On 15th September, Daniel Radcliffe will return to our TV screens, not in another rerun of Harry Potter but as Grand Theft Auto designer, Sam Houser, in BBC’s new docudrama, The Gamechangers.
While some had hoped the drama would focus on the game itself, it is set to follow the origin of Grand Theft Auto and a three-year period of controversy surrounding its depictions of violence, criminality and a continued rise in the global market. Set in New York in 2002, it follows both Sam Houser (Daniel Radcliffe) and the other developers (including Houser’s brother, Dan) and Christian lawyer, Jack Thompson (Bill Paxton), who fought to stifle the rise of the franchise.
— Christopher Peterson (@NerdEXP) March 13, 2015
Despite confusion about its premise, the 30-second trailer, which was released on 3 September, has steadily increased excitement for the programme. And it’s not hard to see why. With Radcliffe’s impassioned words about creating “the world’s first truly adaptable hero” juxtaposed with Paxton’s somewhat amusing accusation that “these Brits” have little regard for the welfare of America’s children, it’s clear that conflict will permeate the drama. It’s the kind of stuff that will keep you on the edge of your seats. And, considering Grand Theft Auto’s success in spite of criticism, it’s hard to believe the programme will end on an unhappy note.
However, as much as The Gamechangers was implicitly produced because of the game’s controversy and compelling storyline, the BBC’s statement suggests it intends to achieve much more than that. Describing GTA as “the fastest-selling entertainment product in history”, it goes on to explain that the franchise has pushed boundaries since the first game was released in 1997. Indeed, aside from its questionable content, the franchise arguably revolutionised world design.
As such, it’s no wonder it’s joining a host of programmes for the BBC’s ‘Make It Digital’ season, though that doesn’t decrease cynicism facing the decision. Alongside obnoxiously titled shows such as Girls Can Code (you don’t say!) The Gamechangers is intended to inspire the new generation to learn to code.
So a project intended to get kids into coding is set to make a documentary about the making of Grand Theft Auto? Uh-huh….
— The Dark Squire (@AlborkeSeagoon) March 12, 2015
While its sales figures (GTA V sold over $1bn units in 3 days), and impact on gaming, position the franchise as a great British success story, in amongst its controversies, there remains a great irony about The Gamechangers. While the BBC celebrates the conflict that catapulted GTA into fame, a franchise which revels in its objectifying representations of women, they’re also airing a BBC Three “talent show” about girls coding. Can you encourage ‘girls’ to ‘start’ coding, while simultaneously propping up such a franchise at the same time?
Not to mention that The Gamechangers is joining a season intended to inspire the next generation, when it will actually be aired after the watershed and rendered mostly inaccessible to them.
Regardless, with such a focus on the conflict between Thompson and Houser rather than the game itself, perhaps the drama will have room for critical commentary, too. After all, the controversy carrying the drama’s plot still plagues the franchise today.
Either way, such irony has not prevented GTA fans from expressing their excitement (and confusion) on Twitter. Pleas to get on the show dating back to March:
— Aqib Khan (@RealAqibKhan) March 12, 2015
And a tongue-in-cheek reference to Radcliffe’s Harry Potter days:
Hookers & Hogwarts: The Making of Grand Theft Auto feat. Daniel Radcliffe.
— Aa (@aeleaene) April 9, 2015
As well as a hope for some insight:
— Nathan Watson (@nath987) March 12, 2015
But the response has been mostly positive. Though, naturally, there are a fair few disappointed and cynical people out there too:
Never mind the making of Grand Theft Auto, I want to see a dramatisation of the race to sign Tetris.
— Robin Clarke (@rclarke) March 13, 2015
Not to mention a request for a completely different drama:
The BBC is creating a TV drama based on the making of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ – could do with one on NHS too! http://t.co/xyGurU19LR
— Salman Waqar (@salmanWaqar) March 12, 2015
In the end, though, we’ll only find out if the docudrama is worth the hype once The Gamechangers airs. And I, for one, will certainly be watching.