GTA 6 City of the Week is a weekly article series here on GTA BOOM. Every week, we will evaluate a different city in the United States, gauging how well it would fit GTA 6 as a setting.
Moving back to the coast after last week's in-land look at the country's most dangerous city, St.Louis, we move back to the coast. With most truly major cities ticked off from the list (correct us if we're wrong), it's time to take a look at some of the smaller-yet-not-small settlements throughout the USA.
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Also known as the Holy City due to church towers being prominent in its relatively low-profile skyline, Charleston is both a famous and pretty infamous city throughout the USA. The source of this infamy lies in its history, as Charleston is often credited as being the cradle of the secessionist movement, which eventually led to the American Civil War between the Confederacy and the Union.
While Charleston has done much to shake off the stigma of its past - with quite a bit of success, seeing as it is today renowned for its culture - the shadow of that past seems to haunt it continuously, and certain laws don't exactly help. South Carolina is one of the very few states in the USA where the Confederate Battle Flag (often mistakenly referred to as the Confederate flag proper) is protected by law in the same way other national flags are, meaning that burning or damaging one in public is an offence.
Much of the city was burned in the closing stretch of the Civil War, however the region's abundance in resources and the city's importance as a port ensured that it would be rebuilt and expanded during the Reconstruction era. True enough, Charleston was swiftly rebuilt, and left mostly untouched ever since. The city is today well known for its well preserved post-colonial architecture.
Charleston today is a city of about 132,600, making it one of the smallest cities in terms of population we've looked at in these articles. However, in terms of area, it isn't particularly smaller than the others, seeing as you'll be hard pressed to find any building in the city taller than 6 floors. Charleston isn't tightly packed, rather spacious and filled with small, neat and charming houses. It would not seem out of place in a historical film, really.
The efforts of the people and government of Charleston have achieved much in way of leaving behind old issues. There exists a general stereotype for "southerners", and while it must be said that stereotypes exist for a reason, Charleston has managed to defy these. Having been ranked among the friendliest cities of the USA and named "the most polite and hospitable city in America", the people of Charleston have a reputation for good manners - the exact opposite of the southerner stereotype.
Charleston sits at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, in one of the many inlets of the Atlantic Ocean in the area. being surrounded by several bays, rivers, inlets and lakes, Charleston isn't actually too hard to imagine as an island. Most notable nearby settlements have already been consumed by urbanization, being physically part of Charleston, so to say, however there are a few strewn about which would fill the roles of secondary locations.
Cutting out a piece of eastern South Carolina would allow the map to incorporate a large national forest, some plains, two large lakes and several small ones, as well as some secondary locations based on Myrtle Beach and Beaufort. The jagged inlets on the eastern coast would make for some interesting scenery for sure.
Charleston's economy in the past decades stood primarily on two pillars: tourism and cargo transportation. It's historical significance, large number of old buildings, restrained skyline and natural characteristics have attracted many tourists. The city also acts as a major port, both in terms of import and export. Charleston, in spite of its humble size, operates the fourth largest container seaport on the east coast, and is in the top 15 seaports in terms of size on the entire continent.
More recently, like so many other smaller-but-liveable cities, Charleston has become a rapidly growing hub for tech and IT companies, which many analysts are predicting to eventually become the third pillar of the city's economy in an increasingly tech-focused world where information is becoming as valuable as the physical goods shipped through the port.
Charleston is also known for a large military presence. The former naval shipyard was the third-largest of its kind. Since it's closure and transfer to civil hands, it has become the largest commercial shipyard on the eastern coast, operated by Detyens Shipyards. Though it is no longer a military installation, the shipyard still mostly takes on military contracts.
Joint Base Charleston today houses almost 80,000 servicemen, and the base now stores the over 2,500 nuclear warheads which were formerly used to outfit the nuclear-capable submarines which docked at the former naval base.
Charleston also often suffers from the violent coastal weather. While it is only rarely hit full on by hurricanes, it does take some damage from their near passes. The most destructive natural disaster to hit Charleston was caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Charleston also made international headlines in the summer of 2015 when a deadly and deplorable hate-crime caused the death of 9 people. A lone gunman, 21-year-old "white-supremacist" Dylann Roof, who was also a drug user, school dropout and unemployed, attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Beyond the above mentioned tragedy, Charleston has a pretty high rate of crime compared to its size and population. It has the fourth highest murder rate in its category, and sits well above the national averages in pretty much every category. Violent crime is generally higher than in other cities this small. While gangs and organised crime are more subtle in the city, they are certainly present.
The busy port makes Charleston a prime location for smuggling and trafficking. Being a smaller city, it isn't as tightly controlled, and under-the-table deals draw less attention. The city is one of the seldom mentioned gateways of illegal goods in an out of the country.
The city's history, in spite of best efforts to break from it, still hang over it regardless. Discrimination and hate crimes are generally more common in Charleston than in other cities of its kind to the north.
While Charleston will be pretty easily recognized by players hailing from the USA due to it being a favored national tourist attraction, and due to its importance in the history of the nation, I'm banking on foreign players not being too familiar with it. The most iconic part of its skyline is that its extremely reserved with pretty much no tall buildings to speak of, and it might be the only USA city of its size where the cityscape is dominated by church towers.
As a result, most of the notable buildings in the city are, in fact, churches. Churches of pretty much all Christian denominations can be found scattered around the old-city. In terms of non-church landmarks, the Pink House, the Gibbes Art Gallery and the City Hall are probably best known. Though it is hardly a tourist attraction, the large port is also a strong characteristic of Charleston. It's coastal area and beaches, on the other hand, are favored by visitors.
The game could focus on a small-time crime group with a hand in smuggling and trafficking through the port trying to take over both the tourism industries by extorting hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, while also attempting to get a leg into the growing IT business. In fact, the story could be cut up into 3 acts.
In act 1, you have to deal with a rival syndicate who also has a hand in illegal smuggling, cementing yourself as the kingpin when it comes to blackmarket goods. In act 2, you'll try to muscle your way into the tourism business, by blackmailing hotel owners into paying you protection fees, wrecking restaurants which defy you and make deals with shops to sell the goods your smuggling ring brings in.
In the final third act, you'll try to somehow get a slice of the tech and IT pie. While in the first two acts, you'll be up against other criminals, a private security company takes care of the high profile corporations, meaning you'll be fighting tougher and better equipped enemies. Eventually, you'll impose one of your subordinates as the CEO of a major company, making you the true kingpin of Charleston.
Pros: Geography, crime rate, story potential
Cons: Poor international recognition
Overall, Charleston fares really well as a GTA setting, with great geographic characteristics, decent crime rates and some solid story potential. Plus, most people in the USA would likely recognize the city off-hand. That said, it's a pretty good bet that most foreign players would have no clue about which city the setting is based on, unless it's explicitly stated.
Would you like to play a GTA game set in Charleston?