When was the last time you thought? Just, thought?
Let's not be preoccupied with the past, or with what others think about you. Life's too beautiful to be wasted on tiny things like these. That's why sometimes we need to take a step back from it all and just think about it.
This is a thought experiment. We're not sure what we're testing for, though. But isn't that life?
Grand Theft Auto has always been a game with a powerful social structure. After all, as the player, you are immersed within a vibrant city that reacts to your decisions and actions. But, up to this point, the directions in which the plotline is moved by the characters themselves, and not just your actions, have been extremely limited. GTA III featured, as its main protagonist (?), a generic White male, who, to really drive the point home, doesn’t speak a single word throughout the course of the game. Vice City attempts to give the character some definition, but, like in San Andreas, both protagonists fall flat as they are subjected to a certain mold they have to fit: an ex-mafia hitman, and a gang member from inner-city LA, respectively. GTA V breaks away from its predecessors by not only giving you the control over three different characters, but three believable, dynamic humans.
As mentioned in the first part of this commentary, these three characters play different parts in the story’s narrative with their different styles. Yet, there is a deeper level to each of them, and the story progresses with their individual and collective developments. Although it’s true that Franklin lives in an area where gang violence and activity are an everyday occurrence, he is not, as the game puts it, a “gangbanger”. Instead, he is constantly helping to keep his best friend Lamar, who is a gangster, from getting tangled up in things too big and too dangerous. Franklin tries only to escape the neighborhood in which he lives. Unlike CJ, in GTA San Andreas, Franklin is not a product of his environment, which is a large step forward towards defusing racial stereotypes. He’s a likable kid, without much direction; a much more realistic portrayal of the Black demographic than an assertion that they are all gangsters and drug dealers.
Michael is also a man with a backstory. He is currently living under an assumed identity after he was reported dead with the rest of his crew when a job went south. Although he has money, his family is very much screwy, and reminiscent of a morally bankrupt Hollywood-decadent relationship. Yet, he’s no psychopath. He misses the way things were, and only wishes that he could put some of the things he’s best at into what he’s currently facing.
Then there’s Trevor, who is pretty much the psycho that the GTA franchise has been known for. He’s a man with a goal, and a grisly modus operandi to go along with it. There’s not much to say about him – insanity usually doesn’t need much explanation.
Now, it is a known criticism that the latest game still preserves the sexism and misogynistic undertones that characterized all the earlier games. Many reviews thus far have drawn attention to how women are portrayed, arguing that females in the game are subject to stereotypes limited to distraught housewives, extremist feminists, Hollywood dropout blondes, and women of the night. Although this is not untrue, a large part of the issue rests with the fact that it is an unfair evaluation to even say that. What we have to see as part of the problem is that the entire game is a satirical riot. Yes, it is true that women are stuffed into stereotypical frameworks for the sake of the game, but it is also true that the men in the game are as well. The main issue here is that stereotypes sell. From the viewpoint of the gamemakers, they’re funny. They are relatable, and therefore gamers can see the irony in certain situations. Men are either seen as ultra-American (and all that entails), failed husbands and fathers, or obese, disgusting slobs. But the problem here is that these are funny, in a twisted way, and, unfortunately, that’s what sells.
Think back to Rico, from Grand Theft Auto IV. He’s a Russian immigrant who has left the “motherland” in order to start a new life in the States. Immediately, all sorts of mental images and preconceptions are inserted into the gamer’s mind. Whether these stereotypes are correct or not is irrelevant; the game will perpetuate them anyway. The racist undertones work to progress the plot – many times through the story Rico will spark confrontation because of his status as a) Russian, b) an immigrant, or c) all of the above. It’s a simple construct video game designers resort to in the realm of sandbox games, and more specifically, GTA, because it appeals, and, more importantly, it works.
This is not to say that the creators of the game are justified in their portrayals of people of any race, gender, or sexual orientation – far from it. But we have to understand that the complex, multifaceted character has no place in the realm of GTA. In a world where things work best when chaos prevails, the distinction between one-dimensional and single-directional static characters that act as foils and the evolving character that you control makes for excellent clashes that spark the movement of the story.