On the run: what GTA and tag have in common

You’re it!

Running away from the police in Grand Theft Auto touches on the player’s nostalgic attachment to the childhood game of hide and seek tag.  Running while being chased in a game triggers the fight or flight response in humans in a unique way; since it is framed in the context of a game the fright of a flight response becomes the challenge of being physically adept and directionally cunning.

Little kids will often allow their pursuer to get close to them only to sprint away at full speed, this goading behavior is the same as the actions a player takes in GTA to maintain their wanted level. Crashing into vehicles, setting off explosions, taunting the police by doing donuts around their spike strips, are all ways the player tests their ability to initiate and escape a chase sequence.

Finding the chase sweet spot

As counterintuitive as it seems, escaping the police is actually rather easy in GTA. Once the player gains attention for an illegal act like stealing a car or being aggressive towards the police, they must keep evading capture and / or being aggressive in sight of the pursuing force to keep their interest.  If the player simply tries their hardest to get away they will.

Thus as with the children taunting the person who is it, so too must the player keep the attention of their pursuer.  Attracting and maintaining a wanted level is a matter of elegantly designed escalation and active interaction on the part of the player.

At 1 star all you need to do is crouch behind a shrub and eventually the police will call off the search, 2 stars and patrolling police will get out of their car and search the area on foot, but this too is easy to hide from.  At 4 stars you’ll need the most advanced techniques and some luck to get away; using train tunnels or diving deep underwater and holding your breath, in game and out, in hopes that they’ll overlook your position.  At 5 stars you’ll be cut down to swiss cheese if the military gets one look at you, and the search radius now spans almost the entire map.

Getting and holding a 3 star wanted level is the perfect place for an epic on foot escape, it’s when more officers get involved, but most importantly it is when helicopters begin  to provide search assistance.

(My 3 star escape challenge video featured in my article On the run: challenge)

Bad boys bad boys

Thematically nothing is more thrilling when roleplaying a criminal on the lam than seeing a shaky helicopter spotlight trying to keep track of your position. It immediately brings to mind the live news helicopter chase scenes of a suspect evading police capture, desperately ditching their car in an attempt to flee on foot.

Grand Theft Auto V_20161006214459

(Aerial shot from the perspective of a pursuing helicopters in GTA V)

To hide or just keep running?

The last part of any good game of tag / hide and seek is the determination to risk getting caught by hiding, or simply running for the goal.  Although reaching the goal is the primary win condition, prolonging the experience by hiding, can be a fun challenge.

In GTA, hiding can also accomplish the goal of escaping, and learning the skill can also cut short times when you want to escape attention without having to drive halfway across the map.

I’ve included two challenges for you all to try out this type of gameplay in my article On the run: challenge, check back on Friday for the full challenge details.

The challenges are great for pass-and-play GTA sessions with your friends. Let me know if you liked them in the comments below.  Did you modify the rules to how you and your friends play?



Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookInstagramand Youtube.


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