In GTA V we are Trevor Phillips. Trevor Phillips is us.
The PC version of Grand Theft Auto V – GTA 5 if you will – should be available at retail from Friday, and while we waited for our copy, we found ourselves playing GTA V again on a PlayStation 3. And while we were playing, we achieved something. We are Trevor. Trevor, it’s us. And that’s just disturbing.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with GTA V, you might be wondering what’s wrong with Trevor. Basically, Trevor represents all your worst impulses, all the horrible things you’ve done or thought, all amplified beyond recognition and turned into something sickening. And what makes it disturbing is that playing as Trevor is when the game gets fun.
The game features three protagonists – Trevor, Michael, and Franklin – who form a gang together. Michael and Trevor used to rob banks together, but then Michael faked his death and tried to get out of the game and live a quiet life. Trevor, meanwhile, remained a criminal and now lives in the desert with a drug business.
Franklin is a petty thug who steals cars and teams up with Michael. The story really takes a lot of unexpected turns from there, but what really strikes you when you play GTA V again is that Trevor is the character that really makes the game fun.
That’s because over the years the GTA series has become an increasingly “cinematic” experience, culminating (or bottoming out, depending on your perspective) with GTA IV. While GTA IV looked amazing and offered a nice simulation of New York (Liberty City), the game itself was filled with stark moments and boring, repetitive tasks that made the experience joyless, if you played the character play.
Think about it – when you try to remember GTA (especially if you’re old enough to remember the moral panic the game caused when it was first released) – you think of chaos and murder, blazing gunfights with the police, and above cartoonish fun.
And then you watch GTA IV, and you start wondering where things went wrong. GTA V tried to fix this in a number of ways, but there were plenty of missteps as well. The infamous torture sequence could be seen as an excessive orgy of violence, a commentary on the violence the state perpetrates on innocent people in the name of security, or even a way for the game to tell its players exactly what not they are disturbed. Either way, this sequence left a bad taste in your mouth, and was an example of the game taking itself too seriously.
After all, what looks like fun? Control Michael while he does yoga, slowly move the analog sticks to strike the right poses and hold them, or (like Trevor) see a group of hipsters in a coffee shop and pull out a bazooka to get rid of their scruffy beards for Well ?
Trevor is a rude eccentric who probably never took a shower if he could help himself, who casually abuses everyone he meets and spews toxic nonsense all the time. But he’s also the only character you control who seems to have fun with what he does.
Trevor was written to give voice to the fun parts of GTA – where you go crazy, steal a car and smash into everything while driving, and get in and out of shootouts with few real consequences. Do the same with Michael or Franklin, and you’d almost expect the characters to start complaining after a while.
Michael and Franklin are characters with families and struggles of their own, and they try to work through their problems and move on in life. Trevor is just trying to have fun and he will happily steal a tank to achieve this goal. As the player’s replacement, Trevor represents GTA as it was – a colorful cartoon world where you can relax and have fun without thinking too much about it.