Grand Theft Auto V: The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain
Among the various perplexing side-missions and mini-games to be found in this month’s blockbuster videogame Grand Theft Auto V there is an extremely cheeky ten-minute animated short called The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain – and, like everything in the hyperreality of GTA, it is a twisted mishmash of cinematic references. To give a better idea of the style of humour on offer in Grand Theft Auto V, look to the in-game television programming where you will find the adventures of a middle-aged superhero called “Impotent Rage.” Within the world of the game, there are three movies that can be accessed during optional man-date missions when one of the game’s protagonists can decide to take in a flick with a buddy between mowing down pedestrians and setting fire to police vehicles. The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain is the only film-within-the-video game to be stylishly designed in two-dimensional flash animation and, after watching it, I was astonished by the obvious amount of effort and artistry that went into something that is so far on the fringes of the actual game play that most gamers are likely to miss it entirely.
The company that makes the Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar Games, has been capitalizing on our collective obsession with Hollywood-style escapism for over a decade. The Grand Theft Auto games have reverentially spoofed every kind gangster movie from Scarface to The Departed and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is nothing short of a digitally rendered love letter to Western genre filmmakers like John Ford and Sergio Leone. In 2005 Rockstar released a video game adaptation of the 1979 cult movie The Warriors, a decision clearly geared towards adult-age film fans which went right over the head of the under-twenty demographic.
Rockstar Games’ The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain is a sincerely odd parody of Disney and Pixar-style cartoons as it mixes G-rated sentimentality with the kind of exaggerated violence and vulgarity you might expect from South Park and Family Guy. The cartoon, like many scenes in the game, seems expressly made to give gamers that unmistakable sensation of WTF. The cartoon begins with a teaser for the non-existent feature “Neurotic Toys,” an allusion to Pixar’s Toy Story films. Throughout the short there are also cinematic references to Pixar’s Wall-E as wells as King Kong and Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The flash animated short is about a lonely British robot that bemoans his unimaginably demeaning factory job, resents his middle class status and is perpetually emasculated by his foul-mouthed coworkers and his unfaithful “pleasure model” girlfriend. As is the case with all the satirical media in the background of the Grand Theft Auto world, shock value is paramount and there is absolutely no place for subtlety here. Nevertheless, there is a second level of humor above merely dropping the c-word into a children’s cartoon. The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain begins with the cryptic faux-dedication “For Mother” and, once we see our mechanized underdog go on a killing spree after reliving a traumatic memory about his mother, it appears as though the animator is using the cartoon to work through some very serious mommy issues. Regardless of its intentionally troubling content, the fact that the Grand Theft Auto V game developers created an animated short of this quality as an atmospheric flourish demonstrates a new level of cinematic craftsmanship in interactive gaming.