GTA5 is an ugly mirror because it doesn’t pretend not to be

There is an uncomfortable truth in gaming: if your character spends the game running and gunning down hundreds of people then they probably aren’t a nice person. When games try to create characters who buck this trend by saying they don’t like killing, like Nathan Drake and the latest incarnation of Lara Croft, it just comes off as strange.

It’s impossible to avoid the fact that if your gameplay and cutscenes are at odds then you are doing something wrong with your storytelling.

Games that avoid the excessive shooting can create characters that work really well. The Walking Dead and all but one of the characters in Heavy Rain show how storytelling can work really well when your characters remain true to the story with their actions, but those games are few and far between.

The problem also arises when you are too true to your characters, which is something that GTA5 has found. You have the young gang member who just wants to make some money and you have the retired thief who finds himself in need of some cash quickly so gets it the only way he can. These characters show zero remorse about their actions; they embark on their crimes with no second thoughts as to what they will lose in the process.

It’s the last of the three characters that has everybody upset, and that’s because he’s the only one true to the gameplay. He’s unapologetically violent and unpleasant. He’s the kind of person you can imagine mowing down pedestrians on the sidewalk so that he can get past the traffic stopped at the lights quickly. He’s the one that you can believe the motivation for killing all of the enemies he comes up against, even when they start to run away, just because he feels it’s the thing he should do. He’s the one who will abandon somebody who could be called a friend because his task means that he should.

He is a ghastly character that I actually dread playing. I had to stop last night because I thought I found the game annoying, but actually thinking about it I was reacting to having to play him. He was everything that I was already doing in the game given voice and I didn’t like what I saw.

The annoying thing is that he’s also the most interesting character. The other two are clichés that rely on other media in order to fill in their characters without the game having to bother and who will never do anything too surprising because of it. By making us play a character who is the embodiment of how we play the game the options of crazy are there. The option for interesting is there. The option may never be taken up, I don’t know as I haven’t finished the game yet, but it’s there and that’s the most interesting thing about the game.

I’m not sure I’ll ever enjoy playing that character, but I’m sure the memorable points in the game all come from him (as was helpfully spoilt by reviews, probably for the better).

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One thought on “GTA5 is an ugly mirror because it doesn’t pretend not to be

  1. Akely says:

    You raise some good points. I personally think that adding such a character as the really reprehensible one is a good choice and I think it can be seen as an art thing.The art in that would be to make the player feel uncomfortable. To feel reprehension committing horrible crimes or actions. To go a bit Clive Barker and not shun for the REALLY horrible, the pure evil shit that are inside (some) humans. Art as I see it is something that makes us feel and think, to evolve in some way. It sure seem to have made you think and feel.

    First time I’ve ever been interested in playing a GTA game. Thanks, Jon… 😉 Now… when is the PC version out?

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