The Average Gamer

Why I Love GTA V’s Trevor Philips [Spoilers]

GTA V Trevor Philips Explosion
I am 49 missions through the 69-mission campaign of GTA V and Trevor Phillips is by far my favourite character. I wouldn’t want him to be my friend, HELL NO, but his lens on the world is always entertaining. He’s a complete narcissist, the psychopathic CEO of Trevor Phillips Inc. (Industries), someone who lets nothing and nobody stand in his way. In that sense, he sounds a lot like many other CEOs. Most CEOs however, on learning that a rival company has secured a contract they were expecting, don’t drive up to said company’s HQ with an assault rifle and start spraying bullets. At least, not in person. Trevor is fucking terrifying.

He tries, though. Over the course of the game (and this is going to get more spoilery now), I realised that Trevor is far from being the one-note psychopath who uses violence purely for its own sake, though I won’t deny that he does this too. As so many videogame protagonists are, he’s still a terrible person. That’s far from the whole story.

It seems to me that Trevor just has trouble seeing other people as people. They’re merely other things to him. Throw in a little sadism, a whole bunch of killing skills from his training with the military and his behaviour starts to makes sense.

He can’t stand Los Santos because it’s all about how other people perceive you. That means nothing to him. He kills because he’s good at it. Whether he enjoys it for the pain or the power, I still don’t know but whatever the reason, it’s the easiest, more successful option for him. Trevor’s a bright guy in many respects. He’s a skilled pilot. He can plan and execute huge heists. He just don’t understand people.

Somewhere along the way, Trevor has picked up a few rules on how to treat his fellow human beings. “Mi casa, su casa” is a common phrase of hospitality that he repeats to his guests with complete sincerity: my home is your home. He honestly doesn’t realise that a meth lab – especially one in which he pisses in the corner and vomits on the floor – isn’t a home that any normal person would want.

He generously provides Michael with food, so Michael doesn’t get hungry and grumpy and make bad decisions for the upcoming heist. Yes, the food may have eyelid in it, but Trevor lives close to the REAL world, close to the land. He probably hunts his own game. There’s a chance that the eyelid could be human. Why would that be a problem? Meat is meat.

When people visit his place, the first thing he does is offer them a drink. In return, he expects that when he visits someone else’s house, they should offer him a drink. In his mind, this reasonably translates into thinking it’s okay to loudly demand a drink the instant he walks through a door. Why shouldn’t he? He’s a guest. They’re supposed to provide a drink.

Barging through a door uninvited doesn’t make you a guest, of course, but Trevor’s understanding of courtesy doesn’t extend that far. He’s with a friend, visiting a relative. Isn’t that how things work?

Trevor is a rage-fuelled psychopath because that what you’d have to be, to do the things that we do in GTA. Outside the story missions, when you run over a cougar at high speed, sometimes Trevor gleefully shouts “Squish!” I did too. Seeing my reaction mirrored by this man brought home the reality that yes, he is exactly the sort of person who would do that in real life. I saw that cougar by the side of the road. I could have slowed down. I chose not to.

Similarly, Trevor – my version of Trevor – looks after the people in his neck of the woods. A drunk couple asks him to drive them home. He obliges and during the journey, they start to get openly frisky in the back seat. Trevor doesn’t ask them to knock it off. He asks if he can join in. You probably wondered that too. I tried to take a photo.

Rockstar brought back the rampage mode. Through him, they never let us forget that in GTA V’s reality, when we choose a rampage mission, we chose to gun down these people for exactly the same level of provocation as they showed Trevor – none at all. It’s laughable and horrifying at all once.

The Torture Thing

I’m going to explain this scene in detail now because the articles I’ve read about it seem to take a very different interpretation from me. At one point, Trevor tortures a man and he does so with obvious enjoyment. People didn’t like it.

GTA V Trevor Philips Wrench

Dave Cook of VG247 found it a cheap attempt at shock tactics:

“Some of us will view the torture scene as some sort of statement on how readily American security firms such the FBI and the CIA persecute those of Middle Eastern descent as potential terrorists without proper grounds to do so…

…I – personally – feel that the scene wasn’t a statement about anything to do with press scape-goating or profiling. To me it was mean-spirited and another in a long-line of Rockstar ‘shock-tactics’ “

Carolyn Petit on Gamespot said that the scene was politically muddled:

“Trevor states that torture doesn’t work, and the person ordering the torture is an arrogant and corrupt government official, suggesting that the scene is meant to be a critical commentary on the United States’ use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods. But the fact that Trevor (and you, if you want to progress through the story) tortures the man regardless, and that he does end up spilling more information as a result, sends a very different message.”

No. It’s not politically muddled at all. It’s just not addressing the political issues that Cook and Petit were expecting.

This particular plotline takes place over two missions. In the first, you’ve been asked to extract a man who is vital to the FIB because of reasons. Michael asks who this guy is and what these reasons are. He doesn’t get an answer. In the second, the FIB has you (through Trevor) torturing the man for information.

Trevor isn’t condoning anything except hurting a man because he’s been asked to do so. He likes to hurt people. He doesn’t know what information he wants the guy to give up and, beyond asking at the start for his own curiosity, he doesn’t really care. He revels in it.

You know who else revelled in torturing prisoners simply because they were asked to? The guards of Abu Ghraib.

GTA V Trevor Philips Lake BodyThe scene is brutal and graphic and interactive. And if you were paying attention, you’d realise that the FIB agent doesn’t ask a single specific from the guy about to be tortured. It’s all “Tell us about the Azerbaijani” and “Are you ready to talk?” It’s only after the pain is inflicted that you and the prisoner learn what information the FIB actually want to know.

You know who else takes prisoners, hurts them for intelligence but won’t actually tell them why? The people in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

People don’t like this scene. And yet, we know what kind of guy Trevor is. We know what kind of game GTA is. This is the game series that has always been about telling the brutal gangster story that Rockstar want to tell. For the past decade, this series has been known as the one where players discovered that you can murder a prostitute to reclaim your fee. Trevor Philips hurts people because he’s asked to do so, and he enjoys it. We bought this game and it asks us to hurt people and when it dwells on the human impact of our actions, now we’re not enjoying it?

At the end of it all, Trevor even explains what just happened as he drives the confused, crippled man away. The prisoner was ready to talk before the torture even started but the FIB man wouldn’t let him. “Torture is for the torturer,” Trevor says. Petit seems to think that the message sent is that torture works. It’s saying that torture isn’t even necessary but they do it anyway. This isn’t satire parody. This isn’t gratuitous shock. This is the part where Rockstar stop making dick jokes and are saying something serious about the world we’re living in.

Trevor knows that FIB will never leave the man alone after this and gives him his best chance of survival – sending him out of the country without even a phone call to his wife. This poor home theatre technician took a job for the wrong criminal and the American government snatched away his teeth, his family and his entire way of life.

Trevor does what he can to make it right.