Even though Rockstar Games had to release the first trailer for GTA 6 earlier than planned due to an incredibly unfortunate leak, it is finally here. With it comes more confirmed details about the upcoming game than we’ve received in the last 10+ years. However, few of those details are more important than the reveal that GTA 6 is set in the fictional state of Leonida: the GTA universe stand-in for the state of Florida.
That means that GTA 6 will feature an updated version of Vice City as so many rumors about the game have previously suggested. However, the distinction between Vice City and Leonida is already proving to be significant. Not only will GTA 6‘s in-game world be so much bigger than one city, but the game’s entire spirit and style seem to be derived from the Florida-like nature of Leonida rather than the Miami-like culture of Vice City. Based on what I’ve seen, Leonida is already proving to be a tragically perfect setting for GTA 6’s modern take on the modern United States of America.
Yes, GTA 6 is seemingly set in the modern era (relative to the GTA universe), which is actually somewhat surprising to see. After all, in a 2018 interview with GQ, Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser revealed that he was grateful that the team didn’t have to release GTA 6 during the Donald Trump presidency because the United States had become too absurd to possibly parody.
“It’s really unclear what we would even do with it, let alone how upset people would get with whatever we did,” said Houser. “Both intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are both very militant, and very angry. It is scary but it’s also strange, and yet both of them seem occasionally to veer towards the absurd. It’s hard to satirise for those reasons. Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire. It would be out of date within two minutes, everything is changing so fast.”
While Houser has since resigned from Rockstar Games, his thoughts on that matter still ring true. At the very least, the United States has certainly not become significantly less absurd in the years since Donald Trump’s presidency. While the opportunities for a modern-era GTA game were always obvious (GTA 5’s then-modern setting allowed Rockstar to take GTA Online in some wild and lucrative directions), the challenges were equally apparent. As such, some suspected that Rockstar may elect to bite the bullet and set GTA 6 somewhere in the past.
Instead, Rockstar leaned into the skid by going to Florida. For those who don’t know, the state of Florida has earned quite the reputation over the last few…well, decades or so. In more recent times, the internet has fallen in love with the legacy of “Florida Man:” the words that typically precede a seemingly endless number of reports regarding some absurd crime that happened in the state of Florida.
There are even websites where you can enter your birthday to see which ridiculous “Florida Man” crime was committed on that day. For instance, my birthday brings up the real-life headline “Florida Man Googled ‘How To Rob A Bank’ Before Robbing A Bank.” That’s strangely appropriate given that GTA 6 seemingly stars a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde-like couple. Of course, it’s worth noting that the entire Florida Man sensation can be partially attributed to a Florida state law that allows for unusually detailed reports on arrests to be released to the public. So, whereas some states may only reveal that there was a domestic dispute, Florida will let you know that a wife attacked her husband with the help of their pet alligator.
Yet, Florida remains an especially absurd state in some ways. It’s the state whose political leaders will argue that many should be able to carry a concealed weapon without a permit yet have attempted to place restrictions on drag shows and bathrooms. It’s a state that is trying to ban Critical Race Theory and push the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative but is also the home of “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” Disney World. It is a place where retirees and fugitives gleefully flee. It’s one of the great cultural melting pots in the United States and the unwiped asshole of that same country.
As you can see, Florida is also a state of contradictions. The most important of which may be the state’s often extreme wealth and income gaps. Florida is the home of both the uber-rich and the extremely poor. You probably saw caricatures of both in that GTA 6 trailer. While there are times when it seems like those on both sides of that wealth gap love to exhibit their lifestyles in the most extreme ways possible, the fact of the matter is that Florida is far from the only state that bears the burden of that often crippling social issue. In fact, by many metrics, Florida isn’t even the worst state for income and wealth inequality. With the exception of Washington DC, that honor actually belongs to New York: one of the original targets of GTA’s merciless American satire.
And that is very much the point here. Florida is the perfect GTA setting not just for the ways the state has become the embodiment of the absurdity that once felt like the sole property of the GTA franchise, but for the ways that Florida has become the often ridiculously on-the-nose embodiment of many of the contradictions, issues, and subcultures that have come to define the United States.
Yes, we’re all looking forward to seeing the unbelievable adventures of Leonida Man in GTA 6. If the storytelling maturity on display in Red Dead Redemption 2 is any indication of Rockstar’s growth, though, then I’m very much looking forward to how the game will hopefully examine why Leonida Man can not be contained to a single state.