About

Grand Theft Auto is a world-famous video game franchise that allows players to roam through a whole city, while playing through missions, committing crimes, and ultimately controlling the nature of their own journey. The game follows three characters, Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, each of whom possess their own unique backstories and personal qualities. Grand Theft Auto is produced by Rockstar Games, a gaming company based in the United Kingdom. Grand Theft Auto is satirical in its nature, as many aspects of the game, including its characters, city, and depictions of different people can be interpreted as poking fun at American society. This poses the question: who is making fun of who? Is Rockstar Games, all the way in the U.K., mocking the way Americans are viewed by the rest of the world? Or is the satire in this game meant to depict the way Americans view each other? The purpose of this website is to answer that question through taking the viewers through each of the through central characters, and ultimately an analysis of their behavior. Viewers will be able to access the cutscenes mentioned in each character page under the post “Useful Media Content.”

Michael

Background Character Info

9 years after the game’s opening heist scene, Michael is now a middle-aged man with a wife, a son, and a daughter. His previous crimes have made him a very wealthy man, as he has a large house in a nice area of Los Santos. At this stage of Michael’s life, he feels unfulfilled and without a purpose. His wife cheats on him and there is a mutual sense of misunderstanding between him and his children. This has led Michael to try to find purpose in his life again through organized crime.

Noteworthy Moments

  • Wife Sleeps Around
    • 24:00 – Michael is arriving back to his house for the night. He walks inside, calls for his wife and children but nobody answers. He then walks outside, lights a cigarette, and notices that two tennis rackets were left out, leaving him to wonder who his wife must have been playing tennis with. Michael suddenly gets angry and storms up the stairs and into his room, where he discovers his wife in bed with her tennis instructor. She yells at him to get out but Michael is beside himself, shouting that he “can’t believe (she) fucked that prick in (his) bed.” The instructor then makes a run for it, throwing himself through the balcony, and Michael goes to chase him, before running into Franklin.
  • Vengeance
    • 25:00 – Shortly after running into Franklin after discovering his wife in bed with her tennis instructor, Michael takes Franklin along with him to chase after the fleeing tennis instructor. They arrive at the instructor’s house, and Michael implies that he wants to attach a cord to the foundation of the back deck and drive off, pulling the deck down the steep slope. Franklin questions him but Michael reminds him that “that prick pulled my marriage down.” The instructor appears on the beck deck and proceeds to apologize in a mocking tone, which sends Michael into a vengeful rage, as he screams at the instructor, gets in the car, and floors the gas until the cord can no longer handle the tension, sending the entire house crumbling down the slope.
  • Disconnect With Children
    • 47:20 – Michael is downstairs watching television, where he is bothered by the noise his son is making upstairs. He storms upstairs into his son’s room, where he finds him playing online video games with his friends through a headset. He angry tells his son all he keeps hearing is “hermaphrodite this, suck cock that.” Michael’s son tells him to go away, which sends him into a rage as he launches through his son’s television, calling him a “disrespectful little asshole” His son responds by saying “Mom was right, you don’t know any better and you can’t help it, but you’re an asshole!” Michael challenges him to do something about it, and his son is surprised. Michael says that he just wants him to do something besides sitting there, eating and playing video games. Michael apologizes and says he just wishes he and his son had more in common, so they can do more together. He suggests they go on a bike ride together. His son is hesitant, but agrees.

Franklin

Background Character Info

Franklin is a young black man who lives in a rougher area of Los Santos with his trusted pitbull, Chop. His mother is long deceased and he lives with his Aunt Denise, with whom he has a testy relationship. He works at a car dealership with his best friend Lamar, and the two are often willing to break the law if their boss asks them too. Along with Lamar, Franklin also associates with Devin and Stretch, who wish to hold Franklin down to living the regular life they used to.This led Franklin’s girlfriend, Tanisha to leave him, as she could no longer handle his criminal lifestyle.

Noteworthy Moments

  • Old Friends
    • 43:27 – Franklin interrupts his Aunt Denise as she socializes with her friends in the living room, prompting her to tell him get lost. Franklin tells her, “with pleasure,” and walks out the front door as he is approached by Lamar and Stretch, who he has not seen in a while. Franklin walks by them, to which Stretch replies, “oh, no no, show some respect here, nigga.” Franklin stops, turns around, and says “damn, man, I gotta spend my day with another middle-aged fool trying to recapture his youth. I missed you dog” Stretch is taken aback by this, as Franklin turns around to walk around, to which Stretch replies “oh, you missed me huh?” Franklin turns around again and says “nah, I ain’t missed you, your ass could have stayed gone for good. So I fucked your girl, mugged your mom, and better yet, I ain’t thought about your ass in years.” He turns around to walk away, but Stretch follows him, telling Lamar he doesn’t understand why Lamar sticks around with Franklin, but Lamar doesn’t understand why they can’t get along. Franklin then offers a handshake to Stretch, but then says “I missed you dog, but you definitely got hit up inside.” Stretch is angered by this, and the two exchange words, and Stretch tells him “you’re gonna get yours” before he turns around to walk away, before Lamar convinces the two to get in the car with him to go do “business.”
  • Too Big For His Old Crew
    • 2:06:10 – The cutscene begins with Franklin and Aunt Denise bickering as usual, as she tell him she’s going to call the police for his “disloyalty.” Franklin doesn’t understand, but Lamar walks out of the house telling him not to act like he doesn’t know, and calls out Franklin for not being around his usual “homies” as much, “acting superior,” and for opting to do business with Michael and Trevor instead. Aunt Denise even tells him “your momma would turn over in her grave, boy.” Franklin dismisses that claim and asks where Tanisha is, and Aunt Denise tells him that she smartened and realizes she was better off without Franklin, and then accuses Franklin of always doing the opposite of what she says to do, before Trevor shows up…
  • Shakedown
    • 4:29:30 – The cutscene begins with Franklin and Lamar talking in a back alley. Lamar tells Franklin “I guess what we learnt is, nigga don’t think it ain’t no fun to be had fuckin’ with the homies, nigga,” to which Franklin reluctantly replies, “yeah, I guess you can look at it like that.” At this point, Lamar gets serious, and tells Franklin, “you know your nigga out here doing B-A-D man, why don’t you slide me a few dollas or somethin’. Nigga I know you went all illuminati and shit, leaving the street niggas in the back. Franklin obliges, and hands him some cash from his pocket. Lamar looks at the cash and is disappointed, saying “give a nigga just enough money to get him a little forty ounce and a bucket of chicken on the way to the poor house, huh? Franklin is bothered by that, telling Lamar that he should be thankful he always backed him up and stuck by him while Lamar always got them into trouble, and that he wants to get out of this lifestyle but Lamar isn’t living in reality. He tells Lamar “the best thing you can hope for is a big turnout for your motherfuckin’ funeral.” Lamar responds by saying “nigga ain’t nobody coming to your funeral.” The two start to bicker, and Franklin assures him that if some good business comes up, he’ll call, and then walks away.

Trevor

Background Character Info

9 years after the game’s opening heist scene, Franklin is now poor and living in the outskirts of Los Santos in a trailer park. It is not mentioned directly, but it is implied through the game that mentally unstable and probably schizophrenic. He is an alcoholic and a drug addict, and even has a meth lab set up in his trailer. Trevor’s inability to control his anger often lead him towards disturbing behavior.

Noteworthy Moments

  • 9 Years Later
    • In the cutscene that introduces  Trevor’s  storyline  to  the  game,  set  9  years  after  his  heist with  Michael.  At  this  point  of  his  life,  he  lives  in  a  dirty  one-room  trailer  in  the  outskirts  of  Los Santos,  frequently  doing  all  kinds  o fdrugs  and  drinking  alcohol.  The  scene  opens  up  with  him watching  television  from  the  kitchen  counter,  pinning  down  a  woman  from  behind  as  he  has  sex with  her.  He  sees  on  the  news  that  a  new heist  has  happened  that  could  be  tied  to  the  one  he  got away  with,  and  leaves  the  woman  in  the  trailer  asking  him  if  he  wants  to  “get  lit”  and  “smoke up.”  Before  he  even  gets  off  the  deck,  he  is  met   by  a  man,  with  some  enforcers,  claiming  that Trevor  has  been  sleeping  with  his  ex-girlfriend,  who  walks  outside  herself  to  the  noise.  Trevor walks  away  before  the  guy  follows  him,  only  for  Trevor  to turn  around  and  say,  “well,  I  have  to fuck  somebody…  do  you  want  me  to  fuck  you  instead?”  The  guy  says  he  still  loves  his  ex  and Trevor  appears  to  be  comfort  him,  only  to  catch  him  by  surpriseby  unsuspectingly  throw  him  on the  ground,  throw  a  beer  bottle  at  his  head,  and  stomp  him  out,  leaving  him  presumably  dead,  or at  the  very  least  unconscious.
  • Torture
    • 2:14:00 – In this cutscene, Trevor, Franklin, Michael, and a FIB (fictional version of FBI) agent are questioning a terrorism suspect. The suspect tells them to look into the man who owns the house Rockford Hills, and so the agent, Franklin, and Michael leave to go check out the house. On his way out, the agent instructs Trevor to make him speak. When they get to the house, they learn they were sent to the wrong house, so they call Trevor to ensure that they get the right information. The game then allows the user to play as Trevor as he selects his instrument of torture between pliers, electro-shock, and other cruel methods of torture. The suspect pleads, “please don’t, they’ve been whitened,” but Trevor jams them down his throat any way and proceeds to rip out a tooth. The agent appears again and asks him of a different suspect, and the suspect tells the agent he knows him. The agent tells Trevor to get back to torturing the suspect, so Trevor attaches the electro-shock clips to the suspect and begins electrocuting him, before picking up a large wrench. Trevor whacks the suspect over the knee with the wrench, causing him to cry out in pain. They still don’t get enough information from the suspect, so Trevor flips the suspect’s chair so he falls to the ground, places a cloth over his face, and begins waterboarding him. They eventually get enough information out of him, so the agent tells Trevor to get rid of him. The scene ends with Trevor telling the suspect to get into his car.
  • Kidnapping
    • 2:57:00 – The cutscene begins with Michael talking on the phone in Trevor’s trailer. Trevor is in his room, and calls for his Ron, telling him he is back. Trevor introduces Ron to Michael, as well as a woman named Patricia, who is tied up with tape over her mouth. Trevor rips the tape from her mouth and she shrieks. Trevor says to her “listen, beautiful, I’m sorry about everything that’s happened, and y’know, I can’t guarantee no harm’s gonna come to you. Might have to chop you up into little pieces before spraying your pulped mess down the drain, but I really hope it doesn’t come to that.” She responds by telling him “I appreciate your honesty. You’re a good man, I can see that.” Michael quips at her “you need your eyes examined then.” Trevor then leaves with Ron to go do business, and tells Michael to stay back and watch Patricia because “she’s a good lady.”

 

Analysis

As you can see throughout the character analysis and in-game cutscenes, Grand Theft Auto is satirical in its nature, as many aspects of the game can be interpreted as poking fun at American society. This poses the question: who is making fun of who? Is Rockstar Games, based in the U.K., mocking the way Americans are viewed by the rest of the world? Or is the satire in this game meant to depict the way Americans view each other?

According to Gabbiadini (2017), the role of violence in the sexual nature of Grand Theft Auto should be seen as problematic in that the game itself acts as a safe space for violent sexual fantasies to grow within a person. (Gabbiadini uses the example of Grand Theft Auto players killing a prostitute in the game so they can get their money back from her after having sex with her.) Gabbiadini found that the sexualized, objectified stereotypes that are present in the women in Grand Theft Auto have been shown to cultivate sexism in the game’s male players, as it was noted that the game increases judgements and feelings in support of violence against women. In addition, it was also found that women who played the game itself also reported feelings of increased self-objectification, which can be severely problematic as it can contribute to situations of victim blaming in instances of rape. (Gabbiadini, 2017) The notable analysis of each character, done on this website, also show how the ideas and findings presented by Gabbiadini can hold true. The character that this violent sexual aggression occurs within the most often is Trevor, as he has been shown to be extremely cold and callous in his sexual interactions with women, most notably in his introduction into the storyline. Trevor’s feelings of objectification of women can also be seen in his kidnapping of Patricia. That specific scene is also noteworthy in that Patricia goes along with her kidnapping and doesn’t seem too bothered by it, which goes along directly with Gabbiadini’s finding that women often feel more objectified after playing Grand Theft Auto. Michael appears in that scene too, and while he isn’t as enthused by the kidnapping as Trevor, he is still a willing bystander, and even agrees to watch her while Trevor leaves. Michael’s sexual violence is different from Trevor’s in that his violence does not occur during sex, but instead it occurs because of sex. This is seen when Michael often finds his wife either completely in bed with another man or even getting a little too close for Michael’s comfort. He hasn’t been shown to be violent towards his wife because of her actions, but rather the men who are with her sexually, which can be seen as a relatable feeling for male players of the game. Of the three characters, Franklin is the only one whose storyline counters Gabbiadini’s findings. While he isn’t a champion of women’s empowerment by any stretch of the imagination, he is the male character that has been shown to be ‘put in his place’ the most by women, specifically by his Aunt Denise and ex-girlfriend Tanisha, who are both unwillingly to put up with his criminal lifestyle.

According to Bouchard (2015), the role that ignoring normative deviance has in a game like Grand Theft Auto is precisely why it it so popular around the world. Normative deviance can be described as the feeling of not wanting to violate the norms or rules in a society due to the risk of punishment and negative consequences. In Grand Theft Auto, that natural feeling of following the rules in order to avoid trouble is thrown out the window, as the game encourages its players to break the law. The consequences that in Grand Theft Auto can range from losing virtual money and losing virtual weapons as the character immediately spawn from a police station or a hospital, depending on if the player was caught by the police or killed.  Bouchard also explains that the game’s reversed role of normative deviance can act as a forum for acting out on one’s own resentment for having to follow the norms of normative deviance in reel life, which, in a sense, can be liberating. (Bouchard, 2015) The is game is incredibly violent, so this could be why it is so successful. In real life, their would be consequences for Michael pulling his wife’s tennis instructor’s back deck down the hill. There would also be consequences for Franklin’s criminal lifestyle, and for Trevor’s psychotic acts of violence all throughout the game. Bouchard’s explanation of the game’s reversed role of normative deviance can also help to explain Gabbiadini’s findings when it comes to men, as the sexuality and the violence in Grand Theft Auto often go hand in hand. The intertwine between sex and violence represented in Grand Theft Auto, in a sense, represents the current state of America, shown through varying depictions of the possible walks of life that different Americans go through.

In conclusion, the answer to the overarching question of this website is not definite without direct confirmation from Rockstar Games. However, it is possible to conclude, based on the analysis of the content of the game, that Grand Theft Auto is reflective of both foreigners mocking Americans as well as Americans mocking themselves. One of the most significant aspects of a globalized world is that everyone brings a piece of their own perspective to the table, which means that everyone sees things differently. For a player of the game in another country, the satirical nature of the game might be more reflective of how foreigners view Americans, while an American player of the game may be more able to see how the satirical nature of the game can portray the way Americans view and treat each other.  What can be determined though is that Grand Theft Auto is a significant piece of media when it comes to trying to understand the power and influence of media in the globalized world, and it is the hope of this website that the viewer feels the same way.

Sources:

Borchard, K. (2015). Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and Grand Theft Autoethnography. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies, 15(6), 446-454. doi:10.1177/1532708615614018

Gabbiadini, A., Bushman, B., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., & Volpato, C. (2017,      December). Grand Theft Auto is a ‘Sandbox’ Game, but There are Weapons, Criminals, and Prostitutes in the Sandbox: Response to Ferguson and Donnellan (2017). Journal of Youth & Adolescence. pp. 2460-2466. doi:10.1007/s10964-017-0731-3.