Grand Theft Auto 5 (or GTA 5) has just become the best-selling game of all time in US with more than 85 million copies sold. Such a feat would be enough to tell us about this game’s popularity. Although it has been nearly 4 years since its first release in 2013, the game is still attracting tons of gamers around the world, not just America. Indeed, the game is excellent not in terms of multiplayer with GTA Online, but also its incredible main storyline with 3 protagonists: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. And to celebrate GTA 5‘s achievement, what can be better than re-visiting our favorite protagonists of Los Santos. And for today, please welcome! Mr. Michael de Santa!
* WARNING: for those who haven’t completed GTA 5 main storyline, SPOILERS AHEAD! *
Among the trio Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, Michael de Santa probably has the most interesting story. He is mostly the leader of all “businesses” throughout the game and he is extremely successful at that. Let’s be frank, he is the richest man among the three at the start of the game… Well, of course Trevor is also successful but that’s because of his arm-dealing work. Whereas, Michael gained tons of money purely from the bank robbery. Also, just take a look at his house, it’s literally the most luxurious home among the trio.
So who is this “prodigy of crime“? Where did he come from? What was his back story?
The Childhood of Michael de Santa
Prior to the beginning of GTA 5, Michael de Santa was formerly known as Michael Townley, a young boy born in the Midwest America who soon spent his life in endless crimes. Michael lived in a troubled family due to his father being an alcoholic and an abusive father and husband. As Michael revealed by himself, his childhood was not as luxurious and abundant as what his children enjoying now. Living in a poor family, plus an abusive and alcoholic father, eventually pushed Michael to the criminal path.
He was prisoned twice when he was 20 years old, also in 1988, he took part in his very first bank robbery in Carcer City and took about 10.000$ USD. Later on, he continued his criminal career and became so professional at it.
Later years of Michael de Santa
Michael is definitely a professional with his criminal work. But of course, Michael could not pull of these “successes” on his own, he needed “friends”. Besides Lester Crest, a tricky strategist, Michael also met Trevor Phillips in an “accident”. Since then they worked pretty well with each other, they kept co-operating in many “jobs”. Yet even so, Michael didn’t feel safe with this “lunatic“.
During his time working with Trevor, Michael married with Amanda, a prostitute, and they gave birth to Jimmy and Tracey Townley (or we should say Jimmy and Tracey de Santa). Since Michael had a proper family, he thought that it was time to stay out of the “business”. And his “retirement” has finally come true when he met Dave Norton, a FBI agent. Michael requested to sever his connection with Trevor and his criminal fellows and gain protection from government. In addition, he requested to have a new identity, a resident in Los Santos, in exchange for a monthly payment AND allowing Dave to “kill” him, the most notorious man in the United States.
This is when the GTA 5 Prologue begins as the players can see Michael, Trevor, and his other fellows started a bank robbery. The cops pursued them, after eliminating Michael’s buddies in crime, Dave Norton shot Michael while he faking his pain, insisting Trevor to run away. After the event, we start the main story of GTA 5.
“Back to the game, Michael! Back to the game!”
In the main story, Michael succeeded in his retirement plan, he changes his name to Michael de Santa and lives with his wife Amanda and his two children Tracey and Jimmy. However, he failed to become a good family man, both as a husband and as a father. He has always been in bad term with Amanda, Tracey and Jimmy, he also even found out that his wife has cheated him with another young man.
Micheal de Santa is an ill-tempered man, a guy who easily goes mad when things don’t happen like what he want. He knows this by himself, he’s aware of his problem and his issue with family. But he doesn’t know how to deal with his situation, and so he hires a therapist named Isiah Friedlander (though this guy seems to care more about Michael‘s money than his problem).
His retirement also didn’t last long after several incidents, including his reunion with Trevor, pushing Michael back to the game once more. And after that, the trio: Michael de Santa, along with Trevor Phillips and Franklin Clinton, return to the “business” once again.
2. Michael de Santa, a Sociopath or simply a man living in Fear?
* Note: This is purely subjective analysis *
Throughout years, many people have tried to analyze and speculate what kind of psychological problem happened to Michael. According to the game itself, Isiah Friedlander considers Michael to be a sociopath, as he described Michael in his book as “idiotic, if terrifying and amusingly deluded sociopath”.
If so, then what exactly is a sociopath? Is it what happening to Michael de Santa?
Sociopath in real life…
In the book Empiricism and the Foundations of Psychology (p.34, 2012), John-Michael Kuczynski explained that sociopath is person who lost himself, or rather, his conscience. A sociopath person doesn’t have values or any conflicts within his mind; also he can’t feel love or goodness. Kuczynski’s explanation can also partly explain why sociopath person has a cold personality, accompanied by a feeling of seeking strong stimulation to win against his “emptiness” (Dennis Coon and John O. Mitterer, Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior, 2000). Dennis and John also mentioned that most sociopath people have a troubled childhood. They were both physically and mentally abused, thus leaving a heavy consequence to their personality when they grow up.
…and incase of Michael de Santa…
So what characteristics in Michael match the concept of sociopath? First of all, it’s true that Michael has a violent tendency and he can kill people without feeling sinful or remorse. He also has the tendency to control things and people around him, as people often refer as manipulation. Manipulation is an aspect of sociopath, since they’re emotionless, it’s easy for them to act and of course deceive people. This is also similar to the case of Michael since he performed various fraud and deceiving acts.
Michael also has the problem of feeling emptiness, with nothing to pursue or feel good in life. And when he backs to the game, he expresses that he feels good, even to his therapist, Isiah Friedlander. In addition, given his background, Michael once had an abusive father. By talking all of these facts into account, the speculation of Michael being an “idiotic, if terrifying and amusingly deluded sociopath” actually makes sense…
However, there’s something off… Most of the evidences showing that Michael is a sociopath, but there are several little details that need to be taken into account:
First, he actually cares for his family.
Before his marriage, Michael could be a reckless man who dared to do everything to achieve his goal. However, when he married Amanda and had Jimmy and Tracey, he himself intended to stay in the shadow, avoid the “business” since he knew that it would be disastrous if he died or jailed permanently. He intentionally set up plan for his retirement, and he actually succeeded! This opposes to the idea of sociopath who is empty, cold and doesn’t feel love. In Michael’s case, it can be speculated that he truly thought for his family, he tried to get out of business, just to have a normal life with his wife and children… Although in the end he failed in the good father and husband matter.
Second, his emptiness and his bond with family
When we progress the game, it is revealed that Michael has extremely bad term with his family. For most of the time, Michael de Santa’s family members often express their worst part of themselves. Amanda, who can’t comprehend her husband, decided to cheat with a young man. Tracey rarely talks to Michael and when they do, disasters happen. Jimmy seems to be the “closest person” to Michael, but in the end he mostly spent time playing video games. He often neglected Michael’s offer to hang around and talk. So, it’s possibly that Amanda, Tracey, and Jimmy don’t have good term with Michael due to his problem. However, it is Michael who tried to make up with them (yet, seems he don’t know how to do it).
Without proper connection to his family, it is possible that Michael comes to the state of emptiness, in which he doesn’t know what to do anymore. If we put Michael in a scenario in which his family members get along well with him, it’s highly possible that Michael won’t be as bad as what we see in-game (but in that case, the story won’t be that interesting, will it?).
Third, Michael de Santa’s relationships with his fellows.
In game, we meet another 2 major characters: Trevor and Franklin. Trevor is a maniac, thus he instills fear into people surround him pretty easily. In the Prologue, what Michael wanted was to sever his connection with Trevor, not killing him. If Michael truly wanted, he could have requested Dave to kill Trevor in the first place. This means Michael still respects his relationship with Trevor.
Though it’s true that Michael wanted to kill Trevor by the end game, Franklin can choose to save both Michael and Trevor. After the trio deal with their final target, the three decide to cut their business relation, but still remain as friends. This mean Michael does care about his buddies, he doesn’t really want to kill Trevor as long as Trevor doesn’t pose any lethal threat towards him.
On the other hand, Michael has remained as a good friend with Franklin. To Michael, Franklin is like his “son”, while Franklin also recognized Michael as his “father figure”. This bond shows that Micheal can actually show love, caring attitude towards people he respects. This once more shows that Michael may not be a cold, emotionless sociopath as some people may think.
Finally, Michael’s struggle about his personality.
Based on the information above, we know that a sociopath doesn’t have internal struggle, or rather, struggle in his mind. But in case of Michael de Santa, he is seriously struggling with his personality. He actually thinks hard about his true nature, whether he is a heartless bastard, or a caring man. He struggles with his personality so hard that he even hires a therapist, an action which only occurs when someone feels desperate and doesn’t know how to deal with his issue.
So as the results, it seems “condemning” Michael de Santa as a sociopath is actually not legit. Still, if sociopath is not Michael’s problem, then what is?
Michael de Santa’s Fear – the root of the Anger?
In this part let’s approach Michael’s state of mind in another way, and that is his anger problem. Michael has been known as an ill-tempered man who is easy to burst into rage. In terms of psychology, there is no such coincidence that he is easy to get mad, and so this matter is worth to be looked at.
There is a quote from master Yoda which can help us explain what happened to Michael de Santa. This might sound silly at first, yet the quote is surprisingly matching with what happened in real life and also to this man:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
– Master Yoda, Star Wars –
Of course there is no such thing as “dark side” in GTA 5, but what matters is the later: Fear leads to Anger. According to this quote, Anger often occurs when someone is in Fear. A fearful person is afraid of things that can cause them displease, pain; thus Anger is a way for that person to control things, or rather, feel like everything is under control.
In case of Michael, there are actually many things which can cause him displease and pain. First off is his family. Michael, though is not a good husband and father, is often disrespected by both his wife and children. As mentioned above, Michael actually feels love and caring towards with his family. However, he doesn’t know how to express it properly, and he doesn’t know how to settle things with his family members. Meanwhile, Amanda, Tracey, and Jimmy don’t acknowledge him, and they even directly declare that Michael is a “jerk”. So how did he react to this? He used anger to express his control over the family; he wished his family gave him the caring he wanted.
Another major cause of fear is his ego. Many people consider him to be egotistical, and this actually makes sense. For most of the time he wants to prove himself to be great, knowledgeable man. He also seems to be a show off guy, but of these leads to one thing: Michael wants to prove that he is a great man. But at the same time, he failed miserably many times, especially as a family member. He also knows that there’s something wrong with his personality, especially his violence and killing guilt, but then he tried to cover it up with reasons. All of these factors give people, including Dr. Friedlander, an expression of a deluded guy. Does Michael do not know this? Somehow… yes, he knows it, but he can’t see that clearly, or rather, he intentionally ignores it to protect his ego.
An egotistical man tends to have a great fear, fear of being humiliated, judged, and being treated lowly as a whole person. It feels like if he admits his faults, he will lose his figure he has built so far (or at least, he thought so). This can be the same to Michael since he once had a troubled childhood with an abusive father. He did his best to get out of poor condition, to escape the control of his father. If he cannot prove that he’s a great and successful man, will he fall into that miserable past again?
If these speculations are correct, then it is understandable for his current situation. Because in the end, everything he has done so far is just to ensure his feeling of safety and abundance. Anger is just a mask to cover his true pain and fear of what might hurt him, things which he doesn’t dare to embrace: his fear of ego, his fear of losing family bonds.
But that’s just a theory! What about you? What do you think about Michael? Feel free to share with us and for now, thank you and stay tune for more news in the future!
And oh! If you like GTA 5 Michael De Santa, don’t forget the man behind this awesome character: Ned Luke. Check out this video and see more of the man’s awesomeness!
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