British Science Festival 2013: Grand Theft Bicycle and the political takedown

Posted on September 27, 2013


Rockstar Games title ‘Grand Theft Auto 5‘ is pure box office. Every new incarnation in this series of shoot ’em, carve ’em, rob ’em, drive ’em away and blow ’em ups seems to have broken records on its release. Achieving $1 billion in sales in its first three days is testament to the game’s popularity and craftsmanship.

GTA relies on its scripts, black humour mixed with gritty crime capering, added to a killer soundtrack and a cast of friends and foes spread over a large interactive map. Anything can go wrong and frequently does. Play is a mix of strategy, quick thinking and termination with extreme prejudice. The franchise engages dedicated thrillseekers and casual gameplayers equally and there is no doubt that the saga is set to run and run.


Dusting off a classic
So it was timely that Steve Gibson, a lecturer in interactive media design at the University of Northumbria, dusted off a hack of the earlier ‘GTA: San Andreas‘ called Grand Theft Bicycle for the British Science Festival 2013. GTB is a cyclist’s eye view of the popular game, controlled from the seat of a bike using the pedals to accelerate, handlebars to steer and, of course, a fire button to pop a cap in your opponent’s ass.

The idea came to Steve when he was living in Victoria in his native Canada, a much more bike friendly town than Newcastle. “It’s kind of a cyclist’s revenge game in a way,” he says. “You’re able to blow up cars, so it’s definitely for those cyclists who are sick of being sideswiped.”


Stripped to the bone
Steve and his collaborators Justin Love and Jim Olson stripped out all of San Andreas’ player missions, left all of the character behaviours in and replaced them with popular politicians and political figures. Barack Obama and George Bush are in there alongside Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il. Blair and Thatcher are running mates on the blood-soaked streets. And you can shoot them all.

Or you can pedal into the sunset and forgo the opportunity to take in-game revenge on your favourite bogey-man. “You basically ride around and do what you want,” says Steve. “Some people just ride around and shoot only one group. Maybe they’ll shoot George Bush and all his allies. Some people just ride around willy nilly and shoot everybody. Others just ride off and ignore all the violence. Most people though, about 95%, shoot. Some with an agenda, some without.”

Kill joy
GTB is admittedly on the edge of what might be classified as science, says Steve. It would definitely make an interesting gameplay psychological study and appears to be a weird hybrid of social comment, exercise and entertainment. “One thing about it is that whether a player is conservative, liberal, socialist, whatever, they will always find someone they enjoy shooting,” says Steve. “That was my motive really. I knew everyone would have a good time shooting at politicians.”

Check out more of Steve’s work in interactive design at