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Grand Theft Auto Online’s new update teases metaverse ambitions

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has always made a point to separate itself from the real world. This helps players buy into the idea that the GTA world is a caricature of the U.S. There’s no FBI — it’s the FIB, and they really are always listening in. Pop stars are airheaded, tech bros are annoying, and CEOs and executives are just plain evil. And while some of those things mirror our own reality, the rest is over-the-top satire. Grand Theft Auto was built upon that cartoon world.

But Grand Theft Auto Online‘s latest expansion, The Contract, continues a trend that flies against that foundation. It prominently features Dr. Dre, whom players interact with and talk to regularly over the course of the update’s content. There’s a full cutscene where players hang out with Dre as he records a track with Anderson .Paak. At the expansion’s end, Dre sits in a luxury car with the player, tells them how important they are to him, and debuts a brand-new song.

The expansion and its contents reek of the metaverse and could signal a massive pivot for Grand Theft Auto as a franchise. The games, which have previously made fun of high-profile musicians, movies, and other celebrities, could soon be packed full of them as they become the next metaverse staging ground.

Entering the meta

In truth, Grand Theft Auto has been metaverse-adjacent for some time now. The game has its own currency, which players compete to earn and then spend on things like virtual properties and cars. While those two things also have their own gameplay implications, the game intends for players to simply live in those spaces as well. Bottles of wine and liquor line shelves, waiting to get player avatars drunk, and there’s always a bong, packed and at the ready to deliver a virtual high.

The world of Grand Theft Auto Online has always been one meant for players to inhabit. While so much of the game’s different facets are centered around gameplay mechanics, others are just for show, for players to say they have as they occupy a space in virtual Los Santos. Take the game’s low riders for example, which players can get by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars customizing low-tier cars. Sure, they can make the car bump with hydraulics and blast music from it with massive built-in speakers, but it’s a waste if we’re talking gameplay practicality. It’s purely optional, and only for players to immerse themselves further into the game’s world. There’s always been a line drawn between the game’s metaverse elements and its gameplay elements.

The Contract removes that line, though, bringing Grand Theft Auto fully into the metaverse with the first event that combines its world and ours. Like one of Fortnite‘s concerts, players are treated to a stream of new music by Dr. Dre, who has been scanned directly into the game. Of course, they have to complete missions for the musician where enemies are slaughtered wholesale as well. The two go hand in hand.

Dr. Dre sitting in a car in GTA Online.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Just the beginning

Grand Theft Auto Online is a cousin of Fortnite, bringing real-world pop culture into its universe, albeit over its in-game airwaves and spinoffs of real-world super cars. Spider-Man can’t fight Rick from Rick and Morty in the game, sure, but that’s because the game is still limited somewhat by its realistic base. That doesn’t mean that updates like The Contract are off limits, though. They’re the game’s version of Fortnite‘s digital concerts, and they’re seemingly far from over.

Once players complete The Contract, Franklin contacts them, saying that they did a great job, but that there’s more work to come. Franklin is hot on the trail of yet another “A-list” client for players to work with, and the UI that Dr. Dre’s VIP missions are accepted through is clearly meant to hold even more.

The question isn’t if GTA Online will have another event like this, but when.

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Otto Kratky
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Otto Kratky is a freelance writer with many homes. You can find his work at Digital Trends, GameSpot, and Gamepur. If he's…
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