GTA 6 looks stellar – and it could be a huge moment for disability representation

The greatest gaming event of 2023 was the GTA 6 reveal trailer. I am still thinking about it now. Rockstar has mastered the art of making the gaming world pause for a few minutes to experience something lavish and mind-blowing. Their games encourage grandiose thinking. I want this new version of Vice City’s map to be the biggest in history, even though I’m currently exhausted of massive open-world games.

I’m attracted to an open-world sandbox for the chance to catch that fleeting and ephemeral feeling of immersion. GTA 6’s trailer delivered the real essence of immersion for me. If you ask me, a crucial part of immersion is the game’s power to remain in your consciousness even after you’ve put the controller down and turned off the TV, blurring the barrier between the fictitious and reality.

I spent hours in GTA 5 as the embodiment of Trevor Philips, Michael De Santa and Franklin Clinton. You know, just cruising around Los Santos listening to radio stations, earning money as a taxi driver, encountering hilarious random encounters or causing utter 5-star mayhem. This level of immersion pulled me through my screen into the world and narrative of GTA 5 like an early premonition of Alan Wake 2. I’ve been trying to grasp that fleeting sense of immersion ever since, only finding it when experiencing The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m sure you have your own touchstones for this!

Cover image for YouTube videoGrand Theft Auto VI Trailer 1

Here’s the GTA 6 trailer.

For me, believability is key for immersion – by which I mean the kind of believability you can find in games like The Witcher and Cyberpunk. These are fantasies and science fiction games, but I believe them because the worlds feel coherent when I’m inside them. It’s the mixture of a lot of elements, I suspect. The graphical fidelity, flawless hair physics and NPC diversity shown in the GTA 6 trailer illustrate the power of Rockstar to push the current generation of consoles to create believable experiences. This team clearly makes games by looking very closely at the real world and trying to capture its essences.

GTA 6 is the first opportunity for Rockstar to directly satirise the modern world – the weird place we find ourselves in over a decade after GTA 5 hit. The trailer suggests the team will be taking a deeper look at the weird aspects of a society ruled by social media, and doing this through a humourous lens. Vice City as seen in the trailer has the qualities it needs to feel like a genuine lived-in city, occupied by various types of people, diverse cultures, multiple types of vehicles and a whole animal ecosystem to discover. I hope that the clip of an alligator strolling into a shop to buy something – I’m assuming it’s dental floss – isn’t just a cutscene. I hope it’s emergent gameplay, because I would constantly rob a shop using an alligator. Who wouldn’t?

In terms of capturing the realistic texture of the world beyond alligators? GTA 5 introduced us to Lester Crest, the criminal-minded genius who happened to live with a physical disability requiring both a stick and wheelchair for mobilisation. It’s always wonderful to interact with a disabled character who isn’t identified by their limitations and is considered useful for their talents, even when their talents are distinctly criminal. As a disabled person my life isn’t identified as ‘the daily struggle.’ I am so much more than my limitations, but many people struggle to see past a disability or feel that a disability is 100 percent life-consuming. My Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is only 25 percent Vivek, but my personality, dreams, hobbies and aspirations are what truly define me as a person. Disabled narratives have the power to elevate stories, we have depth and nuance to allow new life to seep into stale narratives.

Lester Crest illustrates that Rockstar has experience with creating disability realism, so my biggest hope is that GTA 6 advances this by including more characters with different types of disabilities, either as supporting characters or as NPCs roaming the world. This level of disabled representation would be groundbreaking, pushing other open-world games like Cyberpunk 2, whatever shape that may take, to include disabled individuals and give character creation options for various prosthetics or maybe a wheelchair.

GTA 6 is aiming to create the next evolution of open-world design, with the graphical fidelity to build a game featuring characters nearly indistinguishable from reality due to advanced NPC diversity. The only aspect of the game which might highlight the disparity between reality would be the near erasure of disability; Lester Crest cannot be the only character with a disability in the GTA world.

(While I’m here, alongside disability representation, it would be ideal for Rockstar to improve their accessibility support, especially by removing the archaic mash-X-button-to-sprint and adding toggles for certain actions like aiming or opening your weapon wheel. I have faith that Rockstar will be improving their accessibility due to their dedicated accessibility lead Ben Bayliss.)

GTA 6 is going to be the biggest game release ever, but the advancement it could bring to disability representation is truly a possibility for the first time in history. I’m here for it.

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