I remember playing the first Grand Theft Auto (you know, the one with the third person helicopter view) when I was around the age of eleven. Being a notoriously difficult game I was terrible at it; it's hard for me to remember whether I finished the game or not. The same basically applied to Grand Theft Auto 2, but when the third installment of the series came around I was instantly hooked. I recall roaming the virtual world of Liberty City for months and I'm pretty sure all of my friends did as well. It was almost as if we moved to a different city that also existed. And so it was with the sequels.
Reflect on all of this and it becomes apparent that digital, virtual worlds do 'exist' in a rather important sense, in that you can memorize and recall their 'existential spatiality' as well as their narrative, music and sounds. Touch, smell and taste are missing as of yet, surely because they're not going to be all that pleasant at times in a GTA universe, but we can nonetheless speak of a true lifeworld in which one can meaningfully dwell, in our present age mostly for recreational purposes (although the internet is in its own right a virtual world with a more diverse set of goals). Virtual lifeworlds share similarities with everyday worlds but are fundamentally different in that they're created by humans from the bottom up, and thus every single piece of content is meaningful or intended (glitches aside, which are the unintended side effects and manifestation of the imperfection of human existence). In a demythologized real world the meaning of life for people addicted to videogames is thus: "Stay virtual!"
Many virtual lifeworlds are extremely linear, despite exploration being one of the most fundamental attractive forces of (virtual) worlds in general. Diving into a flat digital universe (which can be 'three-dimensional' yet nonetheless still flat) in which you're robbed of some of your 'existential freedom' is an extremely disappointing experience, the prime reason why such worlds are fairly quickly forgotten. After all, narrative-driven videogames distinguish themselves from books (which can be simply read) and movies (which are simply watched from beginning to end) in that they're dynamic experiences instead of static; narrative is variable and so is the playful aspect between semantic core points of the world's meaningful structure.
Besides our own non-digital world becoming increasingly more infested with virtual behavior (e.g. people constantly using their smartphone), classic videogame worlds are also becoming larger and more complex, up to the point that one can virtually spend months if not years inside such realms. Perhaps it's good to realize that as with for example any object of art it is the dynamical interaction between person and object that's most interesting here; a stored- away painting that no one ever gets to see doesn't 'exist' in its potentially most vital form, it only exists as having a frame and some paint gently put onto (or smashed at) a canvas, or if not even that, doesn't exist at all.
The same applies to any virtual world; people need to be plugged in to make it important in this vital sense. The virtual system craves our attention, needs us desperately; demands our visit. And so it's not only us who benefit from technological enhancements, but virtual entities - thought of as a dynamically complex form of human behavior in interaction with technology - benefit from us as well and can indeed steer us in a certain direction. Obviously no one will claim with any seriousness that we collectively have the existential willpower to destroy all our smartphones, computers, televisions and so on (even though it can theoretically be done, but that is completely irrelevant at this point).
A supra-individual lifeworld may not be too far away, a world in which man's will is primarily subordinate to the dynamic control of virtual entities, while living with the illusion that he is historically more free than ever. Balancing one's activities seems like a natural first step to close in on an understanding of this paradox. It thus becomes clear that avoiding virtuality altogether is not the solution (and if it isn't outright impossible, it's certainly undesirable). With Grand Theft Auto 5
we have yet another digital playfield at 'our' disposal to try and find a constructive attitude towards virtuality. For those with some (sub)conscious understanding of the above matters it can be interpreted as an invitation to test and further explore paradoxes of virtuality. Rests us to greet those ignorant of these matters as follows: "Welcome to the Matrix."