If there is one major criticism I’ve had over the GTA franchise, it’s that it lacked a certain sense of centralized direction. While great strides were taken primarily with GTA IV in order to legitimize the series’ narrative in tonality and structure, it ultimately still felt game-y in the sense that writing often bended to the whims of mechanical excess. So while Niko Bellic was seemingly given a primary narrative outside the scope of the staple criminal enterprising, the holistic experience still felt largely disjointed and segmented. Players as Bellic didn’t get the sense so much that they were taking part in any kind of significant tale, rather entering into largely unrelated smaller story arcs, most of which had a lack of satisfying closure or resolution.
Ultimately GTA IV was likely a victim of its own creation, unsure of how to breakaway from its past model of rampant destruction and chaos, while still presenting a sympathetic protagonist. The end result was a relatively enjoyable game, but one that reeked of pretension and being almost ashamed of its own medium or history. Rockstar seemingly took every effort to separate itself from its Rampage-induced past, to something more tonally fitting to the Sopranos or at its most extreme, akin to a Guy Ritchie flick. The pitfall however was that the game was incredibly inconsistent and lacked any sort of meaningful explanation for quite literally any of its writing. Things merely happened for the sake of shock or mechanical justification, and hardly ever linked back to an ongoing narrative.
And Niko unlike the past silent or deranged protagonists of the same series, seemed completely at odds with himself. A character that had a moral code despite being a criminal, yet whose actions both scripted and by the player were nearly always at odds. In this sense, it almost makes sense why GTA IV had a relative lack of interaction outside its scripted missions in contrast to past titles like GTA San Andreas which was conversely revolutionary with its depth of character customization and emergent play.
GTA IV on the other hand felt needlessly stripped down, taking away much of the opportunity for players to sandbox, instead providing a sense of curated tools to be utilized and often forced on to them. Everything from the inclusion of a friends system where characters would call up Niko to hang out, with a limited range of specific activities such as playing darts or hitting a bar. Ultimately outside the scope of the main missions and the rather annoying and pestering calls from “friends,” GTA IV simply felt immediately dull once the credits rolled, which was absolutely shocking for a series that had previously been characterized by its limitless play outside the context of a pre-written narrative.
But if one were to sum up the greatest failure of GTA IV, it would be in its complete lack of self-awareness. Rockstar seemingly desired a sense of exhibiting an uncharacteristic maturity, aiming for social commentary and a depthful satirical look at the American fabric. However such an attempt falls short when the writers involved simply are at a loss at what to say, nor have anything meaningful to add in regards to discourse. This in turn resulted in a nearly offensive caricaturization of particular demographics that while intentionally satire, could only be seen as offense especially in the absence of the series’ prior tongue-in-cheek tonality that had embraced the politically-incorrect.
And even more damning was its absolute inability to synchronize this supposed narrative of commentary into its iconic mechanical mold of mass murder and stealing cars. Rockstar wanted us to believe that Niko while dabbling in the criminal world was a good man. Much of the character interaction leads us to believe so, especially with him looking out for his friends and family, many of whom don’t reciprocate anywhere on an equal basis.
But at the same time Rockstar knowing that a certain mechanical quota needed to be filled, frequently placed Niko in a position where his actions worked to the reverse effect, such as robbing a bank and forcibly killing hundreds of police officers in the process of escaping.
This might seem an unfair comparison to make, but one only needs to consider for a moment Rockstar’s own characterization of past protagonists to realize their own realization that GTA simply functions more fittingly with a psychotic amoral leading man to be consistent with its own mechanics.
Because of this, I wasn’t all that surprised to find many people highly critical of GTA V when it ultimately released on consoles last year. While it was praised for its high visual fidelity, online play, and a return of much of what made GTA San Andreas so great, its writing was called out for its supposed pretension and an all too casual approach to commentary that once again felt hollow.
And with its more recent release on PC this past month, I was unsurprisingly skeptical of the whole affair. But as I started to delve into the main story and definitely once I was introduced to all three of its protagonists, I found myself somewhat blown away. While a great deal of this was due to the game fundamentally being downright amazing, more so was the shift in attitude exhibited from Rockstar themselves.
One that seemingly embraced the GTA of old with all its supposed ugliness and in a strange sense, celebrated it instead of seemingly being ashamed, as was the case in GTA IV. But more importantly, GTA V finally seems to come to terms with how to proceed. I’ve seen plenty of criticism claiming a lack of depth to the game’s characterization and to its naive attempts at politicized commentary.
But I think focusing in on aspects such as the game’s infamous torture sequence, or the lack of depth especially to the character of Franklin is sort of missing the point. GTA V’s three leading men in a rather clever way deconstruct the protagonist of old, and in a sense revitalizes the franchise in a fluidly different direction.
And this approach particularly in light of the emphasis on online play, and working in “crews” during missions like heists enforces a notion of doing away with the individual, instead honing in on how these multiple characters interact and ultimately work together as a unified organism.
If one thing comes across clearly following the game’s opening moments, it’s a sense of being confined to a sense of legacy. Both in the lore and mechanics of the series of old, and this is seen with the close proximity of Franklin to Grove Street and the subsequent events of GTA San Andreas. And the game wastes no time in cementing in the notion of the absolute failure of The Families to retain power, despite the rather grandiose rise to supremacy of Carl Johnson in the previous game.
This is immediately significant as it alludes to an ongoing sense that the series itself is aware of the unbelievability of its past protagonists and the viability of their actions. And Franklin himself conversely represents the sense of a clean slate, of whom is extremely critical of the paths followed before him.
Someone who isn’t already saturated within a life of crime, instead an everyman from the hood who walks a fine line between legal and illegal, but is mostly concerned with making ends meet. And certainly following in the footsteps of GTA IV, GTA V isn’t as concerned with building a criminal empire. Franklin’s own occupation is characteristic of the series’ further pushing away from the deeply criminal, with him starting the narrative as a mostly legitimate employee of a car dealership, repo-ing cars, even though it is often by violent means.
Franklin in turn has much more grounded hopes and desires. He seeks an exit out of the hood and the baggage that life there brings with it. And to a certain degree GTA V does an admirable job of presenting the rather mundane obstacles in Franklin’s path. Everything from a sense of loyalty and belonging, where the community itself becomes a detriment. Franklin’s family and those close to him pretty much do everything to prevent him from seeking life outside the hood, and is constantly dragged back into their affairs. This ranges from both those pursuing the thug life to simply filling in for a drugged out boyfriend who is incapable of showing up for work as a tow-truck driver.
But much like the re-visitation of Grove Street itself, Franklin embodies a divergent mentality that seeks to separate itself from the series’ past. The explicit failures and noticeable decline of The Families gang showcases quite clearly the dead-end that is gang-banging, a definite staple of past GTA titles.
This isn’t to suggest that Franklin is completely free of crime, but is certainly more self-aware at the realities of the world then his previous counterparts. And unlike Niko, Rockstar doesn’t take great strides in presenting Franklin as a type of sympathetic hero at odds with the game itself. Franklin is within simplest terms driven by selfish motivations. This isn’t a detriment to his character, rather a simple reality of what drives him from a narrative context. He seeks financial support and subsequently the skill set to live outside slinging drugs on street corners or boosting cars.
And ultimately Franklin’s comparative innocent youth in contrast to Michael or Trevor places him in an obvious position of both player surrogacy, as well as a potential sign of the series’ proposed future direction.
From a narrative angle, it is interesting to note that while Franklin is the first major character players are introduced to, he also simultaneously takes a backseat once Michael and Trevor enter the fray. Not only do his own conflicts get sidelined to the storied history and tension between the two older protagonists, his own role as part of their crew is often outside of immediate danger.
This is both due to Michael’s role of mentorship that brings with it a sense of protection and paternalism, but also Franklin’s own admittedly low experience within the realm of complex high-stakes heists amidst these veterans.
Michael De Santa
Upon their first few interactions, Michael is seemingly introduced as someone from Franklin’s world who was able to leave his career on a high note. Living in relative luxury in the Vinewood Hills, Michael spends his days essentially wasting away in front of the TV and destructively fighting with his own family. There is a definite sense that Franklin immediately looks to Michael as a sign of hope, one that reveals that a few possible quick scores could ultimately set him up for life. And while he obviously notices Michael’s inability to simply appreciate what he already has, Franklin acknowledges the veteran’s guidance when it comes to the realm of complex heists.
In this fashion Michael can easily be seen as a potential path for Franklin himself. A representation of where Franklin could end up if things go according to plan. But more so, Michael presents one side of the coin of the protagonist of old. Of whom was able to live through a heavy string of crime and murder, getting away miraculously scot-free with both his own and family’s lives intact.
And while GTA V goes to great lengths to exhibit the dysfunctional De Santa family, realistically Michael’s fate is the most anyone could ever hope for given the context of how he got there. So while Michael’s wife might be having an affair, and his children are complete failures, they all live in relative luxury with no significant worries or concerns.
But as players begin to take control of Michael and play through his daily routine, the narrative starts to reveal a certain depth to his character that harkens back to the deranged killers of previous entries.
Michael for better or worse functions within a dysfunctional setting. He might have sold out his previous companions to escape the criminal life, but all signs point to him truly being in his element when everything is on the line.
Because of this, it isn’t all that surprising that Michael ultimately creates dysfunction within his currently stable livelihood. He most certainly elevates tensions within his own household and also quickly gains the attention of cartel leader Martin Madrazo when he mistakenly demolishes his house in retaliation over a suspected affair.
In need of quick cash in debt to Madrazo, Michael comes out of retirement for one last quick score recruiting Franklin in the process. And while the heist succeeds without a hitch, it catches the attention of Michael’s old crew member Trevor Phillips who had mourned his supposed death nine years earlier in a botched bank heist, unaware that Michael had in fact sold him out to the FIB to enter a luxurious life in witness protection.
And when Trevor finally tracks Michael down in Los Santos, Michael’s fragile life completely disintegrates. His family leaves and he is roped back into a life of conflict, both in need of a large sum of cash, at the whims of both the FIB, IAA, and other powerful individuals that seek to exploit Michael and his companions.
Michael ultimately presents a best possible scenario for where a GTA protagonist could end up. And ironically, it isn’t completely glamorous. While Michael enjoys financial stability and has to a point been able to retain a family, his mental state is frequently called into question. His narrative is pointed with frequent visits to a shrink, as well as illogical outbursts of violence to situations that may arise. For example, assaulting the host of “Fame or Shame” when he learns his daughter Tracey is auditioning, or taking part in a high speed chase with frequent exchanges of fire when he learns his yacht has been stolen instead of simply calling the police or making an insurance claim like a sane individual.
To a certain degree Michael while outside a life of crime and the scope of what GTA typically encompasses, still characteristically treats his more mundane affairs with the same level of intensity. And because of this, while he is visually the most clean-cut of the crew, Michael is arguably more similar then different to GTA V’s iconic madman Trevor Philips.
Amidst the three leading men of GTA V, Trevor is likely the most significant both from a narrative perspective, as well as basic emotional appeal. To an extremely explicit fashion, Trevor embodies the ugliness of GTA in all its glory and shame. If Michael presented a best possible outcome for the iconic protagonist of old, Trevor is characteristically the flip side of the same coin. A character that fell to the mental abuse that his previous life wrought, and that has clearly become a victim to his own insanity. And while Michael may more easily bury his psychosis under an air of respectability or normalcy, Trevor exhibits his instabilities shamelessly to the world at large.
In this sense, Trevor re-imagines the protagonist of old who embarked on killing frenzies and other deranged activities more fitting to a mass murderer then a career criminal. He kills without remorse and his physical existence is as ugly as what he potentially represents.
In a stroke of complete confidence, Rockstar introduces Trevor in rather shocking fashion. Bent over a counter in his cockroach infested trailer, Trevor is seen savagely fucking Ashley who players instantly recognize from her appearances in GTA IV but more so its DLC The Lost and Damned. In short order, The Lost and Damned protagonist Johnny Klebitz angrily storms in to confront Trevor.
What follows is likely the biggest gut punch GTA V delivers, Trevor after surprisingly calming down the justifiably angry Johnny, unsuspectingly kills him in brutal fashion. The characters onscreen watch alongside in horror, as much as the player themselves who likely are at a loss for words seeing a character they had previously connected to so easily and dismissively killed off.
While the death of Johnny might seem entirely placed for mere shock factor, it simultaneously cements Trevor in all his insanity, as well as making players immediately hostile to this new character. And what is arguably so cocky about this action by Rockstar’s hand, is seeing how quickly players conversely fall in love with Trevor despite his introductory unforgivable action. In a sense, Rockstar seemingly purposefully set up Trevor as a hateful character knowing full well the dominance of his persona and ability to charm both the characters in-game, as well as players spectating upon the narrative externally.
This complete reversal is quite characteristic, especially taken in contrast to Michael De Santa who seemingly represents the more positive outlook. While Trevor is clearly psychotic and outwardly unstable, most of his actions have a clear logic behind them, only to be revealed later on in the narrative. For example, the murder of Johnny Klebitz isn’t so much a crime of crazed passion, rather a calculated move on Trevor’s part to incite a drug war in his own strategic takeover of San Andreas. This behavior is completely at odds with Michael’s narrative which sees a man of stability quickly crumble over his emotional outbursts and mistakes.
And interestingly while Michael does seemingly act on motivations past his own selfish gain, his personal narrative does paint him in remarkably undesirable shades. A man that easily sold out his two friends to the FIB and would likely do so again.
Trevor while ugly both inside and out is conversely loyal and guided by his own sense of morality. He most certainly mourned and cared about Michael’s supposed death while also keeping in touch with their third crew member Brad. Of whom Trevor believes is sitting in a cell, when in fact he is six feet under.
And ultimately the conclusion of GTA V regardless of its player variable nature is largely decided by Trevor’s remarkable degree of loyalty and empathy, and in turn the lack thereof exhibited by Michael.
A Friendship Resurrected?
The individual and mostly isolated introductory narratives are intriuguing enough in their own right, however GTA V really hits its mark when these characters ultimately collide and the manner in which it all finally plays out.
When Trevor eventually confronts Michael, players don’t get the expected clusterfuck the game seemingly sets up. Instead of a violent confrontation, the two naturally seem to get back into old habits as if they never broke up. And even the final revelation of Michael’s betrayal isn’t enough to shake Trevor to snap into a violent frenzy, of whom is seemingly characterized to do so by his actions with others like Floyd or Debra, or mechanically by his quite literal killing “rampages.”
But leading up to that ultimate revelation, Trevor and Michael essentially bring back their old crew, with the newly introduced Franklin filling in for the missing Brad. And mechanically the heist missions are something else entirely to behold.
One mission closely resembles a sort of “what if” of the final bank heist from Michael Mann’s Heat if only things worked out according to plan. But in GTA fashion, things are considerably amped up with the crew transplanting M16s from the film with miniguns and nearly impenetrable body armor. And the concluding score is all too reminiscent of the more recent Fast Five, especially in its utilization of suped-up muscle cars to take off with their score.
However as enjoyable as these missions are in design, they truly shine in how they require players to control all three characters simultaneously to successfully escape with their earnings. Utilizing a quick swap feature, GTA V allows players to switch between Michael, Trevor, and Franklin rather instantaneously.
In missions this works to an expected result mechanically. Each character is often given a specific role or task, and players can often choose which they would rather have direct control over. However if a certain character is getting particularly swamped, players may have to switch to that character to take over, or alternatively alleviate pressure by directing fire in their direction in the case of combat.
Ultimately the system of swapping works incredibly well and is likely attributed to two things. On one hand, the game never forces a player to switch merely strongly suggests doing so. If the player themselves can resolve the issue on their own, the game goes on. For example if Trevor is outgunned, as a player I could switch over to Trevor to either take a more passive approach so he can heal up, or stay in control of Franklin and physically go to where Trevor is and take some of the heat off of him.
It’s also interesting to note how this swapping works outside of missions and the main narrative once unlocked. A player could be cruising around East Los Santos as Franklin then switch over to Trevor, only to find him drunk and without clothes in the middle of the San Andreas desert. But also, if a player were to switch off from one character in a specified location, then go back there with someone else, the two characters will likely meet and naturally interact.
It all makes for some fascinating potential to sandbox but more importantly sort of throws a wrench into the mix, having players divide their time between these three distinct characters. All of whom have their own missions, secondary objectives, and resources.
Not to get way off-base, the whole premise sort of struck me as a video game rendition of Eisenstein’s collectivism, which is kind of interesting in its own right since it never particularly worked well in film, but does have some bearing in an interactive medium where instead of de-emphasizing all the characters, a video game can instead provide an exclusive window into the lives of various individuals through mechanical means.
And whether it is a condition of unintentional meta-gaming or deliberate design, players will often have to think past the singular character they currently control, to consider the needs of all three. For example, choosing who buys what in terms of limited property and also who possesses the necessary skill set to make a certain heist go off without a hitch.
When it comes to the game’s narrative as well, this sentiment seemingly gets reiterated in parallel. Excluding the endings, the presence of the heists require the characters to look past any personal drama or beef, to work together for a common goal. And while GTA Online is a completely different beast, there does seem to be something there to consider, especially in the online version of heists that definitely requires all four players to be cooperative and coordinate effectively to succeed.
Ultimately this division between three distinct characters does have bearing on the game’s variable conclusion and how players will likely approach it. With tensions on all sides reaching a boiling point, Franklin is told by multiple parties to either kill Michael or Trevor.
The IAA want Trevor eliminated given he is a liability who could expose their corruption, while Devin wants Michael taken out as revenge for Molly’s death. Franklin is threatened with violence if he doesn’t comply with either side and the player is given a final choice of how to proceed. They can either choose to kill Trevor and recruit Michael’s help to do so, kill Michael and ask Trevor for help which he will decline, or take the “Deathwish” option which is a complete refusal to comply.
While I tend to lean towards the assumption that the Deathwish option is indeed canon and the expected outcome, the first two possible endings still have considerable merit regardless.
If Franklin chooses to take out Trevor, Michael is all too ready to help when called up. This isn’t surprising given the proceeding revelation by Trevor of Michael’s betrayal nine years earlier. The sense of Trevor being a liability is as much of a threat to the IAA agents, as it is to Michael whose livelihood rests on a similar corrupt dealing with the FIB.
But more so Michael’s history of disloyalty is completely in sync with his absolute lack of remorse at Trevor’s death even if he was a crazed maniac. And there is definitely no sense that players should feel justified in killing him off. In a strange fitting irony, Trevor can’t simply be cleanly assassinated with a shot to the head, but instead must be burned alive while he both screams in physical pain and at the emotional shock of betrayal.
It is interesting to note how Michael ultimately justifies Trevor’s fate as well, stating how he was too insane and “cared for nothing.” And while there is no arguing against Trevor’s violent tendencies or dangerous mental state, his interactions with the other protagonists tells a fundamentally different story.
Trevor may have been a menace, but not anymore so then Michael who had a similar body count behind him. And comparatively speaking, Trevor does care for a great deal more then Michael ever did who was continuously characterized as a selfish and disloyal individual, of whom failed to even really win over his own family in the end.
Trevor on the other hand thought of Michael as a friend, and even cared for his family’s well being. And while largely comedic, Trevor’s interactions with characters like Patricia showcased an individual that could conversely be deeply compassionate. It might also be worth noting that out of the three leading men, Trevor is arguably the one with the strongest social ties even if they are a bit deranged.
Michael is largely alone for most of the game, with his family leaving and no other acquaintances except numerous enemies and the other protagonists like Franklin. And Franklin as well, is largely characterized with an inability to synchronize his desires to leave the hood, with those that were seemingly close to him that still reside there. Much of Franklin’s interactions are noted by a sense of communal betrayal, with accusations of Franklin turning his back on those that he grew up with.
On the other hand Trevor actually has friends like Ron, Wade, and Oscar in his life. And while it is debatable whether this is the case, it does appear that Trevor values Franklin and Michael, more so then either of them value the other two. For example Trevor is immediately ready to help out Lamar despite having met the guy just once briefly and barely knowing Franklin at that point in the narrative.
But perhaps most telling of Trevor’s character is ultimately seeing the manner in which he responds in the second outcome players might choose which is killing Michael instead. And unlike Michael, Trevor wants nothing to do with Franklin when he is asked for help. This is definitely significant given Trevor has legitimate grievances towards Michael over his betrayal and has easily killed for less.
But his previous friendship despite a harsh betrayal isn’t enough for Trevor to warrant murderous retribution surprisingly. And furthermore Franklin simply asking him about it causes an irreparable rift between the two, with Trevor cutting all communication with him in the post-game setting.
And it’s interesting to note what Michael himself says to Franklin in retaliation in their final confrontation, accusing him of being greedy of all things and not understanding the way of the world. Which is a bit ironic given Franklin in this last moment has essentially become Michael, betraying his friends to ensure his own survival. With Michael dead Franklin immediately calls Lamar essentially returning back to where he started the game having nowhere else to go. And with both of these options, players are punished with the fact that a large chunk of the game will essentially be inaccessible post-game.
To this end it’s not entirely a stretch to assume that the Deathwish option is the one Rockstar assumes players will take given it ensures a comparatively uplifting conclusion, and of which offers a degree of satisfying resolution rarely seen in previous GTA titles.
With Franklin refusing to comply, the three men work together to essentially take out all their enemies in glorious fashion. They start by luring the FIB and Merryweather into a trap at the foundry, then proceed to eliminate all those that had wronged them in the events of the game.
Everything wraps up nicely with the three men meeting at a cliff overlooking the ocean. With Devin their final enemy trapped in the trunk of his car, the three push him off the cliff then come to terms with each other, departing as friends despite all the bad history behind them.
And sure enough, once players get control over the characters after the credits finish rolling, all three men go on with their lives making use of their earnings in different ways. But also the three can interact with each other, hangout as friends, and ultimately converse about the way things finally ended afterward.
The final piece of the puzzle comes into play, seen with how each character makes use of their shares of the final grand heist. Michael largely does go legitimate, getting his family back together and refocusing his efforts into a largely legal career trajectory by transforming into a film producer. Players have the option to invest money into pricey film theaters around Los Santos as well, giving players an actual regular revenue stream that parallels Michael’s shift away from career criminal into the film industry.
Franklin on the other hand is given a range of seemingly unrelated properties that he has the option of investing in. Everything from bars, garages, or a dispensary showcasing his transformation from thug to a legitimate businessman. But there is also a sense that Franklin comes to terms with his origins as well. Primarily seen with the Strangers and Freaks missions revolving around Tonya, but also with his relationship with Lamar, Franklin doesn’t completely abandon his roots and through his purchase of the impound lot can even reinvest in his old hood.
And finally Trevor despite being a millionaire, still lives in a crummy trailer in Sandy Shores. Trevor made a point to state how money isn’t really that important to him, and true to his word has already been living life the way he wanted. Unlike Michael or Franklin whose lives changed drastically with the injection of money, Trevor despite being a millionaire has largely stayed static.
Finding a Balance
Ultimately what is likely so refreshing about GTA V is in the sense that Rockstar no longer took itself too seriously, now able to criticize itself and acknowledge its own flaws. Subsequently while GTA V had its fair share of thoughtless jabs at social commentary, the bulk of the narrative was largely concerned with exploring its own lineage and legacy through a more linear personalized narrative.
Looking back on the dissonance that existed before and the troubling sense of characterization that culminated in GTA IV, GTA V seemingly questions its own validity.
In this sense, the final fates of the three protagonists of the game work as a fairly powerful statement on the viability of the successes of past characters. While Franklin, Michael, and Trevor are ultimately able to retire, they largely do so by working together and abandoning their criminal ways. And mechanically the game certainly incentivizes players to seek the Deathwish option, splitting time fairly equally between the three men, making it unlikely that players will easily choose to kill any of them off.
In terms of tonality, GTA V also seemingly strikes a perfect balance between the rather ridiculous earlier days of the franchise, steeped in a Scarface-esque fantasy of criminal excess and glorification, and the discordantly dull meanderings of GTA IV that took crippling measures to directly create something of critical merit.
And whether Rockstar actually learned from its past, there was definitely a sense of scaling things back narratively speaking. GTA V while arguably making itself far more complex with three protagonists, fundamentally worked to a greater degree because it maintained a more centralized focus.
Instead of players simply floating from one mission marker to the next like in previous iterations, GTA V presented a more personal tale with its characters taking a dominant role in the events of the game. Instead of merely reacting to larger events, the three leading men of Los Santos act as the main catalysts of action.
In the end the inclusion and separation of time between Franklin, Michael and Trevor works because they act as elements of a larger whole. GTA V isn’t so much an experience that happens to involve the intersection of three distinct characters, rather it explores a singular protagonist expressed in several possibilities.
While mechanically this management of separated entities could seem jarring at first, it parallels nicely with the largely dissonant play of most gamers. That being an ever conflicted desire between meaningful storytelling, compelling characterization, while maintaining player agency over the events onscreen to the point that their actions could completely negate the efforts of the developers or writers.
Taking a moment to consider the protagonists outside their narrative context, it is fairly easy to discern the mechanical representations present with each one. As Franklin players largely engage in high speed chases and shootouts across East Los Santos. Michael spends most of his times engaging in family drama but also getting himself into trouble with local entities like mob boss Madrazo. And Trevor represents the idea of complete player freedom, unchained by any scripted concerns or narrative structure. Players can take part in mass murdering bicycle-riding hipsters harkening back to the series’ roots, but can also sandbox to their heart’s content in the quite literal open sandbox of the Grand Senora desert of which Trevor seemingly resides.
It is then entirely fitting that narratively speaking, both Franklin and Michael are given a sense of dominant closure in each of the three endings. Michael either dies, kills Trevor, or successfully transitions into a film producer. Franklin either escapes the hood or is left with nowhere else to go but back if he kills his mentor Michael. But despite which outcome players choose, Trevor is largely open-ended excluding his own possible death. He either vanishes in the case of the “Kill Michael” option, or returns to the desert with unknown motivations or plans. And in this sense, Trevor characterizes the notion of emergent play quite explicitly. But ultimately more significant is how these three distinct entities can co-exist, essentially displaying the franchise’s own troubled history of ignored identity. If Franklin, Michael, and Trevor can manage to be friends, it is entirely within reason to consider that GTA could consolidate all of its conflicted artistic desires, mechanics, and the wild card of player choice into a fully consistent work.