GTA V: The American Dream Comes Only To Those With Corrupt Morals

GTA V's focus on chasing the American dream comes with committing murders, stealing and double-crossing...

**Contains Spoilers for the ending of Grand Theft Auto V. Read at your own risk.**

Franklin arrives just in time for the ceremony. The former gangbanger joins the bank-robbing Michael and the meth-dealing Trevor in bidding their friend Devon Weston adieu. Before sending their venture capitalist buddy into the Pacific Ocean below, Michael eulogizes Weston by informing him of the two great evils of capitalism he’s guilty of committing: underpaying and outsourcing employees. Thus ends the reign of Rockstar’s everyman capitalist.

While most focus on the tidbits of satire channeled through billboards and radio commercials, the most biting undoubtedly comes via the success of its three leads Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. Though it ends on a much more optimistic note than Grand Theft Auto IV, the fifth entry still espouses the same theme: that the American Dream so holy to this country comes via corrupt morals as opposed to bootstrap clichés.

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This has been the ethos of Rockstar’s various worlds dating back to Grand Theft Auto 3. In general, Rockstar games often involve psychopathic characters finding far more success in America than their less violent counterparts. As director Sergio Leone said, “The west was made by violent, uncomplicated men.”

Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti slaughters his way to the top, while a character that finds redemption like Red Dead’s John Marston is struck down by corrupt politicians. Carl Johnson becomes the king of San Andreas while Cole Phelps succumbs to the insurmountable levels of corruption seething in the Los Angeles streets. Even sweet old Jimmy from Bully inexplicably finds himself at the top of the food chain simply by playing the tough guy role and going agro on his rivals.

Then there’s the Table Tennis cast who are easily amongst the most depraved in gaming.

However, since the ’08 financial crash, Rockstar’s view has widened to encompass white-collar criminals like Red Dead Redemption’s Edgar Ross and Max Payne 3’s Victor Branco who have been among the most successful and scurrilous in these virtual worlds.

Grand Theft Auto V follows the same narrative path with prickly FIB agent Steve Haines and corporate raider and overall scab Devon Weston. As with most open-world games, the protagonist plays pseudo political whore, trapped under the thumb of a number of different organizations and interests.

Weston and Haines are students of Machiavelli, consolidating power through manipulation of the game’s protagonist. This of course leads to the choice Franklin must make near the tail-end of the story: cooperate with the Feds by assassinating Trevor, give in to the omnipotent power of Devin by killing Michael, or take a hold of his destiny and fight back against these power plays.

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Ending A and B work for the simple fact that they are safe and likely the smarter bets had you been confronted with this type of decision in reality. Both emphasize the self-interest of Franklin, which is a very human reaction that is sympathetic to an audience. (Just look at Henry Hill from Goodfellas as an example of this.) But in GTA, it’s like stopping at a red light and patiently waiting for pedestrians to cross the street.

So with Ending C, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor avoid the same fate as John Marston and systematically take out all of their enemies after knocking over the Union Depository. That sounds more like a video game.

A subversive element of Grand Theft Auto is the simple pleasure of being a dick. Kanye West recently shared a similar sentiment in his song New Slaves: “You see it’s leaders and it’s followers, but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” Outside observers may find it perverse, but being the initiator of a five-star crime spree and consistently pocketing a year’s salary after each completed job sure feels good.

It helps that GTA exists in this medium, allowing Rockstar to rarely pull strings when it comes to the level of wanton violence brought about by the protagonists. Whereas the criminals of Hollywood appear to be wrestling with their conscious as they search for reasons to excuse their wrongdoings, Rockstar’s leads are just plain addicted to chaos and hold no reservations in reveling in their collective destruction—an awful lot like the typical gamer.

Curiously enough though, among the few justified crimes is the assassination of corrupt CEOs at the discretion of Lester. The eccentric programmer has a myriad of reasons to take out these business leaders.

“[A] ruthless vulture capitalist about to take controlling interest in Vapid Motor Company and sell thousands of workers down the river,” Lester says of Isaac Penny before sending Franklin off to murder the billionaire.

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With the amount of money that follows in the wake of their deaths, the player doesn’t have much of a reason to pass up these optional jobs, though Franklin is hesitant at first to call himself a hero of the people.

“I like blowing motherfucking fools’ heads off as much as the next psychotic asshole, but I just don’t look at this shit as doing a good deed,” Franklin says.

“Well, now you can ‘cause it’s not fools’ heads, it’s assholes’ heads,” Lester counters.

All this leads to the viciously delightful conclusion to Option C. Most of the heavy-lifting is dealt with by the time the ending rolls around. All that’s left is to drive Mr. Weston to a scenic viewpoint where Franklin, Michael, and Trevor will make their final goodbyes before sending him on his way.

Grand Theft Auto V paints these three psychos as better role-models for this generation than the CEOs they assassinate. They’re entrepreneurs, self-made men pushing every awful employer that undercut and mistreat workers right off a cliff to a watery death, smiles all around as the sun sets in the distance. If Dan Houser could pop out the television screen and give you a high five, he would. There’s something to be said when the guys habitually running over pedestrians on sidewalks are considered the good guys next to a venture capitalist.

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Though names like LifeInvader and BAWSAQ are cute, the positive emotional impact of cutting down Los Santos’ capitalist warlord Devon Weston speaks more powerfully; a solid middle finger to American values—the real calling card of a Grand Theft Auto title.

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