A long time has elapsed since I’ve put words to a screen, and it’s time for that to change. I’m going to spitball about GTA V here for a bit. I am gearing up to write about the recently revealed Nintendo Switch, but I usually like to warm up before the real fun begins.
In any case, I’m very late to the party on GTA V, as the game came out a few years ago, but a number of happenstances prevented me from playing it for quite awhile. I bought it for myself on X-Mas, and have had a blast with the game so far. I’ve always been a big fan of the GTA series, maybe just as an after effect of GTA III being such a massive deal when I was growing up. There were plenty of games that justified the PS2, but GTA III was arguably one of the easiest justifications of why the system dominated that console run.
The series really didn’t find itself till the third installment, with the first few GTA games being more of a middle of the road experience. The lack of technology was the obvious pitfall of the original titles: the top down view made the experience feel a lot more detached and archaic in design, something III fixed with a third person perspective and subsequently, a more immersive open world as a result. In fact, GTA III did for sandbox gameplay what Street Fighter 2 did for fighting games.
Fast forwarding a bit, GTA V tries a few new things, and mostly succeeds, even if the game is still guilty of some of the age old problems that has plagued the series since III. GTA has always been a jack of all trades and a master of none, at least mechanically speaking. The shooting is always second rate, as well as the driving….and well, GTA has never excelled at any single gameplay facet, but the experience has always been greater than the sum of it’s parts. I suppose the glue that holds the experience together is the empowering freedom that every installment is imbued with. Aside from the fragility of mortal life (which many pop on a cheat code to resolve in an instant), the worlds of GTA are truly yours to take, with an endlessly inviting yet intimidating environment where most anything seems possible.
GTA V stands out more than its immediate predecessor, as IV deviated a bit from the prior games, eschewing the more ridiculous aspects of previous titles, and overall taking itself a bit more seriously . Where San Andreas had large Scale Gang Wars fought with Jetpacks, IV had hang outs with your cousin going to a strip club (to fulfill the simple task of seeing “big american titties” or so I have heard). Pretty mundane stuff in contrast, needless to say. So while Saints Row was picking up the slack for the zany antics during GTA’s chill out period , it wasn’t until years later when V launched that the series returned to absurdity. V is not at all worried about being more ridiculously raucous, which is a saving grace of the title.
However, from a story stand point, GTA V definitely has more difficulty in believably switching it up between the absurd and the serious during pivotal moments. Keeping in mind, GTA stories are rarely much more than parodies of already existing crime stories, at best recycling cliches from Hollywood’s most notable gangster offerings, but V never seems to balance inane and insane with more intriguing verve. The 1st act of the game has great momentum, and the 2nd act carries it confidently with the introduction of the Heist missions, but the game perhaps peaks too early in terms of drama, and then kind of meanders into some seriously dubious territory, in terms of both suspension of disbelief and bad pacing. A not so confident story guilty of flippancy more often than not.
In essence, I like that V is more ridiculous in many ways and better for it, save the story, which does not benefit in the same manner.
Focusing more on one of the main characters, I wish to discuss Trevor, who is the obvious fan favorite in the community. We are speaking of a man that goes from 0-100 in about 3 seconds, with mood swings that startwith Trevor violating a stuffed teddy bear, which then somehow segways into a a bloodbath involving half of a walking mall and a firetruck. In a sense, Trevor is kind of the human personification of the world of GTA: total chaos.
While I was playing GTA V, I had a strange moment of realization; Trevor as a character represents a departure for the series in an interesting way, and I’m not sure how many people really considered why. Where as earlier GTA games featured basically a blank avatar (Claude from GTA II and III), and other characters were morally grey, but mostly mentally sound individuals, Trevor stands out. Looking back at past characters, Tommy was a killer no doubt, but he was still grounded in some form of reality, and CJ was just a kid mixed up in some bad shit trying to get out of the hood, CJ being the most sympathetic and likable of all the GTA protagonists in my eyes.
Niko is from Eastern Europe, and was a soldier who was fucked over in a war so…he is understandably harder edged, but you still felt for the guy in trying to make a new life by leaving a bad past behind him.
This is where Trevor stands out as an oddity, as Trevor for all intents and purposes, is a certifiable psychopath, having absolutely no moral boundaries whatsoever and a seemingly endless thirst for violence in which he gleefully engages in. As I mentioned previously: Trevor represents some walking metaphor for the world he inhabits- chaos incarnate. This is the interesting split with Trevor from other characters in the series, as we kind of have to observe and judge Trevor in real time outside of our own actions, and be a little closer to the idea of how insane GTA is in theory, and perhaps even how fictionalized the games have to be in order to maintain a sense of self , or how desensitized we have become to violence itself in order to participate.
I know that sounds a little heavy handed, but I think there is a case to be made that Trevor represents a confrontation for the player, as we have to observe the very same insanity we’ve been personally guilty of for so many years in a new, uncomfortable way .
He challenges us by pushing the boundaries, helping to uncover at what point violence crosses the line from darkly humorous to detestably horrific.
Truly, Trevor represents the worst of the worst: so uncontrollable and violent by GTA’s standards, that even the other crazy murdering protagonists are terrified of him, going as far as high ranking government officials specifically wanting him very dead for what a threat he is. Where as most other GTA anti-heroes are poised as somehow charmingly flawed in their conquest of the criminal underworld, or someone like Claude who represents you as the player, a personal conduit, previous GTA characters have represented someone to root for. If we then look to Trevor, who outside of your own actions, provides a sense of brutality we haven’t seen yet in GTA, Trevor succeeds only in being a train wreck: you know it’s wrong to want to see the carnage the crash will cause, but you can’t help but sadistically hope the derailment occurs for a small sense of relief.
Despite his bi-polar fueled ragefests, I was always entertained by Trevor…when I wasn’t blown away by his vile approach to the every day. And yet, Trevor persists as manic to a fault, and goes back to GTA V failing to toe the line between the inane and the insane, with Trevor’s lighter moments being almost Tom & Jerry in one instance, to straight up Reservoir Dogs within the blink of an eye. Rockstar didn’t seem to quite know what to do with Trevor entirely, kind of having their cake and eating it too. If they made him too brutal he would have been a loathable character entirely, but make him too high jinksey, and he would have lost his fearful reputation as a result
I don’t know if they quite pull it off, but Trevor at least stands tall as a very memorable character as a result, even if a deplorable one. The simple truth of the matter may lie within who Trevor is fundamentally, as further analysis suggest he becomes a distillation of the GTA experience as a whole, representing the game, the player, and the interaction between both, in spurring the random chaos of a fantasy. Maybe Rockstar’s greatest achievement with Trevor then, is somehow creating an avatar that encompasses the interaction of the game and the player, into one psychotic symbolism?
Thinking about it, does that make Trevor the Walrus? I suppose if Trevor is the avatar of the experience, then maybe we are all the Walrus in this case?
Regressing back to my original point, and to clarify: I’m not taking GTA to task for not being more self-aware or less violent: the very premise would make the games instantly vanish into a thin air of boring paradox. I’m more pointing out that GTA V suffers from the same systemic problem many games across the board do, which is lagging behind in the story telling department…or perhaps, struggling with the story and gameplay complimenting each other in a greater, more satisfying manner.
I’ve seen many gamers turn their nose up to the phrase “ludonarrative dissonance” as a criticism, a term used to describe conflicts between gameplay and story. In this particular instance however, I pair the term with disassociation to boot. How my swath of bloodshed and murder is somehow palatable and joyous, while I’m simultaneously revolted by the Trevor inflicting the same kind of terror in a similarly gruesome way, I stand in a final moment of grand hypocrisy.
Hmm. 1800 words later, and I’m still not sure I’m articulating quite what I wanted to say here. On top of me being rusty in the writing department, I think there’s a lot to unload on this topic, so this idea may yet be in it’s earliest stages of development. With one final note, though I have thoroughly enjoyed GTA V, I think if Trevor does act out as sort of the spirit animal of GTA V in a symbolic way, I think observing that Trevor is an imbalanced riot says as much about V as it does him, and maybe even me, at least in terms of when conceptual depravity is concerned.
Well. I suppose that’s it for now. Just trying to shake the cobwebs out.