The Cultural & Psychological Importance of Grand Theft Auto
by Adam Fitzgerald

Adam Fitzgerald
5 min readDec 8, 2015

When I was in elementary school rumors spread like wild fire in small voices through the halls. At recess there was talk of killing cops, stealing cars and having sex with prostitutes. “My mom won’t let me play it,” was heard more often than naught, but some lucky sixth graders were able to get their hands on a copy and share the good word of Grand Theft Auto III.

By the time I was in sixth grade my best friend had secured a copy of the latest game in the franchise: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, still considered a fan favorite. We were able to maintain our placid existence as suburban 12 year-olds all while murdering rival gangs and winning the cocaine war of the 80’s. By middle school we moved to the west coast and rose to power in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

I’m sure many of you remember the uproar against violent video games in the early 2000’s. Columbine blew the world’s mind, and according to many disturbed parents at that time, kids picked up guns and killed other kids because Grand Theft Auto made it possible. While most of us will agree that notion is absurd, there are some individuals who still believe violence in video games leads to violence in reality. If you cannot distinguish reality from a $50 virtual reality presented as an interactive game, then you may want to stop reading now. These games played a vital part in my growth as a fully functional adult and my adolescent self was aided endlessly by the wisdom packed into these games.

What if instead of inciting violence, Grand Theft Auto actually allows people to let out aggression by doing literally whatever any person has ever wanted to do, in the safety of a non-existent reality?

Grand Theft Auto is a video game experience that allows its player to use an avatar to act as a virtual manifestation of that player’s id. To those unfamiliar with Freudian psychology, the human psyche is divided into three parts: the ego, the id and the super ego. The ego is the realistic moral center of our minds; mediating between the angel on your shoulder (the superego) and that devil that appears on your opposite shoulder to tell you all the awful things you desire deep down (the id). I think today’s society is so out of whack that most people allow themselves to be controlled because it’s easier to go through life that way.

But what if you controlled your own world? What interests me about GTA is how the series changes your psychology by forcing you to look at the world differently. That’s the ideal of any form of art or entertainment; to be so good it becomes inspirational. While I am not promoting a video game to free your consciousness, I want you to consider the moral bending aspects of something that strikes me as much more than just a mere video game.

Grand Theft Auto V is far and above the best game I have played yet in the series. I personally felt a little disappointed with Grand Theft Auto IV a couple years ago, if for no other reason than that IV seemed too short. Every installment has added something even better to the games but Grand Theft Auto V reinvents the series entirely. Instead of having only one avatar you actually have three: and by the time I was finished playing through the game I realized each character represented the three dimensions of my own personal psyche better than Sigmund Freud could have ever psychoanalyzed.

The main three characters are incredibly unique as they are completely insane, but this is the whole point of the series. No normal person would do the things the characters in these games do. It takes a fairly liberal individual to deal with the excessive sex, violence and profanity that have become a staple in the Grand Theft Auto series.

Michael is perhaps the main protagonist and he can be considered the middle ground, or the “ego” character. Michael is a demented, disgruntled, overweight middle-aged man on the edge of divorce with two kids who are perfect interpretations of 21st century white privileged scumbags. Michael represents the every man; he is a little pudgy, a little depressed despite his wealth and mainly just bored.

Franklin is the character who could be considered the “super ego” as it seems his character was created to be the moral center of the three mad men. Franklin may murder and steal, but not with the maniacal back-stabbing gusto of the other two.

Trevor is the psychotic of the group. Hilarious, horrible and sarcastic to a fault, Trevor could be considered the “id” character. Trevor is the worst and he is the best at being the worst. He is deranged, bipolar, sadistic and downright weird. Trevor represents what person could be if he or she abandoned all humanity, social norms and decencies.

With Franklin as the angel, Trevor as the devil and Michael as the sad sap “normal ego” torn between his love for the game and his love for his family; GTAV plays out as one of the best written and most interesting games in recent history.

I will not go into plot details of the game because as any avid player of the Grand Theft Auto series will tell you, the story lines of these games become addicting. Just as people will race through back-to-back seasons of stellar shows like Breaking Bad, people will race through the Grand Theft Auto games if for nothing else other than the story. The great thing about Grand Theft Auto V is that the story and the gameplay are both beyond satisfactory. The cars in GTAV are the coolest yet and the gameplay is the closest you can get to stealing or killing without actually doing it.

Switching between the three characters can become a bit of a chore but the gameplay is set up to give you options. Players are rewarded with great storylines and more remarkable toys as they progress through the game. The clothes also allow GTA players to customize his or her own avatar, as in games like Sims. Michael, Franklin and Trevor quickly become every player’s three-dimensional alter ego.

After the game ends you feel a little broken hearted, there are no more missions, just a bunch of random odd jobs and Easter eggs. You wake up from the virtual reality and walk back into real life. Undoubtedly real problems will always remain, but now the player is forever transformed.

Metaphorically and visually, Grand Theft Auto has always been beautiful and every game offers new insights into life. GTAV is nothing short of phenomenal; there are life changing acid trips, climbing to the top of the business world and lots (lots) of people to kill. Grand Theft Auto isn’t for the faint of heart. If nothing else, hopefully the twisted realness of GTAV will remind players that life will always be dangerous and crazy whether we are inside or outside, so we may as well have fun.

Once the game is over you may wish to reintroduce yourself to society in a way that represents your growth. Because make no mistake; Grand Theft Auto games do help players grow. The main lessons? Trust no one but yourself and take hold of your own life; because if you don’t, someone else will.