In my previous post I mentioned a racially charged interaction that occurred in GTA’s intro. It took place between a young man who entered Simeon’s car dealership to purchase a car and Lamar, Franklin and Simeon. Essentially, when the player enters the shop Simeon is accusing the young white man of being a racist, neo-nazi, and having said the n-word. The characters in the game turn on this young man, and the player is meant to as well (especially as the player character at this point in the game is a black male.) To make matters worse for the young white man, a large tattoo on his neck reads “entitled.”
This interaction seems unimportant as the white customer doesn’t appear again for some time. However, once he does the race relations in GTA become a little more complicated.
As the game progresses after the cinematic intro, it becomes clear that Simeon and his business are not as trustworthy as players might have assumed. We learn Simeon’s business thrives off of scamming. He sells cars at jacked up prices to people he knows can’t afford them. Multiple times players hear Simeon say “You think because of the color of my skin I am cheating you. You are racist!” or something to that extent. This claim carries less and less weight the more it’s used.
The first player character Franklin works for Simeon, repossessing cars that he has sold to people who can’t afford. Franklin must eventually repo the car Simeon sold to the white customer from earlier. A lot happens, and we learn this customer is Jimmy De Santa, who’s dad eventually become another player character. Jimmy is a big screwup, and pretty stupid, but is an underdog and seems to feel some remorse for his actions. Jimmy and Franklin share a car ride and have an ok conversation, but Jimmy tries to relate to Franklin in a way that is racially insensitive (relying on stereotypes.)
This all creates a tension between Jimmy De Santa and the minority characters in the game, specifically Simeon and Franklin. Franklin comes out on top of this masculine battle, mainly because he has been the playable character for most of the game. Simeon and Jimmy are broth frauds in their own way, but as we get to know each character more, attitudes start to shift. We see Simeon for who he truly is- a scammer through and through who uses his Armenian heritage to manipulate people into buying his cars. This makes players question if Jimmy truly was racist and using slurs in the beginning of the game. Jimmy, while certainly entitled and selfish due to his privileged upbringing, is a victim of Simeon’s scams, and his stupidity causes him to become the victim of other scams.
So, which character does GTA want players to side with? And what is it trying to say about race with Simeon’s character? Or, is it less about race and do all these conflicts boil down to conflicting performances of masculinity?