Grand Theft Auto V: All in The Family

By Shamus Posted Thursday Oct 25, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 56 comments

Last week I talked about Michael’s relationship with his kids and how they don’t really work in a dramatic sense. This week let’s wrap up the family drama by talking about Michael’s relationship with his wife.

Amanda picks fights with Michael at every opportunity. If the two of them share a scene, it will only take a couple of lines of dialog before she begins digging at him and trying to start a fight. That’s fine. These two have traded a lot of lies and insults over the years and they’ve both been unfaithful. They’re both trapped in this marriage by the “witness protection” arrangement they have, and neither one of them seems to have much in the way of friends. I understand these people are unhappy.

What Does Amanda Want?

I hate these people. They don't deserve my help.
I hate these people. They don't deserve my help.

Rather than find herself a nice quiet boyfriend elsewhere, Amanda seems intent on banging guys around the house where her restless retired gangster husband is likely to find out about it. In this story she screws both her tennis coach and her yoga instructor.

This is a good setup for a quirky family drama. Unfortunately, it’s all setup and no payoff. Is Amanda having these affairs at the house because she wants Michael’s attention, or is she just dumb and careless? Is she trying to get Michael to care, or does she want him to leave her alone? At various points in the story you can find scenes that could support either of these contradictory readings. In a storytelling sense, the writer needs to answer the fundamental question: What does this character really want?

The story doesn’t say and it’s hard for the audience to care because she’s so grating. Again, the arguments are usually framed such that Shrill and Hysterical Amanda picks a fight with Totally Reasonable and Trying His Best Michael. Maybe the writer is afraid of giving our protagonist palpable flawsI mean, beyond the flaws of being career criminals and killers., but by doing things this way they undercut one of the major plot threads in the game. Just like they never explored Michael’s over-protective nature towards Tracy, they never explored the root of the conflict between Michael and Amanda. This story is all sizzle and no bacon.

Here's Tracy shit-faced and asking for money. Jimmy drinks AND smokes weed. But somehow Michael's unseen drinking is the real problem.
Here's Tracy shit-faced and asking for money. Jimmy drinks AND smokes weed. But somehow Michael's unseen drinking is the real problem.

But Shamus! This is a GTA game, not a drama! You can’t expect the writer to make some Cannes Film Festival shit. The writer isn’t writing Oscar bait!

True. I agree that this is a lowbrow pulpy adventure story. But the writer spends a lot of time on these family scenes. No matter what you claim the writer is trying to do, it’s not working. It doesn’t work emotionally, since the story is trying to get us to invest emotionally in repulsive people. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t even work as imitative filmmaking. Scorsese has a lot of interpersonal drama in his movies, and it’s always bang-on.

As an example: In Casino, Sam (Robert DeNiro) is married to and infatuated with Ginger (Sharon Stone). We in the audience can tell that she’s dangerous and toxic. She’s bad for Sam. But the writer also spends several scenes establishing her as gorgeousOkay, that’s as easy as pointing the camera at Sharon Stone, but you get what I’m saying., clever, and manipulative. We can see why Sam likes her, even if we don’t. We get why he likes her, and we come to understand the root of her dysfunctionDrug addiction, avarice, and a pimp that’s basically brainwashed her.. When their relationship turns possessive, vindictive, and ultimately destructive, we can see how all of it is a result of the choices they’ve made as characters.

Meanwhile, in GTA V the characters fight because they’re irredeemable toxic jerks and they stop because the writer says so. The story does this pantomime of an arc without delivering one. In the end we don’t care because the writer doesn’t do anything to get us invested in the characters first. These people don’t have any redeeming characteristics. Fixing this would be as easy as giving Amanda a creative hobby, or making Jimmy really funny, or showing that Tracey is actually clever and self-aware.

They’re not even good at being bad people! We could at least enjoy them as antiheroes if they each had a skill that made them special. Jimmy could be a fantastic liar / con artist, Tracy could be good at manipulating dudes with her sex appeal, and Amanda could be good at using her sharp tongue on people who aren’t Michael. Instead, the entire family is terrible at everything. Jimmy has no charisma, Tracy dances like an idiot, and Amanda is shallow, dim, and pretentiousHer attempts at tapping into the spiritual side of Yoga are an embarrassment.. These people have nothing going for them. We can’t even respect them as rivals within the story. They just hang around the main character and make unpleasant noises at him.

Yogi Unbearable

In GTA V, Rockstar caved to overwhelming fan pressure and finally added interactive Yoga.
In GTA V, Rockstar caved to overwhelming fan pressure and finally added interactive Yoga.

The inciting incident is during a yoga lesson with Amanda’s yoga teacher, Fabian. Fabian ropes Michel into joining the session. (Yes, the yoga session is an actual gameplay mode. I mean obviously this game would feel incomplete without YOGA MODE.) After a few minutes of this, Fabian begins doing “yoga” that involves rubbing his crotch against Amanda’s backside. Michael does not respond well to this. He tries to attack Fabian, whiffs, and falls into his own swimming pool. Amanda goes ballistic over this and storms off. After this we have the scene where Jimmy drugs his father and dumps him in the street. When Michael sobers up and gets home again the next morning, his entire family is gone.

After this we have a bunch of missions where we see how devastating this is for Michael, even though it’s probably a huge relief for the audience.

Much later in the story (after they all take turns rejecting his pleas for reconciliation) he meets up with his family again. Amanda is with Fabian now, and it’s obvious everyone is sick of the guy. Fabian throws some passive-aggressive snark at Michael, who responds by bashing him in the face with a laptop. After this the family comes back with Michael.

POW. And now my family will love me again. For some reason.
POW. And now my family will love me again. For some reason.

So he assaulted Fabian a second time, and Amanda accepts him back for doing the exact same thing that caused her to leave him in the first place?

What?!

This follows the structure of a drama. You’ve got scenes of conflict, escalation, estrangement, and reconciliation. But none of it makes any sense because it’s not really based on anything concrete. His family is mad about drinking that we never see and which isn’t a burden to them, then they leave him over crimes that are less than their own, then they accept him back despite there being no change in anyone’s behavior.

Michael and Jimmy get a scene of reconciliation. Except, at the point where you’d expect an apology / hug / expression of affection, Jimmy gives us bathos by asking for a car. The scene is structured like a family drama, but then sabotages the moment of catharsis with vapidity and cynicism. If you’re going to tell a family drama, then make a proper drama with emotional payoff. If you’re too cool for that icky emotional stuff and you just want to mock family drama, then put some jokes in there so we can laugh along. Or, you, know… do both.


Link (YouTube)

You can make fun of something while also appreciating it Examples: Galaxy Quest, Shaun of the Dead, Deadpool, Saints Row.. But Grand Theft Auto spends a lot of its expansive runtime on this family drama where the characters are irritating, the stakes are nonexistent, and the drama is undercut by nihilistic bathos.

I have no idea why this story is in the game, since it feels like the writer didn’t want to tell it in the first place.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I mean, beyond the flaws of being career criminals and killers.

[2] Okay, that’s as easy as pointing the camera at Sharon Stone, but you get what I’m saying.

[3] Drug addiction, avarice, and a pimp that’s basically brainwashed her.

[4] Her attempts at tapping into the spiritual side of Yoga are an embarrassment.

[5] Examples: Galaxy Quest, Shaun of the Dead, Deadpool, Saints Row.



From The Archives:
 

56 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto V: All in The Family

  1. coleusrattus says:

    Ah, I remember being affected by the family leaving.

    Nope, not because of the characters and their relationship with each other, but because THEY TOOK MY GOODDAMN TUNED AND UPGRADED AUDI LOOKALIKE AWAY FROM ME and left me with a shitty econobox.

    1. Stu Hacking says:

      This. Also, the fact that despite being able to buy high-end vehicles in the game, you can’t actually replace your characters’ default cars.

      1. eldomtom2 says:

        Also if your car gets destroyed or lost, all the money you spend on it goes down the drain. They fixed this with GTA Online, I don’t see why insurance (and larger garages that cars are tied to) couldn’t be in the singleplayer.

        1. ColeusRattus says:

          Well, the character’s vehicles that they started with, so Micheal’s Audi, Trevor’s truck and Franklin’s Dodge and bike, will reappear at their homes with the upgrades intact.

          1. eldomtom2 says:

            Yeah, but I’m talking about the other cars that you buy or steal.

  2. Redrock says:

    Amanda could be good at using her sharp tongue on people who aren’t Michael

    I thought Amanda using her tongue on people who aren’t Michael was a big part of their whole problem.

      1. MilesDryden says:

        Risky click of the day.

        1. Droid says:

          Completely worth it, though.

  3. Zak McKracken says:

    So he assaulted Fabian a second time, and Amanda accepts him back for doing the exact same thing that caused her to leave him in the first place?

    That makes complete sense in the mind of someone who thinks that attacking Fabian was a rational problem-solving approach (rather than badly controlled impulse): The first attempt failed, but the second time, he successfully beat him, thus asserting his own superiority and winning Amanda’s favour back.*

    …if that sounds like stupid macho bullshit to you, I think I agree, but maybe that is the level on which (some of) this game’s creators operate?

    1. Gethsemani says:

      With the risk of going too political here: Considering the lack of awareness GTA V seems to exhibit in just about every regard (narrative, artistic, cultural, ethnical, gender related etc.), does it really seem out of place that the writers of GTA V doesn’t have a clue that they are writing macho bullshit unironically? My take on GTA V’s writing is that the writers are hacks, but do their darndest to cover up their inability to form coherent or compelling plots by claiming it is all satire and a ‘dark mirror held up against contemporary American society’. There’s nothing in GTA V to make us assume that the writers had any awareness of what the text, subtext and theme of their writing actually was, because they seem too caught up in ‘satirizing’ whatever it is they want to satirize at the moment.

      I mean, this is the game that one of the Houser’s (forgot which) claimed was the game that portrayed the spirit of the early-10’s and was actually The Game to represent those years. Not only is it pretentious, but if you’ve got an ego that size, it could certainly blindside you to the actual quality and merit of your writing.

      1. Coming Second says:

        It’s definitely in that place where you can’t tell if someone is being genuinely hateful or is just trolling you, and at that point it no longer matters.

      2. Mousazz says:

        I wouldn’t even have a problem with the fact that “the writers of GTA V are writing macho bullshit unironically” if they were sincere and earnest, and they made a case for it. Unapologetically holding a stance considered by society to be immoral and wrong can be a form of genuine artistic expression, and lead to further discussion.

        But GTAV doesn’t care about that – to them, it’s a commercial cash grab, and they’re willing to hide behind “Everything’s just satire, we’re just satirizing modern culture lol”. So for them to default to portraying masculinity in this way, especially nowadays, seems… out of touch at best.

        1. “it’s a commercial cash grab”
          Just like RDR2 is then?

          Rockstar are alchemists and turning electrons into gold at this point. Whatever snakeoil they are selling, people are buying.

          “portraying masculinity in this way, especially nowadays”
          Considering the game is more than half a decade old now (and it started productions years before that even) I’d say it’s almost in step with reality and the political incorrectness of the times (a few years lag due to development but not that much really).

          Now that RDR2 is out, the developers spread across multiple studios/buildings around the globe will focus on either GTA VI or Bully 2 (or both), RDR Online is obviously coming but that won’t need nearly as much resources.

          If your statements are true then GTA VI will be a huge flop (as it’ll be in a similar style to GTA V). Only thing that will cange GTA VI is if the Houser brothers quit/retire from Rockstar which probably means Lazlow will leave too.

          Lazlow did all the radio and pedestrian, TV, internet, media writing stuff in GTA V. In RDR2 he’s on the main writing team and also did all the pedestrian dialogs there (you can have whole conversations with random NPCs in RDR2).
          The three of them pretty much define GTA and RDR, if they left GTA (in particular) might change a lot (think “change” after EA got Star Wars exclusivity).

          There is also the possibility the Houser brothers ends up leaving but Rockstar entices Lazlow to stay on (in which case he’d most likely end up as the Lead Writer and possibly Game Director for GTA VI).
          The Houser brothers almost didn’t make GTA V but Rockstar threw a huge bag of money at them to stay and make GTA V, I wonder if getting to make RDR2 was also part of their deal (i.e. “Okay, we’ll do GTA V but after that we want to make RDR2”).

          If you look at all the GTA games (since the franchise went 3D with GTA III) the franchise has remained very consistent in how good/bad it is.

          GTA V may not be the ideal game people want, but it is the game people deserve.

      3. Zak McKracken says:

        My best guess is that there were probably some people working on the game who had a genuine desire to make good parody with something to say. But there were others who either didn’t get it or didn’t like what it was saying, and so some people sabotaged what others were trying to do (and vice versa?). With a game as large as this, I doubt there was a single person or even a small team of people with a common vision, who were exerting sufficient control over all the details required to pull it off.

        That video on bathos linked in the article got me thinking that maybe that’s what happened: Somebody tried to make a scene that made sense, then somebody else didn’t get what the scene was trying to do (either from lack of maturity or from simply not being aware of the context within the game), and had the brilliant idea to introduce some humor at exactly the wrong point to “lighten the mood” or something.

        I imagine the developers were a herd of buffalo stampeding in some vague direction, with no individual really understanding what all the running is about, and nobody in control of the direction. Given the technical achievements of the game, I think there must have been at least a few very smart people involved, but I think I also get what they prioritized over story: Pretty much everything else.

        1. “genuine desire to make good parody with something to say”
          The stuff in GTA V ranges from dark really horrible serious stuff to juvenile fart jokes. While there are only a small team of “lead writers” there is a bunch of writers working on games this big.

          GTA is weird. If there is any controversies regarding the GTA franchise people these days tend to shrug their shoulders. This is what GTA is, it’s a sterotype of itself. The real controversies these days happens with other games that supposedly touched on more serious and darker topics and have more “serious” writers etc. (*cough*Battlefield*cough*), or they end up shallow. The GTA games never pretended to be anything deep.

          While in other games Pizzwasser might be a fun satirical joke on light beer, in GTA it’s a in-world brand that’s been around for years or possibly decades now (even longer in in-game). So unlike the first time it appears in a GTA game, now it’s part of the world building and backstory.

          People gave Bethesda flak recently for retconning the Brotherhood of Steel timeline some, I doubt anybody would notice if Pizzwasser was change to a different imaginary brand, But they kept it because they themselves remember it, they know some gamers will want it. And I assume Rockstar has a GTA “lore bible” as thick as any other giant world building games.
          I would not be surprised if such a lore bible has a cheat sheet on in-game character stereotypes.

          I may sound like I’m excusing the writers of GTA, and I am. I don’t think they could make GTA “better” without changing what make a GTA actually GTA.

          More serious characters and interpersonal relationships would equal “darker”.

          Thing is, I don’t think somebody that laughs with glee while driving down the sidewalk mowing people down as Trevor (or any of the other characters), or got on a roof with a and RPG launcher and took down helicopters and dozens of police cars can criticise GTAs writing or realism without some degree of realization of self irony here.

          If GTA VI uses the three switchable character concept from GTA V I’m sure the stories of each will be written better. For each GTA the characters get more complex and deeper. But dating back to the first GTA games the player characters have always been assholes, their friends and families are assholes, GTAs cities are filled with assholes.

          I’m not sure I’d want to play a GTA game that wasn’t a “GTA game”, if I wanted to play a non-GTA game at the scope of a GTA I’d play Cyberpunk 2077 (which I probably will).
          That game is darker, characters are deeper written, there will be sterotypes there too obviously, but not “GTA sterotypes” as only GTA games have those.

          In Cyberpunk 2077, organ/mod harvesting is horrible (as seen in the early gameplay trailer), while “V” may be a bit nochalant about it (a common occurrence?), in “GTA’s world” selling organs is a fun way to pay off your student loan, and nobody said it had to be your own organs you are selling either and you’ll probably find a ad for it in the in-game internet etc.

          If you are able to add the text “…only an asshole would do that!” to something, then that is probably a good benchmark for what can be put in GTA’s world.

          Just take the “Deathwish ending” in GTA V, Michael leaving Trevor to walk home is one thing, but Franklin being that big of a dick considering that Trevor has always had Franklin’s back throughout the game? That’s GTA.
          You laugh at Trevor having to walk home, but gloss over Franklin being an ass too now.

          I don’t envy the writers at Rockstar at all, writing for a GTA game must be hellishly difficult. Serious but not too serious, funny but not too funny, etc. And it has to be consistent wit the feel of GTA and you need to reference all this other shit that’s been in like 14 games by now (GTA V is not the fifth GTA game).

      4. “My take on GTA V’s writing is that the writers are hacks” I find this statement amusing.
        The same writers that wrote most of the GTA V stuff are also the writers that write most of the Red Dead Redemption 2 stuff.

        GTA has a major issue narrative speaking. They clearly did not want to make a “Saint’s Row clone”. And people criticised them for GTA IV being “too dark”. So GTA stumbled around in this no-mans zone. It can’t be too dark, but not too cartoony either.

        I consider myself rather skilled, but I’m not sure If’ be able to do what the Houser brothers and Lazlow are doing. If I directed GTA V it would have been much darker, and that torture scene would probably have been the least of peoples worries.
        Then again, I probably would have used different characters. I sent a proposal to Rockstar prior to GTA V (or early in it’s production), as far as I can tell they used none of it (no surprise, few uses unsolicited ideas). If I ever get around to finish the rework on my own site (too may other projects going on) I might post some of my ideas there that I sent them.

    2. Syal says:

      Haven’t seen it so I’ll take people’s word it takes itself seriously, but that description sounds like MIchael hitting Fabian is just incidental. It really sounds like a Terrible People comedy arc; “God you’re the worst, I’m going to run off to a better life… oh, the new life sucks too, let’s go back to the status quo and forget this ever happened.” And they compromised happily ever after.

      1. “I’ll take people’s word it takes itself seriously”

        The characters take themselves seriously, except maybe Trevor but he’s basically insane anyway.
        The game however does not take it too seriously (which is Shamus’ issue with the writing).

        It’s also confusingly telegraphed if the yoga scene was meant to show that Amanda was so blatantly cheating on purpose (to piss off Michael).
        Or if she is kinda dumb (which Traci seems to be and takes after her mother I guess?) and do not realize the yoga guy is dry humping and trying to seduce her (and it’s working).
        A third option that Shamus did not touch on is that Amanda may be well aware and is broadcasting it to Michael on purpose in the hopes that he’ll participate (not infidelity, maybe cuckhold is the right word?).
        Michaels “authority” within the family is constantly questioned/tested, as well as outside the home with is “professional” life (the issues with the FIB etc).

        No idea what “Terrible People” is (not watched it, if it’s as series). But the premise sounds typical for a GTA game.
        In GTA San Andreas the player character had left the “hood life” but get pulled back into it. In GTA Vice City the player character escapes their old life only to end up recreating it.
        In GTA IV Nico comes to GTA’s America in hopes of a new life, to escape his old, only to end up doing the shame shit again.

        I think the Houser brothers missed a trick here though, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Nico in GTA IV having to do a torture scene (rather than Trevor in GTA V) would have been harrowing and possibly tied back into Nico’s darker past.
        Unlike Trevor’s dark past which is the fact that he’s “Canadian”.

        It’s entirely possible that the issues Shamus and logic gymnastics are pointing out are not due to bad writing (or hack writers as some people like to call those who write better than themselves :P) , but rather the wrong characters.
        If GTA V had slightly different characters (but the same writers) then things may have turned out better (or possibly worse).

        All three player characters are “a joke”, Franklin is a failure at a gansta, Michael is a failure as a family man, Trevor is… well Trevor.
        If one of the three player characters had been a serious/straight character it might have worked better. There are a few moments where Franklin does point out how stupid Michael and Trevor are behaving, then again Franklin’s own circle of friends are no better.

    3. Cybron says:

      Exactly this. As far as the writers are concerned, failing to hit Fabian demonstrates that Micheal is an ineffectual loser. Successfully hitting Fabian demonstrates that he is a successful and taking charge.

  4. Bloodsquirrel says:

    When their relationship turns possessive, vindictive, and ultimately destructive, we can see how all of it is a result of the choices they’ve made as characters.

    Casino also takes this to its logical- and tragic- conclusion, with Ginger leaving Sam, spiraling downwards, and eventually dying in a cheap hotel. Likewise, Nicky winds up being buried alive in a cornfield because the higher-ups have had enough of his out-of-control behavior.

    Casino is a tragedy, after all, with all of the glitz and glamour of the mob life and casino industry being laid on top of a foundation of crime, violence, and corruption, eventually leading to its downfall, with the death and ruin of multiple characters. It didn’t try to have a happy ending where Sam and Ginger learn how to put aside their problems and wind up living happily together.

  5. BlueHorus says:

    vapidity and cynicism

    That…seems to be the running theme in GTAV. Moreover, the cynicism is vapid and vapidity is boringly cynical.

    “We’re better than your lame ‘coherent story’ bullshit, nerds. Don’t you understand that everything is worthless and shit? You don’t get how deep the satire is!”

    1. PPX14 says:

      “We’re better than your lame ‘coherent story’ bullshit, nerds. Don’t you understand that everything is worthless and shit? You don’t get how deep the satire is!”

      Watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show recently and this is very much how it came across. It was so boring, and terrible.

    2. So GTA isn’t just “satire” but Emo Modernistic Satire?

  6. Coming Second says:

    It felt like they watched the Sopranos and went “Ah! All of Tony’s family are awful people. Got it.”

    It’s not exactly wrong, but…

  7. Chris says:

    From reading the blog posts (haven’t played GTAV) I think the idea here is that Michael is supposed to follow an arc where he goes from being a weak guy being pushed around to being a boss that asserts dominance through violence and fear.

    His family is new rich and all of them are typical failures. His wife cannot deal with riches and starts having sex with all the attractive private assistants, his daughter is dumb as a brick and tries to feel appreciated, porn directors give her attention so she goes with that. The son is a failure angry gamer that obviously doesn’t do well at school or with his peers and vents it on random guys on the internet and his family. So I guess the arc is here that michael stops being a family man, becomes an awesome criminal again (the rockstar writer probably thinks criminals are cool), beats his wife back in the kitchen, tells his son to drop the videogames and become a cool dude, and tells his daughter to stop selling sex and instead become wholesome cute little daughter. I dont agree with this, but I guess that’s the fantasy that’s enacted here. From wimpy modern man that’s pushed around to traditional dad that sets his family right.

    1. JDMM says:

      That may be the arc but the problem is the GTA writers can’t help themselves with respect to the humor, Michael doesn’t get anything out of crime, he get’s something out of having an Executive Producer/Special Thanks credit to some apparent Roger Corman expy and while you know he saves his family from thugs he also gets rescued by his son who promptly teabags the guy he’d taken out (he’s wearing this VR getup)

      Is that some sendup or is it just that GTA can’t do serious? (like how they filled GTA IV with 12-year-old level visual humor ie [email protected] as an internet cafe)

      1. “they filled GTA IV with 12-year-old level visual humor”
        Mind you the game it’self is rated mature/adult.

        And as an adult I do have to admit I do smirk or chuckle at some of the juvenile stuff in GTA.
        The GTA world is absurd but that absurd.

        Take a look at this list for example https://www.boredpanda.com/worst-domain-names/
        Those are real mistakes though.
        But with the GTAs writers however they like “soundalike” or mistypings but then make them literal. I.e. People say that light beer taste like piss, GTA’s staff invents Pizzwasser Beer etc.

        To a certain extent, GTA’s satire is “mass produced” and thus formulaic.

        [email protected] is rather clever IMO. The idea started probably with “tweet at” “tweet @”, and then became “[email protected]” as most people that constantly tweets are twats maybe? *shrug*.

        Radio ads for game consoles with juvenile brand names and some kid shouting “look mom, I’m playing with myself”, are absurd, some may find it funny some not, some may be offended, while others not.
        Mind you GTA games released on consoles first so they are making fun of the players in a way, with GTA being the metaphorical wanking material, only that the players are adults/mature teens rather than kids (or at least should be, the games are rated 17+ in most countries).

        Why GTA is like this? No idea, but it’s probably the same reason that cartoons sometimes have adult jokes that only Mom and Dad or a adult would understand. And a Disney movie is probably as far removed from a GTA game as you can get yet some of the humor is the same.

        I also suspect that a larger (than we might imagine) amount of the silly jokes and satire was put there purely as in-house jokes, giving the other devs a laugh the next day or something, and then just leaves it incase some gamers find it funny..
        It’s also possible the devs are blowing off steam this way. “Upset at the world? Why not make fun of it in this game you are making, oh and the bosses are totally cool with you doing that too!” sounds like the perfect job to me.

        But I’ll finish by saying something I’ve said before.
        GTA’s main issue is that is “has to be GTA”, it has become it’s own game genre.
        By that I do not mean like in “GTA Clone”, no I mean that all the GTA games now basically belong in it’s own game genre.
        The same way the Mario games are basically it’s own genre. Or the Dark Souls games are it’s own genre. Stray too far from “the formula” and it’s no longer a Mario game or a Dark Souls game. They are their own stereotype.

        For comparison there is a reason why people say that Fallout New Vegas isn’t a “Bethesda” game, not just because it was mostly made by Obsidian but because (aside from the lore/and some design elements) it wasn’t made “in-house”, while it used the same game engine as Fallout 3, it did not have the same design principles etc.

        With GTA I doubt anybody but GTA’s in-house team(s) would be able to make it. It has a certain “tone” to it.
        Remember the tonal shift of Max Payne from Max Payne 1&2 to Max Payne 3?
        MP3 wasn’t a bad game, but it could easily have been called something else.

        There “was” another game that was “like GTA” but was not GTA. it was called Driver. That franchise is practically dead while GTA is not.

        There was also another that many like to compare to GTA, and it’s Saints Row. That franchise changed tone from a “GTA clone” with a serious tone to more jovial and then into the silly and eventually cartoonish. If somebody these days made a Fortnite clone and slapped “Saints Row Online” on the box I probably would not flinch.
        I doubt there will be another Saints Row single player (for several reasons).

        GTA V has found something that works (despite “everybody” disliking it?!).
        Yet those same people complain loudly when Bethesda tries something different.
        So gamers want “The same, but not too similar. Different, but not too different.”

        GTA V’s story end the way it started. Aside from the main characters being “ok” with each other, everything else is back to status quo.
        Which is extreemly gamelike. As a gamer will start over, load a savegame or reset the game state.

        Games where player actions have a meanignful impact on the gameworld and other characters are very few.
        Old Bioware games (and the Dragon Age games and the Mass Effect trilogy, although the latter floundered it with the lackluster color choices) even let you carry savegame choices to the next game.

        The next GTA VI will be “similar” to GTA V I hope. I’m more worried about GTA Online and how that might impact the single player. Will the single player be playing second fiddle to online? Will online be “rebooted” with GTA VI?

        I’m not that concerned with the story/characters (as long as the Houser brothers and Lazlow are involved), and I’m looking forward to Shamus “old-man” critiqueing GTA VI also. :)

  8. ccesarano says:

    I feel like there’s a potential hook here for Michael as a character. That he sought this family life in witness protection because he thought it would give him “freedom”, only to discover that it’s more oppressive than he’s ever lived before. The pathos at the story’s conclusion would then not be reconciliation, but for him to discover through the final events of the narrative that Franklin and Trevor are his real family (assuming the “unity” (heh) ending) and that working with them is true freedom. Meanwhile, without his money to leech off of, his family finds themselves greatly displeased with a less wealthy man that was actually just using Amanda, and when they try to come back to him he shakes his head with a smile on his face.

    How such a narrative would be received? I dunno. A lot of people love the whole “the family you find versus the family you’re born with” theme that a lot of entertainment has had for the past what, two decades now? Started booming in the 90’s? But that’s the thing: it’s family you’re born with, not the family you sire.

    Then again, it would at least have some semblance of a coherent message or philosophy. I mean, the fact that the core of Michael’s conflict with both his wife and his daughter is sex seems … well, it seems very indicative of how the creators of GTA V view women. There are a lot more problems a marriage can suffer than a cheating wife, and a lot more difficulties you can have with your daughter than her promiscuity. I understand one of these being included, but that both characters are centered around who they’re banging without Michael’s approval speaks to what it is the writer(s) value in women and what they find the most threatening and emasculating thing a woman can do to a man.

    I avoid Rockstar games, for the most part, so I’m really curious how these games can screw up so much narratively and yet Red Dead Redemption is so beloved, in part because of the story. A different writing team?

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      I’d say it’s because they did a good job of portraying the old world views in RDR (and capturing the nostalgia of the Spaghetti Westerns), while seemingly being completely tone deaf when it comes to present days views.

    2. Adrian Burt says:

      Red Dead Redemption’s story isn’t really all that good. It’s too long, riddeled with plot doors that require you to bend over backwards helping disgusting people (both physically and morally) who don’t want to help you, and the pay off is a Diablos ex Machina with an unavoidable death.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        I thought Red Dead suffered just as much from being derivative in its writing, while missing the spaghetti western tone by a long shot (assuming they were aiming for it). It also engages in a surprising amount of moralizing using its main characters as mouth pieces, which they do here as well. An odd thing to do in either franchise, as both have you portraying mercenaries at best, and psychopaths at worst. Watching John Marston kill twenty people while riding through a desert populated by hundreds if not thousands of murderous thugs, then engage in a diatribe about the evil government trying to take the freedoms of good, honest folk never ceased to annoy me.

        1. Cubic says:

          Watching John Marston kill twenty people while riding through a desert populated by hundreds if not thousands of murderous thugs, then engage in a diatribe about the evil government trying to take the freedoms of good, honest folk never ceased to annoy me.

          I reckon we got us one of them city dwellers here.

      2. Cubic says:

        … and then: revenge.

    3. Joshua says:

      “There are a lot more problems a marriage can suffer than a cheating wife, and a lot more difficulties you can have with your daughter than her promiscuity. I understand one of these being included, but that both characters are centered around who they’re banging without Michael’s approval speaks to what it is the writer(s) value in women and what they find the most threatening and emasculating thing a woman can do to a man.”

      Well said. Glad I don’t play these games then.

    4. Cubic says:

      speaks to what it is the writer(s) value in women and what they find the most threatening and emasculating thing a woman can do to a man.

      Perhaps Michael should have rubbed Tracy’s shoulder when she came home after a long evening of bobbing. Perhaps he should have poured Fabio and his wife a couple of flutes of congratulatory champagne so they wouldn’t be dehydrated afterwards. He could have had a quite different, more modern father-son relationship with Franklin, a relationship without clothes. Michael had the opportunity to be a kinder, gentler, more metrosexual gangster if you will, a new man in touch with his emotions, ready to live and love in 21st century America.

      1. Guest says:

        Don’t be that guy, Michael.

        It’s that the game has a creepily paternalistic approach to the female characters in Michael’s family that mostly revolves around weak male insecurity covered up with weaker male violence.

        He doesn’t need to accept Fabian, in fact, he should want nothing to do with him, the guy has done him no favours. It’s that if the story revolves around getting his family back, there has to be something worth getting back. All of these people are dislikeable to the player, and their relationships with Michael are thoroughly rotted. That’s not resolved by building new ones, or having an element of a relationship to build upon. It’s resolved by Michael being the exact same person who drove his family away, and his family not coming around to his point of view, not establishing a relationship with them, nothing. Nothing changes, except that his family are now financially worse off without him, which only implies that those bridges are better burned.

        It’s nothing about being effeminate or metrosexual, or whatever toxic nonsense you’re going for. It’s about being a real man and a real father, themes which the story doesn’t even know enough to talk about. Bugger this homophobic nonsense.

        1. Joshua says:

          Yikes. How did this guy find this reasonable corner of the internet? That’s some flamebait shit, there.

          Also, I think you meant to say Cubic, not Michael?

          1. Cubic says:

            Hey Joshua, we’re all friends here, sometimes with diverse viewpoints.

            1. Joshua says:

              Not a matter of diverse viewpoints, which is great. The tone of your response to ccesarano came off as straw-man mockery to me and at least one other, which isn’t conducive to “we’re all friends here”. I’m just used to more civil disagreements and divergences of opinions here.

              Regarding:

              “No, Michael resolves this not by being the same, that is a checked-out possible-drunkard adrift in Vinewood, but by standing up for himself and those he loves and setting some boundaries. Which, apparently, his family ultimately respects. Toxic, I know.”

              This is one of the possible themes that Shamus and others are exploring to see if that’s the perspective Rockstar is going for, and there was argument about whether the game is effectively conveying that if so. It appears that it was for you, but didn’t work for others.

        2. Cubic says:

          I’m sorry, is it toxic to be metrosexual now? And is buggery of homophobia supposed to be … good? Bad?

          No, Michael resolves this not by being the same, that is a checked-out possible-drunkard adrift in Vinewood, but by standing up for himself and those he loves and setting some boundaries. Which, apparently, his family ultimately respects. Toxic, I know.

    5. Guest says:

      That’s basically it. I have a low tolerance for adultery, so I’m on the other side of that spectrum, but even so, the important thing is how you deal with it. A cheating wife or a promiscuous daughter are not the worst things that can happen to him, even in the context of this story. He can ditch the wife (She did the same to him), or he can deal with it better, but either way, there should be some point, otherwise why is the player suffering through those cutscenes when we could be getting into car chases and shootouts?

      He doesn’t have to like his daughter’s promiscuous, risky lifestyle, but there are better ways to deal with it which involve being a father to her, ya know, actual parenting (Which seems to be a long term problem if she’s an adult who, while she does seem to know what she’s in for, she doesn’t seem to understand the extent to which she’s being used).

      If it’s going to be like this, it should be for a reason. If he’s a crap dad, it should either be about him learning not to be a crap dad, or criticising him for the things that make him a crap dad. Neither of these things happen: There was no point to this story’s inclusion. It’s a waste of motion capture. It doesn’t criticise crap dads, it doesn’t give compelling relationship drama, it doesn’t show a downward spiral of a tragic figure. Michael starts off the same guy as he finishes as, and off screen, his family decides that they guess they’re ok with that, even though the person he was, is ostensibly the reason they left. That’s not even storytelling, nothing really happened. Sure, plot passed, but none of it meant anything. Except you lose your car, that’s super annoying.

      1. Cubic says:

        But Michael does, in his own inimitable way of tattoo guns and unsolicited boat visits, level up from uncaring crap dad to caring good (though gangster) dad.

        That car thing really is annoying though.

    6. “A different writing team?”
      Nope. RDR2 has the Houser brothers and Lazlow at it’s core (as the lead writers/writing team).
      The three of them is what I’d consider the core of the GTA games as well.

      The Houser brothers has written all the GTA games, and Lazlow has gotten more and more writing work (starting as far back as GTA 1 or 2 I think when he only did the radio DJ dialog scripts).

      If there ever was a Trinity of GTA then it’s the three of them, I’m sure there are others that make up the “core”, but I’m ignorantly (stupidly?) unaware of them.
      They are basically the front/lead singers, the Rockstars.

      Once thing I’m certain of, if the day comes and the Houser brothers feel like they can’t do another GTA game, then that’s the end of the franchise (Lazlow could be the wildcard). As I highly doubt they’d want to make a game they didn’t want to make.

      I mentioned it in another (long) comment here, I’m speculating that in addition to a huge GTA V money bag (for making GTA V) they also Demanded the to get to make RDR2 “their way”. After the success of GTA V (and the millions that earned Rockstar/Take Two) I’m certain “the suits” just threw truckloads of money on the “western game” they wanted to make.

      I’d love to see the “GTA trinity” work on a different genre though (they’ve done “present day with GTA, the “old days” with RDR). I can certainly imagine a Space Quest inspired game, silly sci-fi antics in the near future and prancing around in space. Maybe stealing a few ideas from The Orville.

      People may not get this but the Houser brothers (and I’m sure Lazlow to some extent) has no money worries. They work on these games because it’s fun and they want to (they like the work, or making such games).
      The Houser brothers almost didn’t make GTA V, think about that. No GTA V would have meant no RDR2 (and no possibility of Bully 2 or GTA VI etc).
      A RDR3 may be possible without them, but a GTA VI without them will not happen or be very different.
      They basically have Take Two by the balls regarding GTA’s future.

      Will a GTA VI not made by the Houser brothers (and Lazlow) be bad? No it’ll probably be okay, but it won’t be the same (kinda like Max Payne 3).

      Remember when the (3?!) doctors that founded Bioware left? I’d say that was the beginning of the end for old Bioware. Same will be true for Rockstar, if the Houser brothers leave Rockstar that will be the end of “old Rockstar” that’s still there (sorta) from the old DMA Design days (now called Rockstar North).

      And Lazlow, I don’t think he’d want to work on a future GTA “alone”. I’m fairly certain he enjoys coming up with juvenile jokes and scenarios with his friends (it was they that pulled 100 hour weeks several times the last year or so), even married people don’t usually spend that many hours with each other, that’s saying something.

      BTW! I do not believe that the Houser brothers are behind the monetization schemes (shark cards) in GTA Online etc They are game creators at heart. Which is why the thought of them not involved with Rockstar Games scares me as Take Two “unleashed” on the GTA franchise could make EA/Activision/Ubisoft look like a saintin comparison.

      Right now the Houser brothers can push back and say “Doing that won’t make the game fun any more” and Take Two suits will back off (to a certain point). But if they leave, any replacements will most likely dance to Take Two’s music as if it was played with the pied piper’s flute.

      That said. If they did leave, any “indie game” they made (if they decided to stay in the game biz) would probably be insane (in a good way).

  9. Mephane says:

    TIL the word bathos.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      +1 this

  10. Joshua says:

    My first thought of seeing the two screenshots of Michael and Amanda (from last week) is “That is a lovely, spacious kitchen. Who in this family is utilizing it to actually cook anything?” The impression I’m getting from the story recap is that no one in this family is that industrious/ambitious to make anything more complicated than microwaved popcorn.

    Interesting screenshot of them doing Yoga focusing down Amanda’s shirt. Coincidence? LOL

    Typo here with Michael’s name: “Fabian ropes Michel”

  11. Jabberwok says:

    You basically already said this, but it really seems like these scenes are there solely because the writers watched some Scorsese movies, or something influenced by him. Family shouting matches were sort of his thing. But obviously, those were much better written, and had a purpose for existing that is lacking here. Another problem may be that empathy needs to function differently in a game. Though it’s painful, I’ll sit through a couple of hours of watching Jake LaMotta beat up his wife and best friend. The movie isn’t asking me to BE Jake, just to observe him. I’m not sure that I could stomach countless hours inhabiting that character. Maybe that’s why the writer feels the need to side with Michael in these exchanges, but doing so is already throwing out a huge portion of their dramatic purpose.

    If Raging Bull were a video game, it might need to be very tonally different from the film to make us want to inhabit its protagonist. Rockstar is (as always) lifting from pop culture without seeming to learn from it. Though all of that said, I still don’t find any of GTA V’s protagonists appealing enough to want to play as them. They haven’t eaten or retained any of their cake through this compromise.

    1. Guest says:

      Plus, like, you can have a movie about an awful person, or someone consumed by their own personal failings, and it can work great. You can have a story about a character who realises they’re a problem and improves themselves. That’s what those stories are like. Scorsese in particular specialises in people consumed by their own failings, that’s why you end up with the shouting matches and the bad relationships.

      The thing is, at the end of The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan is framed as a horror movie monster after having at best borderline-rapey sex with his wife who doesn’t want to, and wants to leave him, before losing it, stalking through the house, shot like the hauntings in Insidious, and almost killing his child. His demons overcame him, that’s the whole point.

      Does that happen to Michael? Nah, he gets the sappy Hollywood family drama where everyone works it out in the end and lives happily ever after, except nobody had any character development (Well, Michael sort of did, but it was just going back into his life of crime, nothing about improving his relationship with his family, and his family were off screen).

      There’s nothing wrong with depicting toxic and awful people. There’s nothing wrong with a story that doesn’t involve them improving. There’s even nothing wrong with a story where bad people get what they want. There’s something wrong with a story where bad unlikeable people are bad and unlikeable, learn nothing, change nothing, nothing of note happens to them, and they end up back where they started in that plotline. That’s called filler, it’s a waste of time, and if I wanted that, I’d just binge watch every other arc of Bleach.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Hmm, good point. It’s almost as if half of two different character arcs are pasted together. Half is about a flawed individual’s destruction, and half is about his redemption, but the connection only exists in the tropes themselves and not the actual story presented. [Only going off what I’ve read here, haven’t played it myself.]

      2. Funny you mentioned Bleach, the filler episodes (heck there was a filler arch even) was really bad when they gained o the manga, now ironically the TV series has ended but the manga continues.

        But yeah. GTA games are mostly filler. storys and plots are there to direct you and hopefully entertain you on your way to the “next thing”.
        Most games have this. Especially multiplayer games. They have a crappy campaign that introduced you to game mechanics and teaches you how to do things before unleashing you online.
        The only difference is the scope of GTA.

        If the three interwoven main stories was removed GTA V would not ber that fun.

        I’ve tried to play various space games that had “campaigns” sadly they had no storytelling barely a plot even and they are dry and boring and un-fun to play.

        I do wonder though if GTA V would have been “better” overall if there hadn’t been a GTA Online planned along with it.

  12. Viktor says:

    The thing is, the arc they want to do here isn’t hard. You just need to give everyone good and bad qualities, so that the escalation of their problems feels realistic, but as they grow and overcome those problems, there’s a reason for them to reunite. Personally, though, that doesn’t seem to fit with the GTA style.

    I’d prefer still giving everyone problems and positive aspects, but the problems get worse when they’re apart, not better. That way, when it comes time to reconcile, Michael can realize “I don’t want any of these jerks back” and walk away, which is much more satisfying from the macho perspective these games revel in. You have to be careful which problems you give them in that case to make the characters actually deserve it, but it seems to fit the rest of the arc for the game much better.

    1. Michael’s good side is that he’d do anything for his family, his bad side is that he’s very selfish.
      Franklin’s good side is that he’s very loyal, his bad side is that he’s still loyal when he knows better (Lamar etc.).
      Trevor’s good side is that he’s extremely loyal, his bad side…”family issues”, oh and he’s a psychopath.. either that or a Canadian proto-hipster.

      Family and loyalty is the key point for all three player characters. The intro starts with Michael sacrificing the loyalty of Trevor for Michael’s family (or possibly him being selfish as well).

      “make the characters actually deserve it” none of them to (or rather they do), all three are mass murderering thiefs.
      One might argue that you don’t have to shoot anyone during the intro, but note how casually the driver that gets shot is pushed out of the car. Possibly not the first time a crewman has died on Michael’s crew.
      Franklin lets Lamar and others (including Michael) get him into all sorts of stupid schemes.
      And Trevor deserves everything ill coming his way (and in a kind of Deadpool way he is aware of that too on some level).

      The best written character IMO is Trevor. My main issue with Michael is that for a long stretch of the game the family isn’t available (for story reasons), you also dont’ get to hand out with the family that much (sure you can golf with them etc but you can’t dive deeper/bond with them).
      My main issue with Franklin is that he’s a pushover.

      Now that I think about it, GTA V’s main issue is that it’s basically a RPG but it’s not. You have player character stats and all that. But you lack the thing that many RPGs also struggle with. The character relationships are all fixed. Regardless of what you do nothing will change. This is true for all the GTA games I think.

      From what I’ve seen of Red Dead Redemption 2, the relationship with other characters are important and you can change it. I’d call RDR2 a RPG, and GTA just a action game.

      I’m uncertain if it would be possible to make a future GTA game a RPG. You would have to have a singular player character; and a somewhat nice character.
      The player character in GTA San Andreas sorta had the right feel to it, it lacked any impact/relationship choices though (single story path etc).

      I just have a hard time seeing a GTA with multiple endings and impacting the relationships with other characters. But it might be what is needed for those that critique GTA to fully like it.
      But this also will mean that many whom like it now, will then dislike it.

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    This kind of thing is why I can’t stand it when people say they can’t stand Saint’s Row for being too silly, preferring GTA for its “serious” tone. GTA is as serious and profound as “Meet the Spartans”. At least SR doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Those games don’t take themselves seriously, and wear their silliness as a badge of pride. Meanwhile, GTA games are like Uwe Boll: consistenly releasing terrible writing while believing themselves to be geniuses.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      GTA is as serious and profound as “Meet the Spartans”.

      I LOLed. That’s a great thing to compare it to.

      And since comparisons with SR are mandatory for this retrospective*: even though those games really don’t take themselves seriously they still managed to occasionally affect me, almost without meaning to.
      (I was amazed to find I actually LIKED Cyrus Temple in those games. Sure, he’s a dumb macho knucklehead, but he’s the only person who seems to understand the Saints for the psychotic menace that they truly are, and act accordingly.)
      Meanwhile, watching the self-indulgent, vapidly cynical story of GTAV seems like it would just annoy me.

      *As detailed in the Blue Rulebook of Horus, Section XXX (vii-viii)

      1. jbc31187 says:

        Since we’ve brought up SR, I think the romance scenes in SR 4 are a good example of actual parody as well as slightly emotional (See here.). It’s great at pointing out how ridiculous most romance sub-quests are in games, without making you jump through hoops to get there. And everyone’s in character, too.

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