GTA: Vice City Helped Me Understand The Nostalgia For The 80s


Vice City captured the spirit of an experimental era.

July 4, 2022

I was born in 1988, but until the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002, I never understood people’s fascination with the era I was born in. While I was born later in the decade, I did spend parts of my childhood watching 80s blockbusters like Batman and Back To The Future, but it was not until high school that I learned anything about that era outside of neon and big hair. To be honest I was more focused on being a child of the 90s and just as ignorant of why the 80s were and are so influential in the lives of many.


When you are a kid, you just don’t think about trends and other things prior to your birth or time as a baby. That all changed when my stepbrother brought home Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It may be a crass spoof of the decade it takes place in – more about the vibe of the 80s than the events that defined it.

But throughout my many playthroughs of the game, I found myself understanding more and more – from the cars to the clothes, to the hair, to the music, my eyes began to open. While I will not be rocking shoulder pads and slicked-back hair anytime soon, Vice City said to me “Look at how bright and fun this decade was.” Driving around the city blaring “I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls was pure bliss.

I was so enthralled by the game, that whenever the commercial would come on and “I Ran” played as Tommy Vercetti unloaded his shotgun, I would crank the volume up to 11 (before turning it back down following parental complaints). Back in the game, I remember cruising along the Vice City beachfronts at night, with “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne playing in the background. Not only did the music match the moment perfectly – it was the first time I realised that Ozzy sang that song I heard so many times growing up.

The game was filled with musical Eureka moments. Until then, I didn’t connect many of the songs I heard growing up to the 80s, I just liked them. I understand why people love the 80s: they love it because of the music, and because it represented a more simple yet interesting time in our world. It was a time when the envelope was pushed in terms of music, which was then reflected in people expressing themselves more by dressing in the audacious prints and patterns the era gave them.

This was no longer in an era of bellbottoms, 8-track tapes, and feeling like our life was pre-planned by our parents. It was an era where you could wear ridiculous things, cut your hair in ridiculous ways, and it was accepted because it really allowed us to show people how we truly viewed ourselves.

If you wanted to rock a perm and some tight cheetah pants, go for it; if you wanted to be business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back with a mullet, more power to you! The year Grand Theft Auto Vice City takes place (1986) was the year Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith blew up everything people thought possible with music by releasing Walk This Way – a glorious rap-rock crossover that captured the experimental essence of the era. Miami in the 80s was a huge party, it was an outrageous time. From the clubs to the overall atmosphere it was a time and place I am upset about missing out on.

Obviously, as I got older I learned about the serious things that came out and happened during that time period. The party spirit of the time brought with it the AIDs epidemic, and 80s Miami, which Vice City is based on, was under strain from a massive Cuban immigration wave from the Mariel Boatlift, and the subsequent formation of Cuban gangs which warred with Haitian gangs. Vice City captured some of that criminality too, though of course in a way that didn’t detract too much from its nostalgic, cartoony spirit.

The 80s were a period of throwing out everything you know about society and embracing the future, and thanks to Vice City, I understand a bit more about why people look back on it so fondly.

Nick Battaglia

Nick Battaglia is a Features Writers For DualShockers with a specialty in writing about accessibility in video games. Though his gaming journey began with Super Mario Bros. 3, he finds himself wandering Los Angeles looking for a Galaga cabinet to spend his time in front of. When he's not spending quarters he can be found returning the Lakers back to prominence in NBA 2K.

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