Will having three protagonists work for Grand Theft Auto V?

by James O'Connor Featured 13 Comments 29 Votes 2859 Views 10/05/2013 Back to Articles

When it comes to Grand Theft Auto, I have drunk the Kool-Aid. I have plugged many, many hours into GTA IV and its expansions; I have argued the different merits of III, Vice City and San Andreas; I have started (and may yet still complete) a PhD thesis about player driven narrative experiences within the last instalment. I think GTA IV is the best game of this console generation. I am looking forward to GTA V more than any other game on the horizon.

But despite my love for these games, my trust in the developers, and the positive tone taken in many previews, I’m not going to be able to stop worrying about the game’s use of three different protagonists until the game is inside my Xbox 360.

In my research into GTA IV, I’ve studied how players interact with, relate to, and understand Niko as a protagonist. Watching someone else playing the game can be extremely interesting -- the link between the player and the avatar is one where the two figures tend to feed into each other. The player interpretation of Nicko comes partly from what the game tells them about him, and partly from the values the player chooses, or consciously chooses not to, impose over him.

I wonder if being able to switch between three characters on the fly is going to be a confusing experience, especially when the characters are going to be living their lives separately from you when you’re not playing as them.

This makes for a surprisingly complicated relationship. The player’s understanding of what motivates the character’s actions can differ between players or be ignored entirely, and what does and doesn’t count within the game’s reality (it’s surprisingly easy to pretend that all the rampages you went on outside of the missions simply didn’t happen within the game’s fiction) changes depending on how the player decides to author these incidents in their head. Players, in my experience, get quite attached to Niko in interesting ways -- one thing that stood out for me was that several of my research participants would apologise whenever they ran someone over in the game, which is less likely to be the case in a game like Saint’s Row or Just Cause, I’d say, because of how the protagonists in that game interact with the world.

I can’t help but worry that giving the player three different bodies and personalities to jump between will dilute this. Yes, GTA IV ultimately had three protagonists once the DLC dropped, but I liked playing the characters separately. Each one had a very distinct personality, missions, and weapons, and the general tone and vibe changed between them. How I mucked around in the game didn’t necessarily change, but the way I reconciled my actions, and how I felt about the experience I was having, changed quite significantly.

I wonder if being able to switch between three characters on the fly is going to be a confusing experience, especially when the characters are going to be living their lives separately from you when you’re not playing as them. What does it mean for everyone who got really into ‘pacifist’ playthroughs of GTA IV, shooting to wound and killing as few people as possible, when Trevor is killing people off-screen? I worry that it might take away from some of the really interesting links formed between player and avatar in the last game.

Having said all of this, it’s worth noting that the most incredibly off-base concern I’ve ever expressed at a game was sort of reminiscent of this one. I really thought that Driver: San Francisco’s body-switching shtick would be awful, but once I played the game I realised that it was, in fact, genius. Perhaps it’s foolish of me to publicly question the value of a character-shifting mechanic in an open world game again -- I guess I’ll find out later this year.

What do you think of GTA V's three protagonists?

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Will having three protagonists work for Grand Theft Auto V? Comments

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I share similar skepticism but I'm thinking the scope of the game world and length of the narrative could potentially have a place for the three protagonists.

Do you think the episodes of GTA IV could have worked as one game in which you could inter-change between the three?

It would have offered three exceptionally different takes on the city as all three characters were very different.

I think it'll work really well in missions with more than one of the characters, too.

"A PhD thesis about player driven narrative experiences within the last instalment."

What accreditation does one earn from this? :P
I think it might end up quite disjointed.

But at least it's something a bit different.

I know there's been some rage about no female lead, but I'm not sure it'd be easy to fit one in with these characters. I'd expect that more as a extensive DLC pack -- and it could be quite a good one too.
LoL I dont even get the gist of this article, people taking GTA this seriously as too apologize to a pedestrian for running him over? Helloo ! thats what GTA has been about, driveby's and shit and anyways the pathetic car controls of GTA 4 meant you did be running people over even if you didn't intend to.

Though, i am also kinda skeptical about the multi-protag thing, but for dramatically different reasons then yours.
Depends on how Rockstar is telling the main story mode. Going by films such as 'Pulp Fiction' with multiple protaganists, it can work if done properly.
My only hesistant is what happens after completing the main story, or when 'free roaming'. Will there still be the three protaganists, and you end swapping at will. Will Rockstar end up killing two and you're left with one? Only time will tell.
...on a completely different GTAV topic, someone needs to get a note through to R* saying "Remember- R18+ ;)"
It'll be more the case if the Australian Classification Board would hand over an R rating, unless they encounter a Hot Coffee part, then they'll give it an RC.
I haven't thought about the player/character relationship in as much depth as a PhD writer would have, but I am intrigued.

While playing any game, I'm always wondering if I'm making decisions based on what I think the character would do in that situation, or if I'm creating the character through the actions I take.

In the case of Niko, I realized I screwed the character over at the end because of that train of thought.

(spoilers I guess)
I thought of Niko as a stubborn, uncaring dick, mostly because he kept telling everyone that (I later realized that was probably him trying to convince them, and himself).

At the end, I assumed he was too stubborn to let Dimitri get away with everything, so I hunted him down and killed him. Niko didn't learn anything from the game's story, as per the usual Hero's Journey.

But it occurred to me that that was my fault, as the player. The game gave me the opportunity to let him redeem himself, to prove himself a better man, but I denied him that. I created this dickish Niko character by assuming that's what he would do.

I find that really interesting, even if no one else does. :P

MezFunky said:
I find that really interesting, even if no one else does.



I find this sort of interesting interesting enough to write a thesis on, if that helps. :P

I really need to replay GTA IV before V hits.

Gryllis said: I think it might end up quite disjointed.
But at least it's something a bit different.
I know there's been some rage about no female lead, but I'm not sure it'd be easy to fit one in with these characters. I'd expect that more as a extensive DLC pack -- and it could be quite a good one too.



Wait there was complaints about no female lead character......... Honestly that's pretty stupid if people did. Just because Tomb raider reboot had one doesn't mean all games need to.
I think it'll be a nice change, I also heard that you can change to your multiplayer character, but I have no idea if that is true.
of course it will ...just give us the F'ing game already!!!
I think it will. If anyone remembers The Getaway I personally think that was one of my top 10 games for the PS2.

Luke1993 said:

Gryllis said: I think it might end up quite disjointed.
But at least it's something a bit different.
I know there's been some rage about no female lead, but I'm not sure it'd be easy to fit one in with these characters. I'd expect that more as a extensive DLC pack -- and it could be quite a good one too.


Wait there was complaints about no female lead character......... Honestly that's pretty stupid if people did. Just because Tomb raider reboot had one doesn't mean all games need to.



On the basis of what I posted, I agree. It shouldn't have one just because it can. It should have one eventually (calling DLC) because it allows for a super awesome character.

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