Let’s write about Midtown Madness and ultimate freedom

Only a few games during my childhood ever really stuck in my memories. I remember Commander Keen, the first Wolfenstein, oh man The Treehouse (!), freaking Super Solvers, gosh dang Gizmos and Gadgets (!!!), and the Oregon Trail…, but when it came to 3D experiences my library was a little more limited.

Booting up our old Compaq, hearing the sound blaster card whirr into life, and degaussing our monitor, I only had a handful of 3D games to choose from, but among them was Midtown Madness.

After doing a little reading about the game, I realize that it did some pretty innovative stuff in its time. Developed by Angel Studios, now Rockstar San Diego, the game was set in Chicago and your job was to race through the city using all kinds of mundane cars.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but for a 8-year-old without much experience in the realm of video games it was an interesting experience. Unlike most of the other 2D games I had been playing, the game gave you a sandbox through which you could roam and explore.

Although there was little to find in the way of Easter Eggs, the game provided you with enough freedom and agency that you were kept pretty entertained just by driving around. While there was a whole slew of these kinds of game in the next few years, nothing really captured my attention like this game.

I guess when looking back on it, you start to realize just how much of an influence it has on video games set in the real world, but it also sets a precedent for when games started to change. In Midtown Madness, you are unable to hit pedestrians. No matter how hard you try, no matter how pinned they are to a wall, and no matter what cheat codes you entered they are invulnerable.

Maybe it was a choice made by the developers to make to keep the game’s E for Everyone Rating, but I think it represents something a little deeper than that. Once upon a time in video games, you relinquished control to the game developers. Although you were given total freedom to explore the world, the developer’s influence was still there to keep you in line and make sure you killed the bad guys and left the innocent alone.

Sure, that can’t be said for all video games at the time, but as Rockstar San Diego the developers started going to town on the innocent allowing players full reign of the cars they drive and full responsibility for the pedestrians they demolish. I guess I just have a problem with being able to hit people with cars. It’s just senseless violence most of the time. You never see players stopping for a moment after running down a crowd and thinking about it.

“Hey, you just killed 20 people with your giant tractor trailer and 30 more when it exploded.”

“Pretty cool, yeah?”

“Yeah…”

It’s more realistic than having all of the pedestrians using super human abilities to dodge out of the way. I think the game is memorable for the more innocent time it represented. Well, not much said in this blog, but feel free to leave a comment and we can talk about the games a little more and maybe a bit about the morality of ultimate freedom in video games.

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