Remediation in Grand Theft Auto

On: September 9, 2013
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About Wessel Schillemans


Remediation is definitely one of those well-known concepts that new media scholars can discuss about for hours. According to Bolter and Grusin, remediation is the representation of ‘old’ media in new media. Characteristics of television and radio, for instance, can be found in the World Wide Web as a medium. Thus, one could argue that remediation inevitably occurs in each new medium that is created. This isn’t any different for gaming as a (relatively) new medium. The presence of moving images on a screen is the most obvious example, but almost every single game contains its own unique characteristics that demonstrate remediation. One of the biggest game franchises that brings us several specific examples of remediation, has to be the acclaimed Grand Theft Auto series.

In Grand Theft Auto games (also known as GTA), players are free to drive around a city and play several missions, in which driving and shooting skills are combined. Some of the forms of remediation in GTA are to be interpreted quite literally. For years now, it is possible to listen to fictional radio stations while driving, combining both music and talk radio, which definitely serves as a parody on society in general. Grand Theft Auto IV, released in 2008, contained the possibility of watching fictional television programs, that pretty much serves the same goal as well. Also, instead of ‘only’ remediating the whole concept and technologic side of film as a medium, almost every single Grand Theft Auto remediates several films.

David Kleinfeld versus Ken Rosenberg

This more aesthetic form of remediation in GTA is probably most known for its references to television series Miami Vice (1984) and films Scarface (1983) and Carlito’s Way (1993) in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). The story takes place in (obviously) Vice City, which is based on the city of Miami, Florida, and tells the story of Tommy Vercetti; a gangster building up an enormous drug empire and becoming the most feared criminal in town. Taking place during the eighties, Tommy Vercetti is without any doubt based on Scarface’s Tony Montana. His lawyer, Ken Rosenberg, is modeled (both physically and mentally) after the character of David Kleinfeld, the protagonist’s lawyer in Carlito´s Way. Several Miami Vice actors have given their voices to Vice City. However, all of this shouldn’t be looked at as a simple parody. Instead, I have the feeling this is much more pastiche. Hence, it doesn’t ridicule its original source. It’s rather a tribute to it.

Another example of pastiche is to be found in GTA IV’s mission Three Leaf Clover, in which the player and several non-playable characters rob a bank. Due to various circumstances, things go wrong and the bank robbery ends in a violent shoot-out in the streets of Liberty City (based on New York), where the characters try to escape from the police. During the mission, the observant player will notice several connections to the 1995 film Heat. In a stylistic and cinematographic sense, the whole set piece in GTA IV is definitely based on the much acclaimed shoot-out in Heat. This is also the case if we look at it from a narrative point of view. In both scenes – the original and the ‘remediated’ one – a character named Michael dies. Three Leaf Clover is one of the most ambitious scenes ever in a Grand Theft Auto game and to remediate a classic piece of pop culture the way developer and publisher Rockstar Games did, is one of the best examples of pastiche media have to offer.

In conclusion, Grand Theft Auto tells us a lot about remediation. Not only can old media be remediated in an almost literal sense, but small pieces or expressions are being remediated as well. Often, remediation in GTA is linked to concepts such as parody, pastiche and pop culture. Both as a gamer and as a new media scholar, I am extremely excited to see what GTA V, coming out September 17,, will add to all that is stated above.


Carlito’s Way. Dir. Brian De Palma. Universal Pictures, 1993.

Grand Theft Auto IV. Rockstar Games, 2008.

Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar Games, 2013.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Rockstar Games, 2002.

Heat. Michael Mann. Warner Bros., 1995.

Miami Vice. Michael Mann Productions, 1984-1990.

Scarface. Dir. Brian De Palma. Universal Pictures, 1983.

Extra Media

GTA IV’s fictional radio show We Know The Truth parodies conservative, right-wing media outlets

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