This post contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all readers. The material in question includes:

- Bad language
- Political topics
- Mentions of homophobia
- Mental health topics (jealousy, loneliness, etc.)

As a radically different example, however, the first trailer for Red Dead Redemption II didn’t offer much in the way of characters, but the next couple trailers were a different story. See, I’ve always found myself enjoying video games with protagonists I can connect with more than any others, and at the time of those trailers, Arthur felt like just a generic tough guy archetype from a classic Western, closer to the type of character played by Ross Hagen (whose last roles before his death were in RDR1 and Undead Nightmare, funny enough) than the reformed crook, devoted family man, and brutal yet well-meaning gunslinger John Marston was in the first game. Yes, I’d built a personal connection to John well before RDR2 was announced, and it seemed laughable to younger and dumber seventeen-year-old me that Arthur could even hold a candle to such a perfectly written protagonist.

So, then, my loyalty to and relationship with my parents dropped like a rock between high school and college, and seeing a pale, bruised, and emaciated Arthur gasping for air through his infected lungs as he looked up at his surrogate father and muttered, “I gave you all I had,” just made me feel even more ashamed to have ever been a dumb teenager in the first place.

I’m sorry, Orther. I was Red Dead wrong.

Certainly, one of the viewpoints perpetuated more and more between the initial trailer for RDR2 and the game’s release was that games have never looked or felt so beautiful, realistic, or alive. It’s a game that people still, and probably always will, treat as just about crossing over into an all-out simulated replica of the physical universe. We really aren’t that far away from validating simulation theory at this point (which, for reference, is the highly rebuked theory that our world is simply a more advanced civilization’s digitally generated universe, à la The Matrix). Yes, I am able to put myself in a 2013 headspace, as GTA V was the highest-selling video game of all time for good reason, but to see another game in the series with RDR2‘s level of realism would be—and, sure enough, has been—a dream come true for me and countless others. This is why I can’t possibly have the gall to undermine the stunning visual quality, environmental detail, and NPC believability that this new trailer puts on display, especially when compared side-by-side with the original 2002 rendition of the Vice City setting. It truly goes beyond any previous expectation I had for what a RDR2-level GTA game might look or feel like.

Hell, even the mental images I’ve formed of a Vice City-based game in the modern age, with Everglades-inspired swamps and rural country regions stretching far beyond the tropical resort-studded Vice Point Beach, were brought to life almost exactly as I’d imagined, and that really does have to be emphasized. Obviously, protagonists like Niko, Michael, and Trevor have been done before, so I don’t expect them to be repeated (in Trevor’s case, that’s actually a good thing, given how overly deranged he was portrayed), but a vaguely similar female lead would make the entire project a winning formula for me. In fact, as much as I consider Tommy from Vice City to be an uninteresting main character, I would accept someone closer to him as the lead and see little to no reason to feel disappointed. Besides, Arthur Morgan proved that someone who seems bland or flat on the surface can prove to be a stronger lead beyond any previous projections, and you know what? That very well may be the case with the two leads of GTA VI.

Yet, I can’t help but feel otherwise, as I’ll now take the time to properly explain.

Let’s say teenage me (AKA, a greater rival of mine than any actual person) saw this trailer way back when, like in 2014 or 2015. The ways I feel about the game’s two protagonists wouldn’t have factored in at all, but this point deserves to be expanded on immediately due to (a) my relatively newfound maturity and (b) the fact that it was already mentioned in this post. Again, it wouldn’t matter too much from a surface-level point of view, but for an aspiring fiction writer like me whose expectations for relatability are abnormally strict, it can make or break my hopes for a story and its characters. What is that point, exactly? Well, based on the protagonists of the previous GTA games in the HD era, as well as the Red Dead Redemption protagonists, both series work best when their worlds are seen from a cynical outsider’s perspective, especially when it comes to the specific aspects of American culture (and oftentimes world cultures in general) that the games are focused on satirizing and commentating on. Although San Andreas was the first GTA game to feature main characters I care about enough to follow, GTA IV was the first to feature a main character with an opposing viewpoint to the world it establishes, that being a European man who comes to America for specific reasons, only to experience an arguably tougher life than the one he had before, like a backhanded contradiction of the American Dream. Of course, San Andreas does partly take place in a Los Angeles lookalike in 1992, not to mention its mostly black main cast and the corrupt police officers as its main antagonists, which clearly echoes the Rodney King and L.A. Riots fiasco when paired with the literal riot towards the end of the story. Oh, and San Andreas also didn’t feature its otherwise naturally likable protagonist dropping a gay slur.

Now, sure, you had a young, hip, and colloquial working stiff like Franklin as one of its three protagonists, but GTA V formed a rather interesting dynamic between all three by making the other two middle-aged white men alongside a younger black man. Hell, the unlikely friendship between Franklin and Michael is one of the strongest aspects of the game, and while others might argue that Franklin is the one true protagonist due to the choice he has to make in the final mission (a notion that I don’t necessarily disagree with), Michael was the first one revealed in the initial trailer, as well as the one I connect with the most. As… well, unspeakably terrified as I am of Trevor, he and Michael are inherent outsiders in the foreign land with the sprayed-on tans (to quote the lyrics to “Phantom Limb” by The Shins) that Los Santos and Blaine County comprise—both literally and personally, as both men are tired old crooks from way out toward the northeast. Whereas Trevor is an unhinged opportunist from Canada who doesn’t even care enough to pay his taxes, Michael is a mostly reformed bank robber who just wants to settle down, enjoy his retirement, and chase his passions in spite of the ways that his decadent West Coast lifestyle has poisoned his whole family. As much as the latter has proven relatable enough, that’s primarily the case with an older adult audience like Michael himself, and it definitely contrasts with the types of entitled, overambitious morons who populate much of the state and the shady industries that operate within.

Basically, what I’m trying to get across is that a huge point towards my ability to connect with a GTA game’s characters—and towards defining the “spirit” of the series, in my opinion—is giving them unpopular, unconventional, and/or mature personalities that conflict with the culture being parodied, probably because that sums me up with impeccable accuracy. Sure, Red Dead Redemption isn’t as overtly vulgar or satirical in its world-building, but the series does focus on the growing civilization of the Western world during the Industrial Revolution, and its protagonists are old-fashioned outlaws who struggle to adapt to the changing times, which gives them a similar kind of outcast status.

So, fast-forward to 2024, and here we are, in an era of fake and glossy social media bullshit where people’s bad sides can be easily masked behind the illusion of living perfect lives, not to mention the fact that GTA VI‘s story even takes place in a coastal region based on Miami, a major city in the same deep-red state that made a conservative political icon out of Ron motherfucking DeSantis. This is ripe for a GTA game featuring an out-of-touch cynic who’d rather flee from cops through the musty swampland than brag on fictional social media networks like Bleeter and LifeInvader, which makes the fact that its two protagonists consist of a young couple from the same generation (and even culture, telling by how they talk, act, and dress) all the more conflicting for me. Protagonists aside, for that matter, the focus on social media doesn’t have a satirical edge as much as it seems to embrace the artificiality of the culture itself, which leaves me hoping that the series’s trademark social commentary won’t be abandoned for the sake of general audience accessibility until more trailers and information are released.

Back on the subject of the protagonists, on the other hand…

Oh. Great. I guess I missed an opportunity to use the notorious term “woke” in my Joker and Harley post, considering that’s a case of the term applying in one of the worst ways possible. See, Fox News and the internet have scrubbed the term clean of any real weight or meaning for years now, as I really only get irritated when fictional works from industries like Hollywood are watered down of anything even remotely provocative with a sense of insincerity that insults their audiences’ intelligence (watch RedLetterMedia’s episode of Half in the Bag about The Exorcist: Believer for a perfect example of this.) It can get bothersome for me when an absurdly PC mindset clouds people’s common sense or general logic, like when they treat Harley Quinn as a misunderstood soul instead of… well… a child-minded murderer, but I actually find myself more easily annoyed by anti-woke mindsets.

On a post I have planned, I’ll be expressing positivity towards games that have received notably poor or mediocre reviews, and a key example that will be included is the 2022 reboot of Saints Row, which is pictured at the bottom of this post’s heading image. Aside from having the best character, vehicle, and weapon customization suite in the series, the game has a zany and laid-back sense of relatability, as well as generally well-defined characters struggling to make the ends meet. Sure, they may not be my favorite characters ever by any means, but they’re all defined well enough while benefiting from solid acting performances and distinct personalities. The main cast being considered “woke” based on diversity alone is beyond absurd, considering they have no specific political motives or viewpoints (this is only emphasized by the fact that the Idols, a gang of ultra-PC, anti-capitalist, college-age anarchists, are the villains), and as for business name changes, FB’s still stands for the hilarious original name, Freckle Bitch’s, and the first letters of RimJobs are inverted to make the title JimRob’s and thus make the sex joke slightly less blatant. In general, the latter changes are just to fit the relatively grounded and realistic angle Volition was aiming for, and the way I see it, they succeeded well enough.

If you weren’t already rolling your eyes, this is where they’ll probably roll all the way back into their sockets. See, anyone who has anything bad to say about the game based on the trailer—which is a very slim minority—are your average basement-dwelling incels or frat house dude-bros who view any modern form of equal representation as woke propaganda. My own eyes roll at the thankfully few-and-far-between concerns that the involvement of a female lead will overshadow her male partner. My own concern’s quite the contrary, actually—I’m worried that having a playable male counterpart at all minimizes the subversion of a playable female lead. This might seem ridiculous at first, but this almost certainly wouldn’t have been the case if Rockstar Games gave any of their previous games a female protagonist. I mean, you have that weird cyberpunk anime game they made ages ago, Oni, but how many people actually remember that one? No, Rockstar productions have always consistently had male leads, and only male leads, so giving their first female lead a male counterpart with a playable and equally integral role appears to insinuate—intentionally or otherwise—that they can’t simply have a female lead. Again, call it hypocritically PC, but I would honestly settle with Lucia, Jason, and a third protagonist who’s nonbinary. I mean, if you’re going to be subversive with your first female protagonist since 2001, you might as well go all the way with sexual diversity.

In the heading image of this post, I claim that this fails something called the “Bechdel Test”, which was originally established by cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her close friend, Liz Wallace. While originally intended as a lighthearted joke in one of Bechdel’s comic strips, the test has become a common set of feminist guidelines for the presence and representation of women in fiction. Now, given that passing the test requires at least two female characters talking about something other than a man—something that I’ve been trying to follow more in my own writing projects—claiming that GTA VI fails the test based on this one trailer alone and the only two named characters revealed is not exactly accurate, to say the least, but it does present an equally eyebrow-raising gender issue, and it just isn’t something I can ignore given the utter lack of female leads throughout the vast majority of Rockstar Games’s history.

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