Published2 days ago
South Florida. A place where sea, sand and sexy are always in season.
A place where the world’s most famous footballer scores match-winning goals in flamingo pink.
And a place where a multibillionaire considers how to commercialise space travel.
When Lionel Messi and Jeff Bezos moved to Miami this year, they added a certain shimmer to a city already well-known for its sparkle.
But there’s a dark side, a criminal underbelly, too.
The intersection of these worlds was on full display this week during the trailer release of Grand Theft Auto 6.
Its emergence ended a decade-long streak of relative silence from Rockstar, the game’s creators, and broke YouTube records, grabbing 93 million views in 24 hours.
The video was described by basketball star LeBron James in a tweet as “INSANE”. And it became the most viewed video on the platform – excluding music videos – in less than a day.
The 90-second teaser confirmed the game will be set in Vice City, a hyper-fictionalised version of Miami, and it immediately sparked debates online over how fair this depiction was.
It showcased many of Miami’s cultural landmarks – beach joggers and boat partiers, luxury cars and rooftop pools. Neon-lit streets. Flamingos (yes, the birds can actually be seen at the Hialeah Park Racing and Casino).
But there was also a different side of the city on display.
A crocodile crept through a convenience store, strippers danced over dollar bills and shotgun-wielding police kicked down a door.
The sight of a woman twerking atop a speeding car seemed other-worldly absurd, but it blended in seamlessly with what appeared to be exact replicas of Miami’s basketball arena Kaseya Center and murals in the Wynwood neighbourhood.
It was this precise mix of the inconceivable and the actual that blurred the lines between fact and fiction.
That was exactly the aim for Rockstar, the developers behind the GTA series, according to Chris Livingston, senior editor at PC Gamer, a leading gaming publication.
“These [GTA games] are based on real American cities, and it’s those tiny details that really bring it to life,” Mr Livingston told the BBC.
“So much of what’s in the games is based on real stuff. The developers are from the UK, so it’s kind of their spin on a really exaggerated take on US culture.”
Mr Livingston described what was in the GTA 6 trailer as an intentional “tongue-in-cheek satire of the worst of American culture”.
But people on social media were quick to point out where scenes from the trailer actually appeared in reality.
For instance, the woman twerking on the car, the angry old lady holding a hammer in each hand, the tattoo-faced criminal with purple hair – these were all images that made headlines in south Florida news.
Mr Livingston called these moments “great fodder” for Rockstar’s developers, and said it allowed them to add incredible detail by mirroring “the bizarre reality of US culture, especially in Florida”.
But, he said, the growing ridiculousness of reality also presented a challenge.
“Something we think about when we’re talking about satirising American culture is just how over the top actual life has become,” Mr Livingston said. “How long can Rockstar satirise a culture that’s gotten so ridiculous on its own?”
Many viewers of the trailer commented on the recurrence of the “Florida Man” meme, a term which has become a catchall for the outlandish behaviour captured in Florida headlines.
Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies games, influence and technology, said: “I think there’s more than a little winking at reality here.”
“If you can pivot off the headlines, you’re starting from a place that people know or have a feeling about, rather than inventing some new world from scratch,” he told the BBC.
“And that’s what Rockstar is good at. They start with the stereotype.”
But as much as the game’s creators are good at reflecting reality, Mr Williams said they’ve also played a role in shaping it. He said the GTA series introduced a level of freedom and transgression that captured the hearts of gamers, now a “devoted audience”.
“You could go anywhere, or do anything,” he said – from eating a burger to shooting a cop and soliciting a prostitute.
The freedom and violence of previous GTA games has made news headlines of its own, drawing multiple lawsuits, one of which was filed by former first lady Hillary Clinton, another of which reached the Supreme Court.
For some, regardless of accuracy, GTA 6’s depictions of Florida’s crime and chaos were too overbearing and one-sided.
Nicole Haboush, senior charter and sales manager for TJB Super Yachts located in Palm Beach, said: “I was a little upset by the video, because I’m like ‘where is this’. It was kind of shocking. It doesn’t depict the Miami that I’ve ever seen.”
Ms Haboush said the people and places shown are very different than what she encounters during events like the Miami Boat Show and Art Basel, where she mingles with clients capable of spending up to $200m (£159m) on a “mega yacht”.
“We try not to be around areas that would be having theft and violence,” she said.
But for others, their reaction to the video was less unsettling.
“For all the kind of [heat] that Florida gets about being crazy, we live up to our reputation,” Jose Duran, a Miami nightlife and culture journalist, told the BBC. “I think the pulse around here in south Florida is that people are excited.”
“In some ways, it’s a point of pride – weirdly enough for some people – just how crazy Florida can really get.”
Mr Duran said the trailer delivered as expected for a game that “is all about the things you’re not supposed to do in real life – stealing cars, killing people, beating people up”.
“I don’t take offence to [the video], but I see how some people could,” he said.
Mr Duran said he will be reserving his real judgement for when the game is officially released – in 2025.
“It’ll be a different story when the game actually comes out and people can start dissecting things.”