GTA’s Villainy is Not Artistic or Clever

[Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead]

So, GTA, we meet again.

The controversy surrounding its launch seems to have died down at last, leaving space for some discussion about the game which doesn’t revolve around 18+ video game violence warping the brains of children. Like how, for all its merits, there were some serious problems with the characterisation of its three main protagonists, and an ending which was unsatisfying to say the least. The absolute least.

The Escapist released a less-than-flattering review of GTA V a couple of days before release, and it came under flack before members of the community had even played the game because it focused on how distasteful the three protagonists are.

“That’s the point! Rockstar always creates unlikable characters, dribble, dribble, dribble,” was the bottom line of these reactions, clearly forgetting that John Marston did what he did for his family, Jimmy Hopkins wasn’t a fan of bullies, Niko Bellic was trying to escape from a dark past and CJ… well, okay, CJ was pretty unlikable, but that wasn’t really on purpose, now, was it?

In GTA V we have a psychopath, a bored psychopath, and an impoverished youth who wants to be a psychopath. Empathy-wise, the only thing Trevor, Michael and Franklin really have going for them in GTA V is the fact that everyone is more irritating, disgusting and all-round crappy than our three… ahem… heroes.

What exactly is driving Franklin? He wants to get a big swanky home out in the hills, he wants to swing with the big crime cats and he wants to make a lot of money. He achieves all of these things about 2/3rds into the game, so what exactly does his arc accomplish? There’s the ex-girlfriend hook which is introduced in the beginning of the game, only to be forgotten about until she pops again just keep him whipped. At least if Franklin won her back in the end it would have felt like he’d accomplished something real.

What is the point of Michael? Rockstar couldn’t stop shoving the Sopranos references down the player’s throat, but in the end this whole episode just amounts to a minor blip in Michael’s life. Nothing really happens. His life doesn’t become better or worse after Trevor pops up and all is said and done. He momentarily loses his awful, awful, awful family (awful) just to win them back by not changing and just continuing to be awful himself. He has some weird mid-life crisis, and by the time the story finishes it isn’t really finished.

What about Trevor? Well… what about Trevor? Trevor is a terrible person – end of story. There are some funny allusions to his childhood (psychopath stereotype 101) and a burning desire not to lose anyone he was ever close to. Trevor was hilarious 99% of the time he was on (or off) screen, but that doesn’t retract from the fact that his storyline just consisted of all-my-friends-are-having-fun-without-me-let-me-join-in-phobia. At the very least, Rockstar, why didn’t you let him get with Patricia?

It would be very easy to say – particularly after the harrowing (but not harrowing enough to mean anything) torture mission – that the whole point of having such unlikable protagonists and such a lacklustre roster of ‘villains,’ was to show that the true villain is you! Madrazo, Devin Weston and Steve Phillips – given more characterisation and actual screen time – could have turned into some pretty fun/imposing bad guys, but they’re all taken out in one mission, and when you really think about it, Devin Weston was the only one to actually do something to the protagonists, while Steve Phillips was the only person in the whole game I really… truly… loathed.

Except for Lamar. But we’ll talk about that turd another time.

The problem is that GTA V’s whole You-Are-The-Real-Bastard theme doesn’t really come to fruition properly. Yes, there are a bajillion anti-gamer references; LifeInvader makes us all feel like idiots, Trevor is supposed to be the archetypal GTA gamer, but none of it ever feels sincere enough to actually matter. GTA V is a hilarious, fun, explosive experience, and I love the game to bits. Hell, I’m addicted to Online Mode, but when one minute Rockstar is saying ‘rob this bank! Isn’t this fun? Huh, guys? Shoot that bitch! Yeah! You go, buddy!’ and the next ‘d’aw, torture is bad, huh? Bet this makes you feel like shit. You’re just like Trevor,’ while I grit my teeth, shut my eyes and choose to kneecap some poor minority, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and not the type which makes you stop and think like Spec Ops: The Line.

Take a good hard look at yourself, gamer.
Take a good hard look at yourself, gamer.

Just stop with the blind love for GTA V. The game has some problems, and for all of the great motion capture and voice-work, its three protagonists just aren’t that great.

Think about that.

[Alex Lamont]

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