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5 reasons why Michael from GTA 5 is one of the best protagonists in gaming history

Michael De Santa continues to divide the fanbase and encourage all sorts of discourse (Image via Rockstar Games)
Michael De Santa continues to divide the fanbase and encourage all sorts of discourse (Image via Rockstar Games)
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Rahul Bhushan

The GTA franchise has gotten better with time when it comes to compelling protagonists. Rockstar Games pretty much nailed all three on the head when it came to compelling writing in GTA 5, with the trio being a persuasive set of characters for players to explore.

But specifically, one man seems to hog all the spotlight for himself as he continues to divide the fanbase and encourage all sorts of discourse. Michael De Santa, for all intents and purposes, is an evil man. He's a violent, morally corrupt criminal whose quest for being a decent family man easily makes him one of the most atypical video game protagonists in the history of video games.

Here's a look at a few reasons why Michael De Santa is not just GTA's but one of gaming's best protagonists.


Five reasons why GTA 5's Michael is one of the best protagonists in gaming history

#1 - Defiance of archetype

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When one thinks of a "video game protagonist," they are likely not picturing Michael De Santa from GTA 5. An aging, washed-up stick-up artist with anger issues isn't exactly the mold for a typical video game protagonist. That is precisely what makes Michael the most interesting choice of character as a protagonist.

It can be argued that Michael is indeed the main protagonist of GTA 5 as he is the one that sets in motion the events of the game. At the same time, he defies everything about video game protagonists that players have come to know.

The defiance of any sort of archetype puts Michael in the unique spot of not being overshadowed by any character in the past in video game history. Michael is truly one of a kind and one of Rockstar's biggest risks - but also one that has paid off hugely.


#2 - Flawed, but compelling

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Michael De Santa, or Michael Townley, as he was formerly known, pretty much laughs in the face of ideals and honesty. He always seems locked in a constant battle between his two sides.

On the one hand, he wants to have a family and be a good husband and father, while on the other, he wants to shoot people and rob banks. This internal struggle resulted in a complex set of issues for Michael, as seen during GTA 5's story mode events.

He is regularly a terrible husband and father, mostly failing to get a grip on his anger. It is mainly because a quiet life doesn't agree with him, regardless of how much he wants it to.


#3 - Deeply layered

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Michael in GTA 5, as previously mentioned, defies all archetypes, refusing to be boxed into a particular type of character. He is funny, capable, and intelligent while also being a complete idiot, impatient, and incessantly whiny.

A family man and a violent stick-up artist aren't exactly the most common of combinations. During GTA 5, several lines detail Michael's issues going further back than his heyday as Michael Townley.

He talks about growing up without many options available, so he ran drugs and prostitutes to lift himself with his bootstraps. Michael's personality is well backed by a history of violence and crime, which suggests deeper trauma than simply "anger issues." This makes him a very compelling character, indeed.


#4 - An intriguing character study

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In tandem with previous points, Michael isn't just a character, but also a parody and satire about life on the west coast and specifically in Hollywood, or Vinewood, in GTA 5's case.

His fascination with the medium of film suggests that even though he hails from a relatively quiet part of the country, he always had Vinewood in sight.

His antics during heists feel very much like a performance, with him dropping the iconic "you forget a thousand things everyday" line at the most opportune moment. Even though he finds himself in a life of robbery and crime, his ultimate aspiration probably is in the movie world, where he eventually finds himself towards the end of GTA 5.

Michael's fascination with films and his constant need for recognition and appreciation is at complete odds with his profession. This is what ultimately led Trevor Phillips to him, solidifying the fact that his quest for vanity is what could ultimately have been his downfall.


#5 - Morally dubious

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There are only a handful of characters in not just GTA history but in video games as a whole, whose motivations can change on a dime. Michael is motivated by a couple of things, his family and his vanity.

On the one hand, he truly wishes for his family to be safe and lead a good life. Despite being a terrible father and husband, he ultimately reconciles with both Amanda and his kids. But on the other hand, his job requires him to be a dastardly, violent robber, which could lead to many sticky situations, even with his allies, in GTA 5.

Michael has shown that he is ready to cut loose and throw his allies under the bus if it means keeping his family alive. This dichotomy of him trying to be a good family man while also being a violent criminal leads to one of the most compelling characters in GTA 5.

Note: This article reflects the author's views.


Edited by Ravi Iyer
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