One of the biggest tragedies of Grand Theft Auto V is how little its moralities are spoken on. The characters are reprobates, the actions amoral in the best case and utterly reprehensible in the worst. They are monsters of the most depraved calibre, and with a single document, I wondered if I shouldn’t be among them.
At the end of Grand Theft Auto V, you’re presented with a psychoanalysis of your playthrough by the in-game therapist Dr. Isiah Friedlander. The doctor’s observations are harsh, brutal, and entirely honest. Mine read as follows:
- Fascinating. Rarely have I encountered someone so deluded.
- Good at compromise. Not so good at willpower.
- Terrifying egomaniac.
- Irresponsible with money and with rest of life.
- Likes to show off around women.
- Morally conservative about some things – which is weird.
- Not good on giving time to others.
- Keen to be a part of the American dream, which is odd.
- Psychopath or sociopath? Both.
- Magpie who will steal whatever takes their fancy, time and time again.
- Ignores anything spiritual.
- Friendly, in a way.
- Easily distracted.
- A real mess.
I didn’t understand what any of this meant until I went back and thought about it. Some of the points are fairly obvious: I stole anything that wasn’t nailed down (but I do that in Skyrim, too). I have to admit I avoided any physical activities. Triathlons, swimming, biking, and anything explicitly physical was something of a bane. My money was better spent on vices, like clothing, cars, and comforts.
It is easy to get wrapped up in it all. Having the money to lead a lavish life of fast cars, cheap booze, and easy comforts make work infinitely less appealing. Anything that required dedicated effort was, by default, infinitely less attractive. The best things in life should be easy, or fulfilling, and fun.
With Benjamins exploding from my pockets, I never needed to do anything other than exactly what I wanted. And no one wants to work, do they? Is it really so wrong to live the American dream, to be distracted, messy, and dedicated to living the high life without the high responsibilities?
Dr. Friedlander seemed to think so.
Other points are less obvious, and I still haven’t shed much light on the subject. More research is required, but to what ends. What would exploring Dr. Friedlander’s possibilities mean making me do?
Grand Theft Auto V has an unconscious morality system. While I can choose certain things to differ the ending, other things aren’t in my control. My actions are taken note of by Friedlander and judgements are made. I’m not sure whether to be offended by Friedlander’s assumptions or impressed by Rockstar‘s new take on the traditional morality system; if it can even be called that.
You don’t really have a sense of right or wrong in Grand Theft Auto V. As a player, you know that behaving the way you’re encouraged to in-game would be considered wrong, but within the context of the game world, it’s entirely okay. Other games like Mass Effect give you a variety of choices based on your characters morality, but in Grand Theft Auto V, it’s more like an afterthought.
My biggest issue with the traditional morality system (in games like the original BioShock or by some extension, the Mass Effect trilogy) is that you’ve really only got three options: Teachers Pet, Boring or Pure Evil. There isn’t enough depth shown about how your choices changed the game world or your character.
The analysis by Friedlander gives a more in-depth look at how you played. I’m well aware that Rockstar probably has a pool of lines to pick from that depend on what choice you make, but it’s a nice change from “Oh, you harvested all the little girls? I bet you kick kittens, too.” (Oh, come on, game! I harvested like two little girls.)
In the original BioShock, if you harvest one too many girls, it tips the scale from good to evil quite quickly, implying your choices have dire consequences. While in BioShock: Infinite (the third instalment of the game), any choices you make have no impact on the outcome, implying that your destiny is chosen for you no matter what.
The mini analysis post-game definitely made me sit up and think about how I played Grand Theft Auto V, and it’s making me rethink the way I play through now. Did I ever question what the game was making me before I read the report? Should I have? I still murder indiscriminately, but there’s some forethought going into it. I’m constantly aware that the in-game shrink is making notes and silently judging me and I wonder if I’m really a sociopath, a psychopath, or both?