Gaming’s Modern Taboos — Playing Grand Theft Auto V’s Story Mode with the Chaos Mod

Lost American Freedoms

Though even in that history, there are some caveats. NakeyJakey has gone on record suggesting that Rockstar Games, the developers of Grand Theft Auto, would do well to return to their old games, to see just how innovative and freeform their mission structure was. Crowbcat has shown evidence simultaneously between Grand Theft Auto IV and V on how many of the details of the simulated world, from hand-to-hand combat to shootouts, the feedback provided by police and pedestrians, as well as effects from driving, flying a helicopter, all became simplified. To put it another way, it became tighter, in the sense that the range of possible experiences in driving, shootouts, and missions were reduced. According to this theory, we could say that the driving “feels” better because the tighter controls make it easier to drive, but the possibilities for crashes, the weight and heft of vehicles, lost its sensations that made Grand Theft Auto IV much more idiosyncratic. Because Rockstar’s games are not driving games per se: they are a concomitant series of factors that allow the developers to tell stories that explore freedom, both in simulation and in American culture.

Many have gone on to declaim the lack of agency in the mission structure of Grand Theft Auto games as they have progressed, suggesting in metaphor a closing in of possible freedoms in the same way. While I played Grand Theft Auto IV so raucously in the college dorms that I had a noise violation called on me, I have had a copy of the fifth game on PlayStation 4 that has yet to be tapped into. The impulse to play through a story of three various characters that emulates the Marx Brothers format of Ego, Superego, and Id, did not appeal to me as much, when many of the possibilities for humor were gone. Although one poor mechanic, such as going on dates and hangouts to build a reputation with your crew from the fourth game was luckily gone, it was replaced with forced spectacle. And there is a serious debate to be had in determining whether forced spectacle is spectacle at all.

Several have written about the power of the Chaos Modification to Grand Theft Auto V, most recently a PC Gamer article which gave a play-by-play to their experience playing through the story content. While I admire Rick Lane’s writing for raising awareness of the power of the Chaos Mod, I do not think the article got to the core of why the experience feels not only highly desirable, but strangely alluring in its absurdity. The closest Lane comes to diagnosing the problem is in those first two paragraphs. “I’ve often wondered what GTA would be like if it truly let its hair down, allowed its meticulously crafted simulation to run wild.” After that, he rides off into the emblazoned and chaotic sunset. I would like to dive deeper.


As Rick Lane demonstrates in his article, all of these components can be tweaked outside the game in a configuration box. He stretches effects for much longer, but new effects last longer in general, in what he claims will allow him to “savor” the experience. I disagree with this decision, though I will explain why a little later. Suffice it to say, after some time testing the effects, I DID end up turning off a couple of effects. There are several “Spawn ____“ effects that bring in a certain character, or group of characters, many of whom are antagonistic to the player. I would have been fine with this, were these characters not also invincible. Jealous Jimmy spawns in a cussing white boy son with an AK-47 who, after many rocket propelled grenades exploded on and around his person, did nothing to keep him away. And the checkpoint system of the game’s missions did not make him disappear either, and at all times these characters know where you are and attempt to take you down. Luckily, in the event where a player believes they are stuck in an unenjoyable loop, they have access to an abort button (Ctrl + -) that removes all effects currently active. It’s madness, but not torture.

Even still, I’d like to advocate that a player going into the Chaos Modification not tweak the system too much, and lean into the torture component. I have begun my playthrough of the story mode of Grand Theft Auto V, and I have mostly positive things to say about the experience in tandem with the Chaos Mod, despite the fact that I have had to restart a checkpoint dozens of times. This may seem paradoxical. This may seem like the opposite of what every game developer is told to do, that the goal should be to make the game clear and consistent, as well as provide an escalating since of difficulty while ALSO giving the player the tools to master the world at hand. I am here to tell you that the Chaos Mod is a sort of cheat, into a set of gameplay systems that has made me laugh all alone in this study, laugh so uproariously that my wife is wondering if I am watching Ricky Gervais stand up comedy without her. In the next paragraphs, now that I have explained what the modification does, I’d like to explain why it is so fun (despite being tortuous) and explain why I think it is completely necessary in the game space in 2021.

The Ignored Desire

At some level, the Chaos Modification is an engine that produces these moments without fail every thirty seconds. And what is better about this system than glitches is its stability. Grand Theft Auto V is an old game at this point, and on modern PC’s, the world is grounded in a variable refresh rate above 60hz, as well as the intentions of the game developers to make the story mode playable for people much younger than you. The checkpoint system is so forgiving, it becomes a hilarious race against the clock. At any moment, the player might get shot by guns that shoot cats. In each mission, there are one or two checkpoints, which means that progress lost is not that much at all. Coupled with faster loading times, not just with a solid state drive, but also with improvements made to the game over the years, and the Chaos Mod seems like it was given the green light to make each mission a tantalizing hellscape. You get to play the best of all glitches.

These effects will start and persist in cutscenes as well, turning Rockstar’s impacting, seamless, and forceful narrative into farce. Watch as Franklin and Lamar and Simeon argue about employee of the month until they ragdoll to the ground from the “all pedestrians ragdoll” effect timed almost perfectly. In any other game, we would call this a glitch, but with the Chaos Mod, we are granted a little method to its madness.

Rick Lane is absolutely right at the beginning of his article. Much of the tongue-in-cheek humor of the GTA games have left for more “mature” humor and commentary. But what has also changed is that video games have become more than just a niche market. The combination of acquisitions in game studios, plus the huge rise in the market, means that AAA games cannot be the strange and idiosyncratic attempts they used to be. In fact, many indie games have attempted to emulate this old world of gaming that produces various outcomes that are beautiful yes, but more importantly, ugly. Valheim and Kenshi are two recent releases that would be difficult to put on box art in 2021, but they WOULD look comfortable on boxes from 2001. What we did not realize was that “ludonarrative dissonance” could be applied to visuals as well, a “ludovisual dissonance”. In Valheim and Kenshi, the strangeness of its looks does not inhibit strangeness, it causes it. In modern AAA titles, beautiful games have the knock-on effect of looking even more ridiculous when they bug out. Not only that, but their systems have to cater to embodied personas that can only interact with objects that likely required hundreds of hours of development time to produce. More risk and less reward.

The Chaos mod marries an older game feel to a newer model. Grand Theft Auto V, despite its age, is still a good looking game. Good enough, in fact, that the immersion level of feeling like the player is in a city is still intact. Which means that, when the ugliness of meteors falling from the sky occurs, or when all the cars start to jump up and down violently, the dissonance is BETTER for how wide apart the two are. No game developer would EVER desire to have this as a marketing gimmick, and as time has gone on, we have noticed that cheat codes and other game breaking tools seem less visible and less accessible.

But there is something else that is going on, something deeply absurdist and comedic in the Chaos Modification that transcends even all these things.

When playing a repo mission with Franklin early in the game, we are charged with taking back Jimmy’s car, a yellow range rover, right from under his nose. What we do not realize is that Michael, Jimmy’s father, is hiding in the back seat. Every thirty seconds there is a new effect, and that means that every moment becomes a simultaneous race against time, as well as an opportunity to change tactics should something horrific happen. As Michael pulls a 9mm handgun on us, the absurdity ramps up to 11. An earthquake hits Los Santos, and every car is thrown against highways and crushed violently, like a child grabbing a loaded monopoly board and shaking it vertically. Somehow, we are still alive, and Michael seems cold and focused. The dialogue continued without so much as a stutter from his mouth, producing a bizarre juxtaposition. I can’t laugh for long: the thirty second timer restarted. I am focused, and I start driving again.

Once we near Simeon’s shop, Michael tells us in a cutscene that we’re going to take the range rover and drive through the front window of the place. I’m getting nervous: the thirty second timer is almost back around, and I have no idea if I am going to make it, but I know I’m close. The bar is almost full as Franklin nervously changes gear. “Fuck my life,” Franklin says.

Our car spontaneously combusts.

I can see, on the right, that “all Pedestrians obliterated” has activated which means that Michael, right beside me, has exploded, causing both the car and Franklin to explode as well, ending the mission.

This is a fail state, but for some reason I am laughing, laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. By any stretch of the imagination, this SHOULD be a moment of sheer frustration. This was at least the fourth or fifth time I had attempted this mission, and yet for some reason I do not seem upset at all. What is going on here?

I think, to some unhealthy extent, gamers forgot that the journey is incredibly important in a story. In recent games, there is such an emphasis on progression that we assume that any time spent in a game without a character getting stronger, or without any forward momentum in a plot, is not only time lost, but time wasted. “WASTED” went the screen as Franklin exploded, not an accident I am sure. And game developers are terrified of the dropout rates of players who suddenly achieve that turnover in their heads, from feeling enjoyment, to feeling like time is being taken from them.

I think it is fair to say that, at the age of 31, I no longer feel the sort of enjoyment from video game writing that I used to. Morrowind and Bioshock may have provided the two pinnacles of writing for me when I was younger, but as I have aged out of the assumed demographic for most games, in particular the kinds of open world games designed on console for the mass market, they have little to offer beyond melodrama and eye-rolling. As I have mentioned before, I would not have played Grand Theft Auto’s story without this mod. The PlayStation version still collects dust. But adding this absurdist twist to the game changes it from Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. I feel as if now I am playing a game where I am in on the joke, where both the developer and the player are sitting next to each other, and suddenly some massive levers with red balls attached to the end are yanked, and the world becomes obscene and usually hilarious. The spaces in between the mission points in Grand Theft Auto, usually reserved in modern iterations for dialogue, for character development, and for embellishment of the conflict, all of a sudden become the best moments. It takes all spaces and turns them into points. Points of hilarity, of absurdity, of returning me back to a time when video games had no concern for gravitas, or weight, or emotional angst. It is the nostalgic fun in a modern box. Gaming is just as much about intrinsic enjoyment as it is about extrinsic rewards.

The chaos mod has no right to be this good, and yet it is. I can only hope that its philosophy can be applied to all other open world games, as it seems to be the genre most desperately in need of a shake up. If you own Grand Theft Auto V, and you feel comfortable dragging some files into a folder in file explorer, and you also feel like you need a good laugh, there is no reason why you should not download the Chaos Mod. It represents a place, unfortunately, where no AAA game would dare enter in 2021. It is the best taboo of our gaming moment.

Originally published at on June 7, 2021.



Colton tries to picture a world in which nobody trusted their System 1 thinking. He is currently working on trying to be a better listener.

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Colton Royle

Colton tries to picture a world in which nobody trusted their System 1 thinking. He is currently working on trying to be a better listener.