Grand Theft Auto V: The Kids Aren’t All Right

By Shamus Posted Thursday Oct 18, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 73 comments

For the moment, let’s take the Michael / Trevor conflict, the father / son stuff between Michael and Franklin, the FIB stuff, the Devin Weston stuff, and the Union Depository job, and cram these disparate elements into a cardboard box labeled “Main Plot of GTA V”. If we can really call those five-ish parallel threads the plot, then I think the conflict between Michael and his family is our B-story. Sadly, none of it really works. The writer put in the timeAnd then some., but the framing and tone work against what the writer is trying to do.

The central problem is that this plot thread is about Michael’s love for his family. The way the story is structured, we’re supposed to long for reconciliation. But this can’t work, because the writer frames his family as antagonists.

It’s not even subtle. Michael’s family are heinous people. Sure, Michael is heinous too and they all more or less deserve each other, but the family commits the unpardonable sin of being antagonistic to the audience. They work against the desires of the player. They pick fights, scream at our protagonist, cause problems, and drag him away from the cool gangster stuff the gameplay is designed to support and into crass melodrama that it isn’t.

This scene gives us a full minute and a half of these idiots screaming at each other before something interesting happens.
This scene gives us a full minute and a half of these idiots screaming at each other before something interesting happens.

Worse, they all unite against Michael, further solidifying them as an antagonistic force. The DeSanta family are all broken, obnoxious, selfish, and given to countless vices, but for whatever reason the rest of the family can tolerate each other’s shortcomings but not Michael’s. The big gotcha they pull on him again and again is accusing him of being a “drunk” and a “murderer”.

I suppose they’re right about the murderer thing. Although that since this is a GTA game, this makes them antagonistic towards the protagonist. They may have the moral high ground, but they’re still working against the desires of the audience to see Michael become a gangster again. Moreover, this position doesn’t make any sense in terms of the story. They hate him when he’s bumming around the house at the start of the game, and they reconcile with him at the end once he’s returned to his life of crime.

As for being a drunk? We never see this supposedly terrible drinking. Michael is always sober when we take control of him. More importantly, it’s not clear how his supposed drinking is a hardship for any of them. Does he get drunk and abuse them? Endanger them? They never say so. We never see it happen. The story shows us the awful things his family does, but then tells us that Michael is also somehow bad to them when he’s not on screen. As far as the audience can tell, Michael sits around the house watching 80s action flicks. The rest of them are busy with their own lives and are happy to ignore him, so his alleged drinking problem shouldn’t even concern them.

If this happened once or twice it wouldn’t be a big deal. But this is a constant running theme in the story. The cutscene shows us his family being awful, and then they justify it by alluding to behavior the audience never sees. This naturally reinforces their status as villains in the minds of the audience.

Ugh. These obnoxious people do not deserve reconciliation.
Ugh. These obnoxious people do not deserve reconciliation.

The other thing making them antagonists is that we can see how much Michael loves them, but we don’t get a sense that they love him back. In the prologue he gives up everything he loves (his best friend, his beloved job as a robber) to keep them safe. This was his whole life and the one thing he really loves doing, and he gave it all up for them. As a result, they get to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills Rockford Hills. They are incredibly comfortable and fabulously wealthy thanks to his sacrifice. Not only are they not grateful, they seem to detest him. Again, this is antagonistic framing.

When they leave halfway through the game, it crushes him. He reaches out to them, tells them he loves them, and in return they insult him even more. In the context of a movie, a family drama like this would be structured so that the family is always looking reconciliation but our main character keeps pushing them away due to his own damage / neurosis / character flaws. The story is then a journey for the main character to overcome these inner demons so the family can be whole again. In GTA V, this is all backwards. Michael repeatedly expresses concern for his family, and they routinely reject his affection or try to use it to manipulate him. We never see the reverse, where one of them reaches out to Michael and is rebuffed. I’m totally willing to believe that Michael is a lousy guy to have around but the story is very vague about how he harms his family and very explicit about how they hurt him.

This poor family, stuck in this giant mansion with no responsibilities. There's nothing for them to do all day except enjoy the perfect weather, endless leisure, and pick fights with the man who gave up everything to make it possible. My heart breaks for them.
This poor family, stuck in this giant mansion with no responsibilities. There's nothing for them to do all day except enjoy the perfect weather, endless leisure, and pick fights with the man who gave up everything to make it possible. My heart breaks for them.

We can interpret this story in one of three ways:

  1. This isn’t supposed to be a story. This is a satire of family dramas. (This doesn’t work because there are no jokes and it doesn’t have anything coherent to say on the topic.)
  2. The family doesn’t want the money or the house, they just want their father to be engaged and involved. Michael needs to somehow change to reconcile with them. (This doesn’t work because it’s not clear how Michael’s behavior is a burden to them or how he needs to change.)
  3. The family are selfish idiots and they need to change by learning to appreciate the beneficial side of Michael’s violent outbursts. (This doesn’t work because the family is so repugnant and we have no reason to cheer for them.)

You can look at individual scenes and argue for any one of these three, but taken as a whole it doesn’t accomplish any of them.

Let’s look at a few of Michael’s encounters with his family:

Jimmy De Santa

And then there's THIS asshole.
And then there's THIS asshole.

Jimmy De Santa is 20 years old. He’s never had a job. According to his father, he spends all day “jerking off and playing videogames”. He is… not a nice person.

In one scene, we see Michael trying to watch a movie downstairs. But he can’t enjoy it, because Jimmy’s voice is booming across the house. Jimmy is playing some sort of online shooter and yelling gross slurs at the other players. Michael storms upstairs to get him to knock it off. Jimmy brushes his dad off without offering to tone it down or knock it off with the awful cringe-inducing trash talk. Michael gets pissed and smashes Jimmy’s jumbo television, putting an end to the videogame for good.

On one hand, yes, I’ll admit this is awful, destructive, and abusive behavior on the part of Michael. Michael is a bad father. However, the writer just got done portraying Jimmy as basically the bane of every gamer. In a movie, this is how villains are framed. The writer shows us a horrible strawman jackass so we can enjoy the cathartic sight of them getting their comeuppance. In another story, the TV smashing would be the moment of payoff for the audience where the villain gets what they deserve. So which is it? Are we supposed to be delighted or outraged when Michael smashes the TV?

Grand Theft Auto V uses Jimmy's videogaming to mock toxic gamers and violent videogames. This scene buried the needle on my hypocrisy detector.
Grand Theft Auto V uses Jimmy's videogaming to mock toxic gamers and violent videogames. This scene buried the needle on my hypocrisy detector.

The story spends all this time watching Michael yearn for his family, but the writer spends so much time making the audience hate them. This puts the audience at odds with the desires of the main character.

Worse, this scene comes shortly after a mission where Jimmy tried to sell his father’s boat so he could buy himself a car. Michael loved the boat, and Jimmy stole it so he could get something for himself. He didn’t even have a plan for covering up his crime. He was willing to brazenly hurt his father for a possession. After the boat is stolen Jimmy says, “Dad, relax. It’s just a thing.” But then Jimmy himself is deeply offended by the loss of his television. Jimmy and Michael are too dim to notice the symmetry here, but we in the audience do, and it further destroys whatever sympathy we might have for Jimmy. Michael might be distraught over his failings as a father, but as a member of the audience I’m glad to see Jimmy is off the internet and no longer screaming his vile nonsense at strangers.

Don't get your hopes up. Jimmy is asking for a car, not a hug. Pathos is for phonies.
Don't get your hopes up. Jimmy is asking for a car, not a hug. Pathos is for phonies.

The capstone to all of this is when Michael’s family leaves him. Jimmy spikes his dad’s drink. He then dumps his helpless father in the middle of the street and drives away in his car. This isn’t just irresponsible or selfish, this is outright evil. And it doesn’t come up again later. Jimmy never answers for any of this. This moment should feed into the conclusion where these two people realize how badly they’ve hurt each other and figure out why they keep doing it. Instead, it’s just one more reason to hate Michael’s son.

I get that Michael loves Jimmy, but their reconciliation arc is completely devoid of stakes and tension because the writer made the kid so horrendously loathsome.

Tracy

In this scene the writer acts like Tracy is naive about the porno stuff but then later it hints she's participating. Is that a deliberate part of her non-arc, or just her character morphing to fit the current scene?
In this scene the writer acts like Tracy is naive about the porno stuff but then later it hints she's participating. Is that a deliberate part of her non-arc, or just her character morphing to fit the current scene?

Of all the family, I think Tracy comes off the best. Sure, we get a scene where she’s drunk and asking her dad for money (while we never see Michael drunk around his family) so her gripes about him being a “drunk” fall pretty flat, but she’s not as viscerally repugnant as Jimmy and (unlike the other two) I think she even has a good reason to have a grudge against her dad.

The story hints that she’s working in pornography. It’s not clear if Michael really understands this, but when he hears that his daughter is on a boat with business guys that are into “porno”, he swims out and “saves” her.

This might be understandable if she was still a minor, but Tracy is 22. She’s old enough to make these kinds of decisions for herself. On the other hand, why is she still living with her parents at this point? Whatever. You could argue that Michael is trying to protect her, but it comes off as kind of gross. It seems like he’s less worried that his daughter is going into sex work and more worried that his daughter is just, you know, having sex. Then again, his wife Amanda was a sex worker. (As a stripper, and sometimes prostitute.)

The dialog deliberately avoids giving a reason for why Michael did this. Maybe he’s trying to save her from making the same life-ruining mistakes her mother did, or maybe he’s trying to control the sex life of his adult daughter. In a story focusing on the conflict between the characters, it really confuses things when the writer leaves things like this vague. This is the source of the tension between them. It should drive their conflict and their reconciliation should be the point where the two of them work it out. They reconcile later because the writer says so, but Michael never has to deal with this and accept that his daughter is all grown up now and her sex life is none of his business.

Tracy gets mad when her father assaults this TV presenter. But then she accepts her father when he does it a second time, only worse.
Tracy gets mad when her father assaults this TV presenter. But then she accepts her father when he does it a second time, only worse.

Later, she’s auditioning for Fame or Shame, a reality TV show. Once again, she seems to be trying to use her sex appeal for attention. It’s reasonable to say this this is a foolish course of action, but Michael doesn’t handle it well. Michael and Trevor (this is the big bonding moment for them after being reunited) storm the studio and assault Lazlow, the presenter. Once again, she’s quite reasonably outraged by this.

Her arc works right up until the moment of reconciliation. For a third time, Michael barges into her life and interferes with her attempts to break into show business. C-list celebrity Lazlow is still hitting on her, and Michael disfigures him. Michael gives him a piercing he doesn’t want, cuts off his ponytail, and uses a tattoo machine to draw a dick on his chest. This assault is worse than the last one, but this time Tracy accepts her father back instead of getting angry.

Anyway, Tracy doesn’t overtly do anything to hurt her father besides shriek at him at a couple of points in the story, and his actions are humiliating and upsetting for her. If the other two family members were handled this way then I think this family subplot could work. You can almost see the intended structure: Michael loves his family but he doesn’t know how to express that love so he drives them away. The writer didn’t even need to make them sympathetic. They just needed to not be repugnant and we could get on board with Michael’s struggle.

We’ll talk about his wife Amanda next week.

 

Footnotes:

[1] And then some.



From The Archives:
 

73 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto V: The Kids Aren’t All Right

  1. Jabberwok says:

    I don’t know if I’m off-base on this, but any time I have seen footage of this part of the game, I can only think: This just looks like the Sopranos with Michael Madsen playing Tony, but worse in every way.

    1. Redrock says:

      Sopranos with Michael Madsen sounds amazing. I might actually watch that.

  2. Decius says:

    “The cutscene shows us his family being awful, and then they justify it by alluding to behavior the audience never sees.”

    “Michael gets pissed and smashes Jimmy’s jumbo television, putting an end to the videogame for good.”

    It might be a mutually toxic relationship, but it’s clearly depicted as a mutually toxic relationship.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      From what I’ve seen, it seems like they made Jimmy’s character so despicable that the audience (or at least me) is unlikely to view Michael’s behavior as unwarranted. I’ve honestly never understood why any writer enjoys writing characters like that. I certainly don’t enjoy watching them… Even a downright evil character can command empathy or at least respect. These people just seem grotesque for its own sake.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Also, if the writers wanted the audience to have basically ANY sympathy for Jimmy in the story of their game, they shouldn’t have made him a caricature of the worst, most annoying kind of gamer. A lot of the players of GTA are going to have real-life experience of people like Jimmy and be naturally inclined to hate him even more than if this were a book or film.

      Couldn’t they have gone with a different ‘bad son’ stereotype like the Lazy, Good-For-Nothing Stoner?

      1. Cubic says:

        But we are better than that!

      2. Karma The Alligator says:

        They could have even kept the gamer angle, as long as they dropped the abusive aspect of it.

      3. eldomtom2 says:

        Jimmy, as a matter of fact, is also a lazy stoner.

      4. skellie10 says:

        I get the feeling that the gamer aspect of Jimmy’s personality was meant to feed into Rockstar’s equally mishandled campaign of satire on modern popular culture.

    3. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      But then why is the reconciliation the big triumphant climax of the story?
      These people seem to despise each other. They actively make each other’s lives worse.
      If we had any sympathy for either of them, we’d want them to seperate and never meet again, not live together as a family unit.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Yes. I can imagine a version of the story where Michael and Trevor reconcile because Michael pays Trevor to kill his family.

    4. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I always saw this like the guitar smashing scene in animal house. Yes realistically this is a horribly mean thing to do, but in context, the guy was so annoying that it was just cathartic for the audience.

  3. Redrock says:

    Welp, I don’t normally do this, but here I think the problem might be with the writer’s own perception of family. I’m hesitant to accuse anyone of any “-ism” these days, but this notion that ungrateful children and wives are out to get the suffering middle-aged husband/father/provider is pretty common and, I’m afraid, might be genuine on the writer’s part. Which may be the source of this weird portrayal. Same goes for Tracy. It appears that a lot of dads think they should have a say about their daughters’ sex life. On the other hand, in the spirit of fairness I think that it’s okay for a father to be worried that his adult daughter might participate in a drug-fueled orgy with sketchy people, but still. I seriously think that this particular aspect of the story is so broken because some personal opinions and biases got mixed in and messed up whatever idea there might’ve been.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I wouldn’t think that would be the case here, because usually that’s done to generate sympathy for the father, but the reconciliation angle seems bent on making the father out to be the one entirely in the wrong. There are lots and lots and lots of portrayals of families where the rest of the family is indeed sympathetic while the father figure is flawed, as Shamus himself comments on. So the only way I could see it would be if they adopted that to try to fit into the generally dark atmosphere of GTA — everyone is a corrupt jerk — but then the real conclusion would be that they shouldn’t have tried to do that sort of B-plot if they weren’t going to be able to fit it into the overall atmosphere of their gameworld.

      1. Redrock says:

        Nah, I don’t think that the reconciliation thing is intended to mean that Michael was in the wrong. Rather, it’s about him getting his mojo back, becoming empowered again. His family returns to him and starts appreciating him after he goes back to his violent criminal ways. Like how Tracy appreciates his torture of Lazlow. That’s your textbook example of all the alpha/beta/whatever Greek letter bullshit you get in those stories. How the husband-father breaks bad, embraces a more old-fashioned and violent brand of masculinity and thus regains the appreciation of his family. I’m no SJW, so I’d just as soon chalk it up to an overreliance on tropes than any “-ism” on the writer’s part. Still, though, makes one wonder. The nastiness of some of Rockstar’s tropes is too consistent to not think about what exactly it all says about the writers.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I can only go by what Shamus said here, but I get the impression that the reconciliation happens because of him making some kind of effort or gesture to reconcile them, not that he simply retakes the lead of the family. Moreover, many of the examples here of conflict are of him taking control and them resenting it. Even your interpretation of Lazlo ignores that the first time he steps in on her behalf in an over-the-top masculine way — and a more traditionally masculine way — Tracy hates it. If I had to try to find a way to make it make sense, I’d say that the game was trying to make the first one about Michael doing it because HE was offended, while the second time he did it to actually help Tracy, which would justify the stronger response and that Tracy appreciated it. The game almost certainly muffed that, though.

          I’d have to deny that it’s an overreliance on tropes, because from what is said here if they HAD just used the normal tropes for this sort of situation — father sacrifices everything to make family happy, family is unhappy anyway, father realizes that it’s not money that makes them happy but him being involved, family realizes that he can’t be involved with them if he’s not able to do what he loves because he’ll be too unhappy to, all reconcile happily — things would have made far more sense.

          1. Redrock says:

            That’s not how I remember it, but then again, I haven’t played the game in a while. I remember having a strong impression that the reconciliation was the result of Michael embracing his criminal side again and taking control of his life. But that might not have been the author’s intent, of course.

        2. “about the writers” well one of the writers are Lazlow, no idea how involved he was with those scenes with him and Michael but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a lot.

          Michael basically have the family he deserves. When he treats himself as shit so does his family, when he respects himself so does his family.

          Traci seems to want a strong father figure. It’s possible that after Michael went incognito and “uncle” Trevor vanished from the family life that Michael failed to be a strong father figure (he was now basically “on the run” from his old life.

          Jimmy seems to want a buddy rather than a dad. Someone to hang with. I forget if you can have Michael go golfing with his family (and Jimmy) only after they return to him or if you also could before.

          Michael’s wife treat him like shit. Apparently he drinks and goes out to spend the nights with hookers (or did at least as you’ll find out through the therapist sessions).
          His wife is acting out in similar ways. It’s possible they are soulmates and reflect each other in some way. Her working as a “girl” could have continued after she met Michael and married him, it’s possible she was a smaltime adult actress (but had to stop due to witness protection so nobody would recognize her). I also seem to recall that a woman fitting her description was on a dating site in the in-game browser, not that surprising due to her having affairs with the tennis couch and possibly yoga teacher as well.

          The info about the family members is possibly spread too much around. Sometimes you have to be at the right place at the right time. Like Amanda using adult toy when alone at home, and not happy getting caught. It’s hard to say if Michael is performing or not, though I seem to recall they are at some points (you can wake up with Amanda in bed, I forget if there are any NPC comments related to that). You can spy on Traci and find out she is doing something in her room with the door locked (possibly a webcam show with a friend over?).

          Also, at one point Amanda get in trouble with the law (I think) and you can go help her (as Michael), ending with the two of you running away from the law. Which she eventually finds exciting.
          You can also find Traci react to Michael rescuing her and if Michael kills (or not) someone her dialog reflect this.
          Same with Jimmy when he gets kidnapped, he dialog changes if you kill or not kill his kidnappers

          I can’t recall if these are pre-family breakup or post family reunion “family missions” though.

          One thing is for sure, that is one messed up family, and they do deserve each other.
          Again I can’t recall when it occurs, but all family members at some point reveal and accept that Michael is basically a gangster and killer, and that they are “ok” with it, that is where the money comes from, that gives them the life they have. And that Michael is willing to risk his life for them even though they treat him like shit.

          The interesting thing here is that Michael and his family could have been the focus of an entire GTA game.
          And incidentally so could probably Franklin’s life.
          As could Trevor’s escapades and mother issues.

          Rockstar could have released three games. GTA Michael’s Story, GTA Franklin’s Story, GTA Trevor’s Story. Made them slightly shorter than GTA V but fleshed out their stories more.
          Then made a GTA V with all three and their overlapping story sections only. Sure it would have been 4 games total but much better ones, and all could have used the same map.
          Either that or GTA V like now just fleshed out the backstories more of each main character.

          I really loved how Monolith’s Aliens vs Predator 2 (best AvP story heavy game ever IMO) had three separate characters and stories, which overlapped at some point, and you’d see certain scenes from a different viewpoint, and why certain events happen the way they did (i.e. you did it as one of the other characters).
          Rockstar could have done the same with GTA V, and only at maybe the midway point of the game let you start jumping freely between the characters (i.e force you to play as all three characters in a certain order at first half of the game).

          I’m gonna make an assumption that Rockstar wrote the the main character stories mostly separate then chopped’em up to allow for the character switching at almost any point. I think a lot of stuff cut cut/removed during development due to this (they didn’t want to force you to play as one of the characters for too long between you being able to switch again).

        3. houiostesmoiras says:

          Sorry the one-line response to a long and thought-out comment, but ..

          Tropeism, maybe?

        4. Mousazz says:

          I dropped the game shortly after Jimmy and the rest of the family betray Michael, but I distinctly remember noticing that the family treated Trevor, of all people, with more respect and friendliness. And I don’t think it was just out of fear either – Trevor seemed protective of them, and they (at least the kids) seemed more open and trusting with him – the opposite of freaked out and on edge. I immediately assumed it was because they remembered Trevor as being a dangerous, yet motivated and energetic man, whereas Michael slipped into decadent (and loathsome) ennui and apathy.

          And, as an aside, having read several blogs of people promoting Pick-Up Artistry (or, as they call it, the Game, or the Red Pill), they do indeed seem to preach to men to turn away from Michael’s style of passivity and embrace more old-fashioned domineering masculinity. Although, I’m pretty sure any further discussion on this topic will probably quickly lead to ideological/political arguing…

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I’m not sure. I think that a lot of the problem is the writer(s?) copy-pasting stuff that you usually see in this kind of story, just in a tone-deaf and thoughtless way:

        Dad worrying about his daughter’s sexuality and reacts by being overly controlling and hostile to her male friends? Common movie trope.
        Son being too loud, so dad goes upstairs and there’s an argument? Common scene in many movies.
        Dad’s drinking upsets the family? Plot point in LOADS of films and stories.
        Reconciliation at the end? Almost always happens.

        So you start with that bundle of tropes. But because this is GTA, you then add some ill-thought-out ‘edgy’ twists on the common tropes, because Everything Is Shit And Everyone’s An Asshole.
        Don’t let your changes affect the story structure in any way ( fuck it, don’t even bother showing us Micheal’s ‘drinking problem’) – just do the things that happen in this kind of film.

        Like a satire written by a cynical, edgy version of Tommy Wiseau.

        Oops, technically this was a reply to RedRock, not Daimbert.

    2. Viktor says:

      Yeah, Redrock, that’s what I took away from it too. You’ve got some clear wish-fulfillment in the destruction of the “damn video games” and in assaulting the guy dating the daughter, the family yelling about stuff that’s “not even a problem, really”, and a reconciliation that involves minimal changes on the Protag’s part. That tells me the writer(s) was working through some issues with his own family when he made this.

  4. JDMM says:

    Part of the problem might also be that the writer is running into the gulf of lived experiences against imagined experiences.
    All of us, I imagine, have had to deal with a family member we didn’t like or a period involving them doing something we didn’t like so we know how Michael must feel. But the family’s experiences towards Michael? How many of us are police officer or crime lawyers or 1 in a 100 hostages such that we have to deal with bank robbers, at the moment I am sought of modelling Michael as a member of the military and many families get along well with people who get sent overseas to do things that would never happen at home
    On paper you could see how it would make sense, Michael being a GTA protagonist the player would intellectually be opposed to him yet if Michael’s crime are generally things we have little experience with however his family does well our feelings might go the other way

    …on the other hand there’s also all that hate the actress of Skyler from Breaking Bad got because people wanted Walter White to be purely an escapist fantasy about how awesome it would be to be a drug lord and the difference between a person who is abusive and person who is much more is not so wide. Show a documentary of Ivan Milat’s home life and you might think he’s a bad guy whom his wife should divorce but not more then that, the man was actually a serial killer who’s gotten a life sentence. You might think Michael would not go further than smashing the TV, does Jimmy know that?

    1. Cubic says:

      In the next couple of weeks, me and my friends Franklin and Trevor will kill about 1500 people. But you won’t be one of them, Jimmy. That would be crazy.

    2. JakeyKakey says:

      Skylar hate was more about her being presented as a shrill bitchy housewife from the first five minutes of the first episode, long before Walt gets wrapped up in drugs – which ties back to what Shamus said about characters becoming antagonistic to the audience.

      Morally and logically she’s obviously in the right at almost every point of the story, but Skylar’s entire contribution in the first three seasons is almost solely to act as a narrative roadblock. She’s an important character that clearly needs something to do, but fundamentally cannot.

      On one hand you have this massively compelling set of drug dealing plotlines, on the other hand, the whole show grinds to a halt whenever Skylar is around because all her stuff basically comes down to “Skylar is unlikable”, “Skylar suspects Walt is up to something based on his dodgy behaviour”, “, “Walt tries to cover up his dodgy behaviour so that Skylar doesn’t suspect he’s up to something”, and eventually “Skylar is understandably unhappy with Walt being a meth dealer”.

      Skylar’s hate notably starts to die down as she finds out about Walter’s illicit activities and gradually gets further and further in on it.

  5. Lars says:

    The whole Family Arc is Rockstars way to “satire” TV shows of Bam Margera, Johnny Knocksville or the Ozzbournes.
    When you calculate how good Rockstar is at satire plus the quality of the stated shows, the result had to disastrous.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      My though was that it’s Rockstar’s attempt at something like Arrested Development or Archer – just lacking the jokes, absurd situations, intelligent writing and depth that shows the characters’ motivations and insecurities.

      You can make a story about a family of people who are (almost) all awful work. But it needs a much better writer than you get here.

      1. Lars says:

        Loved AD, never seen Archer. I never thought of AD while playing GTA V. It is very different.

        Indeed, you can make a family of almost all awful people work. Like The Flodders (Netherlands series and films), or for Americans: Beverly Hill Billys. For French people: Les Tuche.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Well, the original Beverly Hillbillies are, in general, pretty nice people, much nicer, in general, than the rich people around them (except maybe for Granny). So not a good example. The family in Married With Children probably fits better.

          1. Ravens Cry says:

            Married . . . With Children managed to have a horrible family be horrible to each other and make it work, but I think it had a couple things in its favour. One, it was a comedy. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, but a comedy, and an absurdist one at that. Two, there was repeated instances where when external forces acting against one or more made them band together and show, yeah, they were absolute psychopaths to each other, but they still loved and cared about each other in a twisted kind of way. Something alone those lines could probably have worked here.

      2. The problem with the “GTA world” (not just GTA V) is that they’ve taken pretty much everything into a blender and and kept all the chunky bits. That is also GTA’s charm.
        Similar reasons exists for people liking or disliking South Park or Family Guy (or even The Simpsons).

        People want the same, but not too same. People want satire but not too much satire. People want to play as a criminal (it’s GTA after all) but not too criminal.

        The GTA V devs has embraced this a long time ago, it’s basically the core of GTA. It also means that the GTA world is somewhat disconnected in it’s believably.

        It’s kinda weird that Michael goes to a therapist and he’s trying to become a “nicer guy” while at the same time you got Ammunation stores on each block that sell rocket launchers and homing missiles. And news broadcasts and internet sites/articles about the weirdest and sometimes digusting crap that would light the SJW internet on fire in real life.
        Take this for example http://gta.wikia.com/wiki/Citizens_United_Negating_Technology

        If it’s something people get upset at in real life it’s parodied/satirised and put into the game and becomes part of it’s recurring lore.

        The worst of the real world is put into these games, which makes them much darker than one might realise. There are radio ads for running shoes that blatantly prides itself for having been made using child labour for example.

        Many compare GTA and Saint’s Row. But here’s the thing. Saint’s Row had a creative filter. GTA doesn’t. In GTA there is something tucked away somewhere that is guaranteed to upset anyone.

        For me GTA is like this. Many times I think to myself “oh man, that’s a really, really bad joke, that was way to far”, then a few minutes later I change the channel or see a in-game website and chuckle and grin to myself.

        The Trevor torture scene was odd, but also expected. As Trevor afterwards drives to the airport you realize he is basically admitting that he enjoy torturing people and that he is a bad guy (the guy he just tortured that he is lecturing is also acting as a pseudotherapist).

        Other game worlds that are also twisted are Bioshock, Dishonored, and We Happy Few.
        These have satire or caricatures (no parodies though), and are in many way much darker than GTA which Id’ consider more lighthearted.
        But they (and GTA) are all rather dystopian. But scarily enough a lot of the “weird and controversial” stuff in these games do occur in real life (even the really weird stuff).
        Those games do something much better though, they are more connected, then again they have (basically) a single protagonist and a more focused narrative (they do not have a open world with sidegames and sidemissions to the extent GTA has).

        Seeing people comparing RDR2 and GTA V will be interesting as RDR2 is laser focused on (and around) a single protagonist, and there is no satire or parody, and fully grounded in realism almost 99%.
        Why is this interesting? Because the same devs (AFAIK) worked on both games.

        What I’m trying to say is that GTA has become a sterotype of itself. That still doesn’t mean they can’t improve the story telling for GTA VI though.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          The thing is, when The Simpsons was good (seems like the usual consensus is somewhere around the first ten seasons, give or take), the comedy in it was fundamentally character driven. Situations were funny or poignant because they were exactly how you would expect those characters to react, and the situations arose naturally from the characters. Rockstar seems to take the opposite approach, lifting individual gags and scenes from other media (mostly whichever Hollywood movie popularized the genre) and writing those into the scene’s characters. Family Guy (and probably more recent Simpsons) does the same thing, choosing a gag first and then fitting it in however possible. I’m sure that’s why I got sick of Family Guy after a few seasons. And if you’re writing a story that wants to sometimes take itself seriously instead of just straight up absurdist comedy, that method probably works even less.

          “What I’m trying to say is that GTA has become a sterotype of itself.”

          This is actually something I’ve noticed in recent years with a lot of video game franchises. I won’t start listing them, but it seems like early entries in the series are often inspired by other fiction, usually from film. And usually something that was much better. So the result isn’t bad, but then later entries in the series are inspired mostly by the previous entries rather than their source material. Which can hit a bit of a downward spiral, or result in some strange tonal shifts. Off the top of my head, Blizzard seems to have been affected by this, particularly with Starcraft. Their new IPs have always had very obvious inspirations, but those inspirations slowly get subsumed over time. Not even unique to games, of course. I feel like it’s certainly happened to Star Wars over the years. The main difference might be that it feels like GTA hates itself on some level.

        2. ElementalAlchemist says:

          Why is this interesting? Because the same devs (AFAIK) worked on both games.

          No, Rockstar North makes GTA. Rockstar San Diego makes RDR (former Angel Studios, who also created the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine that both series now run on). That said, there was almost certainly some level of collaboration on RDR2, but presumably Rockstar North is primarily focused on GTA VI. There’s a reason that the two series, while similar in broad strokes, are in many ways fundamentally different.

          1. eldomtom2 says:

            RDR was written by Dan Houser, Micheal Unsworth, and Christian Cantamessa. GTAV was written by Dan Houser, Rupert Humphries, and Micheal Unsworth. There is overlap.

    2. ccesarano says:

      Y’know, this might actually be the case. At first I was wondering if perhaps Rockstar wanted to simply comment that giving a family a big mansion with no responsibilities meant you were going to have a crap family, but reading the posts here I’m not even certain that would have been in their mind at all. If their entire goal was to take something like The Osbournes and portray that in GTA… well, yeah, it makes sense, and it is handled as poorly as you could expect it to be.

      I also wondered if, perhaps, each character is supposed to somehow embody a type of player of their games. Trevor is the… well, the Jimmy of their audience, meant to act as an avatar for their desire to just unleash violence. I don’t know who Franklin would represent, perhaps a more stable and average gamer, but I feel like Michael would in some ways potentially represent the “grown-up” or “journalist” coming to criticize all these elements of the games. Jimmy seems like an insult of the typical, juvenile gamer audience and Tracy’s arc would be a completely incoherent and misunderstood argument regarding the sexuality within games and the GTA series as a whole.

      This itself is a stretch, though. Trying to sort out the writers’ motivations at this point feels like staring into the gaping maw of madness.

  6. Mephane says:

    Am I the only one who vividly imagined a family in The Sims on autopilot while reading this?

  7. Dorenkosh says:

    I haven’t played a GTA since San Andreas, so my strongest connection/reaction to this piece is:

    “But I like Lazlow!”

    Having Lazlow be disfigured, especially by the protagonist, is a good way to make me want to stop playing the game entirely.

    1. BenD says:

      Spoiler: They’re gonna ruin that for you. For no reason. (Unless the reason is “We had this voice actor on contract already.”)

      1. Gethsemani says:

        Lazlow is actually one of the writers and his in-game persona has been becoming increasingly acerbic and misanthropic with each game. He started out as pretty cool in GTA 3 and Vice City but via San Andreas and GTA IV he becomes increasingly hostile, until he’s the sleazy, acerbic asshole portrayed in GTA V.

        There’s something ironic about one of the radio station hosts getting more character development then the actual protagonists. But the reason it happened seems to be simply that Lazlow felt like making his in-game alter ego a complete asshole.

        1. RichardW says:

          I really miss when Lazlow was more the straight man to all the craziness in GTA’s world, now his character is as messed up as everyone else it just isn’t funny anymore.

        2. eldomtom2 says:

          And pathetic, as well, which I’d say is his defining character trait in GTA V.

  8. Cubic says:

    I saw it as Michael impotently watching his family turning into typical Hollywood bottom feeder creeps (weed/loser, actress/model/whatever in these two cases), in essence failing the family life achievement, and slipping back into thug life with something of a sense of relief.

    (Just like Michael, I wouldn’t let my 22-y/o daughter get into porn or semi-porn without batting an eye either. But I’m afraid I can’t maneuver a tattoo gun.)

    (Maybe the POV torture scene should have starred Michael and Laszlo?)

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      (Maybe the POV torture scene should have starred Michael and Laszlo?)

      Ah, but then you’d have a legitimate reason to want to do it, ruining the “satire”.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        Even then, “I don’t like the career choice of my daughter” doesn’t exactly give a lot of legitimacy to that scene.

        1. Karma The Alligator says:

          I meant for the player (if they don’t like Laszlo), not for Michael.

  9. dogbeard says:

    The bit with Tracy made sense to me. The game makes it clear that she’s a wee bit naive if we’re being generous, and that the various producer types she’s tooling around with probably aren’t the most honest of people so it made sense that someone as protective of his family and prone to violence and anger as Michael (and who is also a big enough nerd about everything vinewood that he should know/have an exaggerated idea about how they chew up and spit out women exactly like his daughter) would go absolutely ballistic if he saw some sleazeball trying to talk his two-crayons-short-of-a-full-box daughter into doing some regrettable things for a false chance at fame. I’m not saying his actions are justified but it didn’t come off to me like he was doing it as some puritanical thing to keep his daughter from boning dudes without his permission, it seemed like he was just trying to stop her from getting exploited in a business where she was way out of her depth.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      This would absolutely be a valid interpretation of Tracy and Michael’s arc, if it wasn’t for the fact that Tracy has a porn persona (Tracey Suxxx, I believe), her voice mail for part of the game has her inform you that she runs a webcam sex service and the game strongly hints that she fully knows what she’s getting into but feigns ignorance when Michael shows up.

      As with everything GTA V, it is hard to tell what the actual intention of the Tracy character actually is. Is she a naive daughter that has to be protected or is she a manipulating bitch that exploits Michael’s naivety towards his own daughter? Who knows, like most Rockstar characters she’s this sort of Schrödinger’s Character, which can have multiple mutually exclusive character aspects at once, that change from scene to scene depending on what the writers want or need.

  10. 0451fan0451 says:

    Somewhat unrelated, but the Righteous Slaughter Call of Duty parody felt really flat and hypocritical to me. You’re game isn’t exactly classy either Rockstar and I wouldn’t go making fun of other player bases while you still have GTA online up and running.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      It is an odd combination, because GTA has somehow evolved to believe itself to be this scathing critique of the worst trends in video games despite also being ground zero for most of those trends. And I use ‘worst’ here only because GTA’s own version of satire seems to work on the assumption that all of the sex and violence and depravity that defines their game is a terrible thing to put in a game. And seriously, I cannot think of any popular series that made it as acceptable to murder innocent people as GTA. As a gamer, I had very little issue with that, but now GTA itself seems to believe that all of this stuff that it popularizes is awful? I’m not sure how to process that in a way that makes sense.

  11. Hal says:

    I haven’t played any of the GTA games, but their reputation, especially regarding sex, is not so good. In previous entries, I believe you could engage with (or simply murder) prostitutes, yes? Is that still a thing here?

    I’m not going to say that a person can’t be a dedicated purveyor of the world’s oldest profession and not want his daughter to get into it, either. Actually, that kind of internal conflict would make for some good character growth from the sounds of it. But it sounds like that’s not what’s happening here.

    Even highlighting the lack of self-awareness on Michael’s part, or maybe just showing the incongruity between in-world activities and the characters’ attitudes, could make for something approaching satire. Instead, it just kind of sounds like the obliviousness is on the part of the game itself, and (as said above) these are awful people for no reason.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      In previous entries, I believe you could engage with (or simply murder) prostitutes, yes? Is that still a thing here?

      Yes, the old GTA staple of screwing and then murdering hookers to get easy cash is still a viable strategy. I’m pretty sure I remember one of the bigger media outlets wringing their hands over it when the game came out, showcasing some Youtube videos of someone playing as Trevor picking up hookers, having sex with them, then murdering them.

  12. The Rocketeer says:

    I’m not charmed by the spate of comments to the effect of, “I never ever do this unless I feel like it but anyway here’s what’s happening in the author’s psyche and their family life.” Ugly projection.

    1. Viktor says:

      Understanding the work requires understanding the author. Yes, people often read too much into things, but writing is basically a window into how the writer sees people. In a poorly-written work, the characters aren’t doing things because they want to, they’re doing things because that’s what the writer expects people to do. You can’t figure out ‘why’ without taking the writer into account.

      Plus, sometimes it’s obvious. Ever hear the phrase, ” ‘Write what you know’ is the reason we have so many novels about middle-aged english professors contemplating adultery.” Yeah. Now, granted, I grew up on sci-fi novels and superhero comics, which wore the author’s views on morality and society on their sleeves, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to look at the writer’s POV when they encounter a section of the work that doesn’t make sense.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to look at the writer’s POV when they encounter a section of the work that doesn’t make sense.

        You’re begging the question. You don’t know the writer’s point of view.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          That’s not what begging the question is. Begging the question means that you’re making an argument based entirely on a premise you haven’t proved. For example, “Since we know immigrants from Canada cause most automobile accidents, it makes sense to limit their ability to get licenses here.” But… the first part of the sentence that is the basis for the argument sounds nuts and hasn’t been proven at all. In this case, “I am going to interpret the author’s background based on the material they have written” isn’t begging the question at all. They might come to a completely faulty interpretation, but the idea of “maybe the writer wrote this because they can relate to it” isn’t such an unreasonable basis to start with.

          1. Syal says:

            Begging the question means the answer assumes itself. The quoted sentence assumes making up authorial intent in a vacuum is worthwhile because knowing the author’s intent is worthwhile, which is begging the question.

          2. The Rocketeer says:

            Fruitlessly attempting to infer the attitude and mindset of a writer from elements of an impersonal mediation of their creative process (e.g. a game) and then using those gossamer-thin presumptions as a basis for further meaningless inferences about the specific experiential and personal circumstances that might result in these attitudes twice presumes unprovable assertions as an evidentiary basis for a conclusion about an unknown objective fact, which is how you and I correctly define begging the question.

            The purpose of this shoddy process is to beg the question a third time by reversing course and resorting to the thin conclusion reached as an explanation for the premise by which that conclusion was reached. In this instance, “Because the game writer is a surly drunk that hates his wife and kids, we can expect that to come through in how he’s written Michael’s shitty family life to mirror his own.”

            Which brings us to this statement:

            I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to look at the writer’s POV when they encounter a section of the work that doesn’t make sense.

            This isn’t begging the question. It’s just a defense of begging the question of a writer’s unknowable life circumstances as an explanatory basis for an element of a game’s writing. And that’s analytical malpractice. I don’t object as much on the strict basis of logic as I do on the basis of good analytical practice; this is a shabby crutch for weak and tendentious arguments that reveal a little about the analyst and less about the subject. In this particular instance, it’s also a small-hearted and crude innuendo to level at the writer. At most, the role of the writer in analysis is as an abstraction, and a risky one at that warranting the jealousy of the critic and their audience.

            And with that: this doesn’t escape Occam’s Razor. Or Hanlon’s Razor, given the ugly insinuations about the writer. The best conclusion is that this stuff just isn’t very well-written. That’s it.

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    This is obviously more of Rockstar’s attempt at “satire” with the same results it always has, seeing how they have zero talent for it.

    Man, if they would just bite the bullet and pair their technical expertise with actually good writers they could easily end up creating the best games in the industry.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      This probably goes for a lot of AAA developers. Unfortunately, I don’t think money endows you with the ability to distinguish between good and bad writing. At least with visual artists, just about anyone can look at their work and say, “Wow, that mailbox I asked you to make really looks like a mailbox. Good job.” But when it comes to writing, it’s so subjective that the Dunning-Kruger effect must kick into overdrive.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      GTA V is one of the most profitable pieces of media ever released. It would be a hard sell to say to them “but actually, your writing is bad and no one likes it, you need to completely overhaul that and take yourselves out of the process to really succeed there.” Even if their writing has nothing to do with their success and is actively holding them back, it’d be real hard to prove that.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Pretty sure I said “best games” and not “best selling games”.

      2. Jabberwok says:

        I’m not convinced that this even matters to them. At a certain level of wealth, a developer can just throw money at their product to boost fidelity, marketing, and sales. I mean, Michael Bay generally dismisses any criticism of his films with something like ‘they are just for fun’. If he’s somehow worried about ticket sales, he can just pump some more funding into the effects department. Same at Rockstar’s level. I think it’s been clear for many years that good writing and money have little to no correlation. Because good writing isn’t expensive. All it costs is having the sense and taste to know where to find it. These guys can goof off and not worry about finding talent better than they are. When you can hire hundreds of programmers and artists to bring your story to life, and you know people will buy it just from the name on the box, there must be little incentive to improve the story itself.

  14. ElementalAlchemist says:

    I cringed when news first came out that they were saddling the protagonist (or one of them) with a wife and kids. Once I actually played the game, it was far worse than I had feared. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea, but it’s one of the worst aspects of GTAV for me. I find Amanda especially infuriating. She’s constantly berating Michael about having sex with hookers, but in a way that suggests that this is not just past dalliances, but is actively happening while under the player’s control. I really resented that on my first playthrough, as I didn’t do that at all. And the level of hypocrisy of that accusation when she spends half the game knocking off a series of personal trainers, ugh.

    1. Cubic says:

      What now, unfair accusations from one’s wife? Clearly the most unrealistic part of GTAV.

  15. FluffySquirrel says:

    I think one of the other things that stops it working is that, while Michael is clearly a broken person.. we see him *trying* … at the game’s start, he’s off seeking therapy for his clear anger management issues, and the family issues he’s having. He sucks at it, but he’s actually giving it a good try, whereas as Shamus points out, his family just don’t seem to give a shit about him and aren’t even remotely interested in trying

    Part of the issue could be that having lived with his violent anger issues for a good amount of years, they’ve mentally checked out of the relationship. Sure, he’s going for therapy, *sure* he says he loves us. But he’s going to end up getting angry and violent again soon, so why bother

    I could see that being a thing, but sadly they didn’t show any of it. The rest is, as said, that his family are all varying shades of awful, which kinda makes you lose any sympathy for them, especially Jimmy, ugh

  16. Geebs says:

    I hate to say it, Shamus, but you’re over-thinking this. Michael’s family don’t respect him when he’s not a criminal; it’s supposed to reflect the fact that he doesn’t respect himself. Then he goes back to the life of crime and they start respecting him again. All of the scenes you’re puzzled by are just rather lazy and hackneyed ways of repeatedly hammering home the same point.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      But Michael does crime for the entire game and they only come to respect him in the last third of it. So how does that line up?

      1. Geebs says:

        ‘Cause he finally does enough crime to recover his self-esteem at that point in the game.

  17. Mortuss says:

    Ok, Jimmy is a piece of shit, but Tracy and Amanda are mostly ok. I think it is understandable that they get back together when he goes back to his gangster ways, him and Amanda got together when he was like that because that is the guy she married, she wants him to be the tough driven guy with a plan. Sure she does not want him to go around actually doing crime, but that is very human, I know a few people who likes certain qualities about their partner, don’t like the baggage that come with them and cannot accept the fact that you usually cannot have one without the other. Not the best look, but not villainous. At the start of the game, we get Michael that just sits around and complains a lot, is unhappy with his life and shows it, not a pleasant person to be around.

    I also think Tracys reaction is not that shocking, while a bit hypocritical. She is not mad that he beats up Lazslo, she doesn’t like that guy, she is upset that he did it on TV ruining her chances. The second time there is nothing that he really ruins for her, so she sees it more as standing up for her. Again, she is not a good person, but not villainous.

    But yeah, Jimmy is a piece of shit.

  18. Roofstone says:

    I think your points about the drinking not being an issue because he doesn’t endanger or abuse them is a bit naive. Having your father be constantly drunk -presuming that everyone in the game is being honest about Michael’s drinking despite us not seeing it- is absolutely awful psychologically. Seeing someone you love and care for constantly intoxicate themselves and become a different person entirely is absolutely awful, particularly when that person is your caretaker and rolemodel.

    If you think the drinking can only be an issue if he is abusive or endangers them or any other such qualifier then you’re very wrong.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      …presuming that everyone in the game is being honest about Michael’s drinking despite us not seeing it

      Well, therein’s the rub. We are told it, and not shown it.
      Agreed that alcoholism is a problem for the alcoholic’s family, not least because no-one claims they can ‘handle it’ louder and angrier than someone who…obviously can’t handle it.
      But if the game’s going to make him an alcoholic, then it could do worse than having the audience see it for themselves…

  19. Tonich says:

    Huh. Weird thing is, before this post I didn’t realise Micheal’s kids were that old. I kinda assumed Jimmy was 16 or 17, and Tracy was 18 or 19. Which would make Micheal’s overprotectiveness at least a bit understandable, if not yet justified.
    I don’t know why I had that assumption, but I don’t think their age is explicitly mentioned anywhere in the game. Or is it?

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *