At this point, it isn't even hyperbole to suggest that GTA 6 is easily one of the most highly anticipated games of all-time. The GTA franchise is unique because it is not just a massively successful video game but a mainstay in modern entertainment and pop culture.
Each GTA game has been able to transcend the boundaries of video games to become a bona fide cultural phenomenon. With that kind of continued success comes a certain degree of pressure and the necessity to be in touch with the times and have an accurate reading of the audience's pulse.
With games as massively popular and successful as GTAs, each design or creative choice comes with a boatload of pressure. Each decision is predicated upon the audience's mood at large by delivering a game that the latter responds to.
One of the most integral elements of each GTA game's design — after Vice City and San Andreas — became the period in which they are set.
Should GTA 6 go back to the 80s or be set in modern times?
The GTA franchise, save for Grand Theft Auto 2, chose to remain in the year they were scheduled for release rather than trying to jump back and forward in time. All of that changed when Rockstar Games decided, for Vice City and San Andreas, that the franchise needed to go further back than modern times.
As a result, Vice City was set in the 80s while San Andreas was placed in the early 90s. That choice gave the publisher freedom and restrictions, but it helped out in one major area — it made the game impervious to age.
With rumors of GTA 6 spreading about the internet like wildfire, one of the more persistent ones is that the next game will take place in Vice City. This city's mention sent fans into a frenzy and sparked theories of the franchise going back to the well of the 80s, as it simply made sense.
Yet, there is a considerable portion of the fanbase that feels GTA needs to stay in modern times as modern technology opens up many avenues in terms of gameplay.
How does going back to the 80s help Rockstar?
As mentioned previously, an older setting makes the game impervious to age. If the game is already set in the past, it is dated by design and not as a result of becoming obsolete.
One of the significant risks of a game being set in 2021 will be that years from now, it will look obsolete. Even GTA 5, for a game set in 2013, has started to show its age, which is not a very desirable effect for a game to develop.
On top of that, there is apparent commercial value in going back to the 80s. If modern entertainment proves anything, it is that utilizing the styles and aesthetics of the 80s equals instant success.
One need only take a look at some of the most seminal tracks in music today, for instance, The Weeknd's Blinding Lights, as proof.
What are the drawbacks of a dated setting?
For one, the fanbase would sorely feel a little disappointed that they won't get to witness Rockstar's vision of today and how they choose to tackle modern politics and pop culture. The GTA franchise, by this point, almost has a monopoly on satirical commentary.
This is why fans would love nothing more than to see how the publisher chooses to take on the challenge of commentary in today's time. Dan Houser, co-founder and lead creative on every GTA game so far, once commented on how relieved he was that they did not have to release Grand Theft Auto 6 under the Donald Trump administration.
His comments stemmed from his belief that topical political commentary would, one, become obsolete quickly and, two, invite a visceral reaction from both ends. He also felt that some of the things that had transpired during the period were simply beyond satirization.
"Both intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are very militant and very angry. It is scary, but it's also strange, and yet both of them seem occasionally to veer towards the absurd."
"It's hard to satirize for those reasons. Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire. It would be out of date within two minutes, and everything is changing so fast."
Thus, the ball is entirely in Rockstar's court with regards to where the next GTA game will take place. Seeing as how pre-production on the game would have likely been completed by now, the choice of setting has most likely been decided already.
Disclaimer: This article is a reflection of only the views of the author.