Dan Houser on GTA V: metaphysics and the power of three

From the moment that Red Dead Redemption was released by Rockstar Games, the world has been avidly preparing for Grand Theft Auto V. Few franchises are as wildly scrutinized, and loved, as Grand Theft Auto, but the game designers at Rockstar continue to do one thing exceptionally well, and that is push the bounds of storytelling within this medium.


With each and every title, they tend to add just one more unique feature or tool that then becomes commonplace in the industry. With their most recent title, Grand Theft Auto V, it has come down to metaphysics and the power of three.

The Traditional Grand Theft Auto Storyline


With most of the titles in Grand Theft Auto, there has been a relatively straightforward method for telling stories. Players would find themselves moving through an immersive world, typically based off of a real city, and playing a lead protagonist.

There may be any number of antagonists or groups of antagonists and most plotlines involved the lead character coming to terms with themselves by finding a balance of good and evil within their life. Players could help mold the gameworld, their character, and the plot by the choices they made. This style of telling stories within video games has been used and reused in countless titles, but Brad Houser and the rest of the team at Rockstar Games decided it was time for a fresh look at this concept.

The Power of Three

GTA V Characters

This team of game designers began looking for devices and tools that they could use to more thoroughly tell a story, and what they finally came up with was the use of three unique protagonists in the story.

Players have the ability to switch between the characters at any time, but all three will be required for the primary storyline. When not using one of the characters, that specific protagonist will go about their daily lives according to the plot.



The true beauty of this unique plot came down to Rockstar’s ability to create three “stars” that could simultaneously run the story at any time. While the events on one character across the map may be monumental to the primary mission, the minutiae on the other characters help to drive their own personality and story. At any single moment, each character could be considered the protagonist or an other driving force.

Making Something Unique


What makes Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V unique is the ability to create this immersive world in which each of these three characters evoke specific emotions from the player. Conversely, players are not overwhelmed by the plot or forced to struggle through the nuances of each character, storyline, or mission.

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