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Written By mista sense on Monday, April 21, 2008 | 8:40 AM

So what are you guys playing right now? There's not a hell of a lot going on, is there? The MGS 4 wait is killing me (disastrous MGO beta launch or not), but the more immediate toe-curling anticipation is aimed at GTA IV. It's the year of numero quatro, it seems (unless we're talking a very important cinq, cinco, V, five, baby).

One of the reasons I'm so excited about GTA IV is that the environs are modeled on my home stomping grounds of NYC, as I've said here before. All summer last year, my roommate and I played San Andreas largely to the exclusion of all else, for long hours in the dog days when, here in Spanish Harlem (the header image is a crummy shop of my neighborhood's main throughway), the neighborhood residents took life out into the streets. It wasn't unusual to have "parties" at all hours wherein people would park their cars in the street right under my damn window, open all the doors and turn their rap or reggaeton up loud. During the day, kids would pry the caps off of the fire hydrants and play all day in the street in their swimsuits, and parked cars lined both sides of the streets as people lined up to access the outdoor pizza counter, ice cream truck, empanada stands and such. It's a lively period, even an enjoyable one, despite the chaos.

In those days, after playing GTA marathons, we'd occasionally emerge out into the real world when we ran out of food or something like that, and an interesting thing would happen. The chorus of multilingual discussions around us -- people discussing their romances, loudly arguing, and sometimes even sparking midnight street fights, coupled with the huge multitudes of all types of cars that would start showing up around here, could actually be pretty surreal and disorienting after playing the game all day. We'd catch a whiff of cop radio on the air, hear some lady in heels and hot shorts declare, apparently to no one, "Yeah, you know I look fabulous," and before you know it we'd start eyeballing the cars, taking note of the different makes and models and wondering which were steal-worthy.

Now, just to be clear, there are plenty of loonies who have accused GTA of making them feel like the game is "real," creating an excuse for real crime. We certainly weren't that loony. If your real life is actually anything like GTA, there's a hell of a lot more wrong with you than a video game. But still, the idea of a fully next-gen GTA set in an area with neighborhoods that look quite like our own is an interesting prospect.

And unlike much of the stuff I've played lately, GTA is certainly not one of those games you knock out in a few weekends. One of the reasons the franchise is so popular is because it's got serious long-term play value; you could seriously squeeze a couple hundred hours out of San Andreas if you wanted, with all there was to do, and GTA 4 will be larger still. So doubtless we'll be lozenging the title well into the summer months. And when I'm feeling violent towards my neighbors in the apartment building across the street, the ones who staged some kind of baseball bat brawl out in the street at 2 AM on a weeknight a month or so ago when I had to get up early for work, or when I'm out jogging and some tricked-out Honda Civic with light-up rims blows the stop sign and almost kills me, I'll be able to pick up the game and get my aggression out.

What I'm wondering is, is it a good thing or a bad thing that I connect playing GTA to my resentment for my least-favorite neighbors? The "it's only a game" refrain suggests that the things we do in games have no real relevance to our actual lives -- one of the reasons many defend the RE5 trailer in the recent debacle. And when playing GTA, I don't go so far as to pretend I'm running over that fat, loud woman who cut in front of me at Rite Aid, nor do I wish any genuine ill on any human beings -- but I'd be lying if I'd say it wasn't on my mind, at least a little, when I'm tearing up a fictional city with a stolen car.

Anyway, I'm whiling away the time between now and GTA IV by hacking away at Persona 3, as I said I would. I'm at war with my own completist perfectionism here, but I've decided to relinquish the idea that I can max out and complete everything to my satisfaction. There's always the second play-through, after all, and the Fes expansion makes it that much more appealing to do that. Just letting some things go and appreciating a game is an experience I don't get as often as I've liked, but it's doing me some good here, I think.

So how are you counting down the days until GTA IV? What's your time filler of the moment? Am I the only one worried about snapping on my neighbors? And is there anyone reading this who doesn't care about GTA IV at all? Seriously?

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