How GTA San Andreas tackles important social issues

social issues in video games

It's easy to write Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas off as nothing more than a stereotypical gangster game set in the 'hood' which glorifies gang violence. And while that may be somewhat true,  there's also much more substance to the 2004 critically acclaimed video game.

Written by Dan Houser, James Worrall and DJ Pooh. The story follows Carl Johnson, an ex gang member who leaves his old neighbourhood of Los Santos, San Andreas behind, to start a new life in Liberty City, following the loss of his youngest brother in the year of 1987.

However when his mother is murdered in a drive-by shooting five years later, Carl has to return home and confront his demons, in a city consumed with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. Naturally CJ is drawn back into gang activity, when he reunites with his day 1s.

GTA San Andreas is a sharp satire on what it's like to live in early 90s South Central LA and the wider Los Angeles area. Not only is the game's setting based on Los Angeles, California, but it's plot is also loosely inspired by true events.

Though San Andreas doesn't always take itself serious, there's still a balance and it doesn't go overboard with the comedy act. The game can be funny, but it can also be deadly serious, and that's why when it highlights social problems or references real life moments, it doesn't feel like a complete mockery.

San Andreas doesn't shy away from social problems affecting the disadvantaged


Naturally as a game loosely based on actual events, GTA San Andreas doesn't shy away from social problems affecting the disadvantaged in Los Santos. With that said, let's look at several social issue examples in the game.

In the first few minutes of the game police corruption is highlighted, as CJ is put in the back of a police car, blackmailed with a murder charge, despite his innocence and dumped in rival gang territory. 

From this point onwards, police abuse of power is shown on full display throughout the game, as C.R.A.S.H, a special unit of the Los Santos police department, led by the game's main antagonist Frank Tenpenny is complacent in corruption.

The acronym C.R.A.S.H stands for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, which is ironic, because while Tenpenny claims it was formed to protect San Andreas from hoodlums and street crime, the unit is steeped in police brutality and corruption, while doing business under the table with drug dealing gangs, such as the Ballas.

At the hands of these thugs in power, the protagonist is constantly bullied and manipulated into doing illegal work for C.R.A.S.H, in exchange for his freedom and the protection of his family.

drug dealer video game

GTA San Andreas doesn't get enough credit for it's strong anti-drug stance, because it conveys a clear and consistent message about the harmful effects of hard drugs, drug addiction and how it can negatively impact a community.

Crack cocaine is rampant in Los Santos, which clearly alludes to the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Los Angeles. The city is infested with dope and Carl's primary objective is to run all the crack and drug pushers out of town, in order to reunite his set and make the city a better place.

'Cleaning the Hood' is the first mission in the game to introduce the drugs aspect of the storyline, describing how it has tainted Los Santos. The mission has CJ and Ryder handle a couple of crack dealers who have been slanging dope on the block, and supplying Grove Street gang members.

While the Grove Street Families gang are attempting to decrease the crack influence in their neighborhoods, their long time rivals the Ballas are spreading it, not only to line their pockets, but also to wipe out the Families. 

Ballas strategic planning of spreading drugs into their enemies' territory to turn The Groves into hopeless addicts, while swaying the OGs to sell drugs rather than gang bang, teaches players just how easy it is to get hooked on substances like crack, and how it damages communities at a rapid rate.

gang video games ps4

The memorable quote from leader of the Grove Street Families, Sweet Johnson "Tony's buried over there. Little Devil over there, Big Devil over there. Man, it's just crazy - everybody blasts on fools first then asks questions second" highlights how out of control the gang and gun violence is in Los Santos.

Lives are lost at an alarming rate due to turf wars, and nobody bats an eyelid. Once again this is a great reflection of the real life situation in 1992 Los Angeles, (the same year the game is set) where 2,589 homicides were reported.

The reason for Carl coming back to Los Santos in the first place is because his mother is slain by the Ballas gang in a drive-by shooting, and as we witness in the first moments of game, CJ is not even safe in his own district.

For instance, if CJ travels into a enemy gang territory, he is liable to be shot at and killed due to his affiliation to The Grove Street Families. Gary Brown said it best in his article on LA gangs, "The bond between gang members is so strong that many will kill or die for each other, no question."

fat video game characters

In 2020, data from America has shown that over 73% of US adults are overweight or obese. While another study revealed that obesity is the second biggest killer in the US, among adults under the age of 70.

In GTA San Andreas, CJ can become fat if he overeats and doesn't exercise, resulting in a drastic change in not only his physical appearance, but also mobility. The game does a decent job of showing players the consequences of being dangerously overweight, with a comedic undertone. 

When CJ is overweight, naturally everything he does is slower. Whether he's climbing a fence, fist fighting or sprinting. His health, stamina and sex appeal are also affected. 'Fat' CJ is essentially playing on hard mode.

Funny enough, Players will also not be allowed to start certain missions if they are obese. One example is the Black project mission. "The Truth" wants Carl to break into Area 69 to swipe a jetpack, however if he's too fat, the hippy will mockingly ask CJ to return when he's lost some weight.


Released over 15 years ago, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas would become a cultural phenomenon and remains one of the greatest video games of all time. To some, the game is just a glamorized portrayal of gang culture, but San Andreas is a video game with an underlying message, that many people miss.

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