Debating Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor Phillips


(Warning: Trent and Marty’s sometimes incoherent arguing contains mild spoilers)

With GTA V on everyone’s minds, Trent and Marty sit down to talk about everyone’s favourite foul-mouthed, rampaging, hillbilly pal Trevor Phillips. Murderous rampages and torture scenes aside, is Trevor a nice guy you can bring home to meet the parents, or is his character stretched too thin in a deep and evolving world?

Trent: Martin ‘Marty’ Gladstone, my old nemesis. Has GTA V been occupying your life like it has mine?

Marty: If by occupying my life you mean sacrificing the most basic of human needs (food, sleep, ninja training), then yes. My past week has been engulfed by the mugs of Michael, Trevor and Franklin. Even at work my mind remains in the man-cave, hypothesising strategies to break into Fort Zancudo, or remembering the bliss of a Los Santos sunrise.

Trent: I can safely say I’ve now played more tennis, gone for more hikes and ridden more dirt bikes in GTA V than in my entire life. But for all the pleasant strolls along Vespucci Beach (Venice Beach) I’ve also found myself on occasion happily and purposely driving on the sidewalk playing ‘Moosh the Pedestrian’ between missions and running down cyclists like it’s my job. Have you also been taking time out from your busy schedule to deal with those pesky pedestrians?

Marty: Surprisingly no. I don’t kill unless someone has wronged me or done bad by someone else. Pass me in the street and I’ll say hello. Confess you’ve been cheating on your girlfriend, have no regrets and intend to continue such acts, and I’ll shotgun your face so that it leaves an imprint on the back of your skull.

Come on, how can you hate that face?

Come on, how can you hate that face?

Trent: Not even if they have a sweet car you want? Why Marty, why do you not abide by the obvious rules of GTA V?

Marty: I have no qualms with recklessly stealing; it’s only in mindless killing that I draw the line. I may not be able to play moral arbitrator in real life but in Grand Theft Auto I am God – I look after my dumb people and administer karmic justice as I see fit.

Trent: Why is it that you feel the need to play the good guy? I’m sure you can’t deny you’ve played the ole’ ‘Remove the ladder from your Sim’s pool to watch your little bro urinate and drown to death’ game. So what’s the difference here? I mean of course this kind of world is completely inappropriate for children, but for your average stable adult it’s a virtual world where you can essentially do what you like. Does this make you uncomfortable? Is it too much freedom for you?

Marty: The only thing that makes me uncomfortable is Trevor – the guy is a maniac with no (discernible) motivation for his anger. I can love bad guys as much as the next Walter White fan, but if I can’t sympathise or at least understand their reasoning, then to me they come across as a shallow, two-dimensional character trope. It’s got nothing to do with playing the ‘good guy’, I just like my game worlds and their inhabitants to have weight.

Trent: Just because Trevor is from the slightly more disturbed side of the tracks doesn’t mean that Michael and Trevor are squeaky clean. He might play up his psychotic tendencies but just because Michael sits in a chair and ‘talks’ about his feelings for 30 seconds doesn’t make his love of chaos any less. It really shouldn’t matter though. He plays an important part in the group, his role is necessary to represent the different criminal personas. And besides, you aren’t becoming him, you are playing him as a character. Why does his brand of psycho make you any more uncomfortable? He’s clearly a disturbed individual who has had a long and trying life to get to this point.

Oh... that's why

Oh… that’s why

Marty: The difference between Trevor and most other protagonists is he actively looks for and promotes violence to get what he wants. Contrast this with Joel from The Last of Us, a man who has done some horrible things, but we can still understand his anger. And watching a character commit an atrocity in a movie is not the same as playing it out in a game. I’m not suggesting you become the bad guy but a movie is a completely passive experience, while video games require your input.

Trent: You have a point there but just because you haven’t seen what has led Trevor to act out doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. He could be the most in need of help and sympathy. He needs to act strong and dominant because that’s how he gets attention. Sure his ‘Rampage’ missions and torture scenes put my teeth on edge, and he’s far from the Bill Cosby type father figure I’d want my kids to look up to, but he doesn’t need to explain himself. What about the acts of violence the other characters perform in GTA V both scripted and by your own choosing? Are these justified? I would say no, but it’s a character driven story, our anti heroes don’t need to abide by our real life concepts of morals.

Marty: For someone as aggressively exaggerated as Trevor I would argue yes, it is necessary. It would be incredibly interesting to explore what set him off so bad, or maybe there is no history behind his anger – hence the angry man stereotype. Michael and Franklin are exempt from this because story-wise they don’t go out of their way to harm people for no reason. I just want justification for Trevor because he is a protagonist with history, not an empty shell the player projects their own persona and motivations onto.

Trent: I might try and understand my characters but I’m certainly not trying to project their personas onto myself. I’m playing a story, a story that yes I am involved in, but from an outsiders perspective. I don’t remember the last time I felt the need to ride my mountain bike off a cliff or drive manically on the wrong side of the street. This is a fantasy. Sure it might draw on the real world though this is no less fantasy than chasing down Horde in WoW. If stealing a car actually resulted in 5 police cars chasing me down, opening fire in public and trying to drive me into the ocean, I sure as hell would never leave my house in fear of what they would do if I spat my gum on the ground. It’s a stylised, hyper real fantasy where motives and consequences don’t apply in the same way as life.

Games like the last of us create absorbing and real fantasy that I can be absorbed into and relate with real life choice and consequence. The scenarios may be fantasy but the worlds they create coincide with real life struggles and morals. Whereas GTAV is a playground, one where rules don’t apply in the same way.

Music recommendation: Fix You - Coldplay

Music recommendation: Fix You – Coldplay

Marty: Whatever players choose to do during GTA V’s sandbox elements is up to them, and I am in no way one to judge. But it also has a linear plot-line to follow, much like The Last of Us, that forces players to act in a particular way if they want to finish the game. If Trevor’s extreme actions were confined only to cut-scenes, then the lack of player agency is warrant enough to dispel responsibility. But when a game asks the player to abandon their moral compass, then the least it can do is tell us why – lest it leave the conscientious gamer in an unjustified state of mass homicide.

Trent: I think I know what’s going on here with Trevor. And I think Michael sums it up best.

Michael: You know, I’ve been thinking about you Trevor. Your lifestyle. People always try to label you. You know, maniac, psycho, and In some ways you defy categorisation. Think about it. Look at where you live.

Trevor: It’s off the grid, somewhere real and authentic.

Michael: And what about the way you dress?

Trevor: I don’t give a shit what I wear.

Michael: No, no, no. If you don’t give a shit, you wear clean clothes that fit. Yours are all a little out there and wacky. It’s not an absence of taste Trevor, it’s the opposite of taste. Then there’s the tattoos, the hair, the weird music, the niche drugs, the everything.

Trevor: What the f**k are we talking about?

Michael: You Trevor, you’re a hipster!

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