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Patrick Hope: Character Issues I, The Psycho

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four columns detailing video game characters.

Video game universes are weird spaces. In the vast majority of genres, you’re going to have to kill something, whether it’s octopi that shoot rocks, aliens, terrorists or dragons. And most characters do this with an alarmingly degree of detachment. Unless the plot calls for a death to be a big deal, you’ll be mowing down enemies without a care in the world. So what kind of person could actually do that?

The Trevor Phillips kind; that’s the kind that could do that.

Trevor is one of the three protagonists in “Grand Theft Auto V” and one of the more memorable game characters ever.

You know that character Francis in the movie “Stripes?” The one who says he’ll kill you at the drop of a hat? Trevor is actually like that. In the first five minutes you meet him, he beats a biker to death. He has a special series of missions which are him going into berserk mode and killing people. He delivers random passersby to a cult in the mountains. In one of the game’s most notorious and unsettling scenes, he tortures a guy.

Trevor is a flat-out sociopath.

He’s violent, angry, and impulsive. He kills without remorse and has no problems doing whatever he deems necessary to reach his goals. He’s also brutally honest, never denying exactly what he’s going to do and doing so in the most nonchalant way possible.

There’s always a dissonance between what’s going on in the plot and what your character’s actually doing on screen. Trevor is the attempt to actually eliminate that dissonance. He’s perfectly at home in the bizarre world of “Grand Theft Auto,” where amassing a staggering body count isn’t really that big a deal. He’s the same guy in cutscenes that he is during gameplay. And as such, he becomes completely fascinating.

You absolutely have to see what he’s going to do next. It probably doesn’t hurt that Trevor is extremely competent at what he does, even if that’s running guns and selling drugs. He’s a skilled pilot and sniper. He has at least some business sense and this weird charisma that draws people to him despite the fact that he is clearly really dangerous. Maybe it’s because he’s very close to a pure libertine, doing whatever he wants at all times, with no regard for any of society’s rules.

But psycho killer types are, quite honestly, a dime a dozen in games. You can’t throw an ax without hitting some relentless, heartless murderer. But Trevor, well, Trevor is kind of different.

He has some reasonable approximation of a heart. Unlike your run of the mill sociopaths, Trevor possesses the ability to care about people. Now, it’s really few people, like his co-protagonists Franklin and Michael or Michael’s kids, but he’s extremely devoted to them. At points, he’s even shown to really, really need love and affection, producing a bizarre dichotomy between the killer and the codependent.

This doesn’t even take into account Trevor’s warped, but somehow existent, moral compass. He wipes out the super-racist Civil Border Patrol because he thinks what their random harassment of legal citizens is wrong. He kidnaps a crime lord’s wife because said crime lord mistreats her. Despite torturing a guy, he later says that torture is worthless as an interrogation technique and is really only a dominance thing. This is the same guy who murders people for referencing his Canadian heritage.

After the “GTA V’s” release, Rockstar bigwig Dan Houser said in an interview that Trevor was a real change for a protagonist, representing pure chaos and the guy who had a heart when it suited him.

No one could ever really consider Trevor a hero. He’s an unpredictable psycho who sometimes has a moral code. He’s perfectly acclimated to world of video games that are so reliant on killing one’s enemies to succeed. And he’s the most memorable part of an already great game.

Good, bad-he’s the guy with the gun. And occasionally the grenade launcher.

Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast. Read his blog at