stunt jump could be turned into a graceful glide and instant get away, unlimited health allowed me to jump off tall buildings (followed by a comedic “Ahhhh”) and the best of all; spawning in the Rhino tank. The tanks speed could be drastically boosted by rotating the main turret backwards and firing explosive shells into the distance, much to the shock of any drivers stuck in commuter traffic behind you. Entering a street race in a tank proved a dangerous feat as you had to multitask driving and firing the turret backwards in order to maintain top speed leading to some frantic fun.

It made the experience even more special as the cheats were contained within a paperback Vice City guide which I got free from an Xbox magazine.

The internet is great, but I do miss some of the magic found within early gaming.

GTA Vice City Rhino Tank Twin Sticks Gaming Memories No. 1
The Rhino Tank in Vice City (Screenshot: Rockstar)

If you enjoyed reminiscing about Vice City, and you’re a fan of Rockstar check out my Red Dead Redemption 2 review here


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