Jump to content

Is there really a "ludonarrative dissonance" in GTA 4? - An analysis (Spoilers, obviously)


olzhas1one

Recommended Posts

olzhas1one

Not sure if anyone talked about this topic in such a way before, but I honestly felt like writing my thoughts on this down, so I decided to make this post. I'm sure most of you have heard that phrase before, and a lot of you have seen it applied to GTA 4, about how "Niko is all sad and remorseful in the cutscenes but a insane killer who kills 100 cops in gameplay so that must mean that rockstar screwed up the plot " - but I don't think that's exactly the case. This isn't a fanboy post, I'll try to actually look through the game's plot and analyze various dialogues and events to prove my point (expect a TLDR). I may miss some details, since I don't know every inch of this game but I have replayed GTA 4 at least 3 times to know it's story well enough. Let's be real here: Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries knew exactly what kind of a game they were writing a plot for. You'd think after writing 5 of these plots, they'd be a lot more aware of the ever-looming "ludonarrative dissonance" and do something about it. So, let's begin.

 

1. The War Past

The first clear attempt at explaining Niko's murderous and erratic behaviour in gameplay comes from the war background. We know that Niko is Serbian and fought in the Yugoslav Wars, and if you have even a tiniest bit of an idea on what that is, you'll know that it was the most horrific and bloody war in Europe since WW2. As far as I can tell from the various conversations Niko has with other people about his experience, he saw this war when he was much younger, and he saw some nasty things. What we know for sure are:

 

  • The (most likely) brutal death of his squad-mates and best friends
  • The 50 children in the church, the ones with their throats cut and their hands chopped off
  • And he probably saw all of his friends' lifeless bodies dumped in a mass grave (this is coming from his phrase "I'd rather much be buried in the pit among everybody else")

 

And that's only what we know. He may have seen more gruesome war crimes and may or may not have experienced the NATO bombings. It's clear that you can't come out of something like this as an okay and stable person, so Niko's most definately not very mentally stable after such an event. I don't remember specifically any PTSD attacks from Niko, but all the violence the player causes in the freeroam can easily be attributed to that. It also made Niko prone to throwing violent tantrums and outbursts, which I'll return to later.

 

2. The criminal activities in Europe

Quite often throughout the storyline, Niko references to some "criminal activity" he did in Europe. From the phrase Niko says to Ylena, Faustin's wife, we know that Niko used to be a hitman and a human trafficer. You don't need to know much about these proffessions to know you can experience some really traumatizing things in them. After the mentally-scarring Yugolsav Wars, Niko was involved in even more horrible things, which made his psyche even more wounded. The "turning-point" event for Niko is the sinking of the ship in the Adriatic Sea, where from what I can understand, Niko must've been involved in an accident with a ship that sank with a bunch of illegal immigrants, and, in Niko's own words, "he had to swim for his life" to the shore. I'll also return to this event later. Poor guy can't catch a break, huh.

 

3. The criminal activity in the United States

One other thing I often notice players complain about is "how is Niko okay with doing all this stuff, after being put through so much stuff already?". It's, again, worth mentioning that not only has Niko has done all these things before, he used to be a soldier. He definately knows the principle "just do what you're told and don't ask unnecessary questions", he learned that in the army, and later cemented that principle in the human trafficing operations. So, it's clear that Niko just puts his brain into a "work-mode" where he just does things on auto-pilot, without giving them much thought. What difference does it make to him to kill some thug in an annoying American metropolis, when he has done so much more worse things in the past?

 

It's also worth pointing out that Niko wasn't exactly given a choice to step into the criminal world. He got mixed up in it largely because of Roman's numerous debts. We know Niko definately cares for Roman, so in order to protect him, he is forced to do all these horrible things once again. He cares that these jobs all "pay well" so that he can help keep Roman financially afloat with his gambling addiction. I might be reaching here, but I honestly do feel this is what really drives Niko to continue taking up these hitman tasks - to help his family survive. It's also the only thing he knows how to do well.

 

4. "But Niko is self-aware about his violence, why isn't he doing something about all this killing?"

As I stated earlier, it's probably because it's normal for him. It's the only anger outlet he knows of. I can say this with a few important moments in the game.

 

The one that I really feel is key, yet kind of a small "throaway line", is when Niko finds Roman in the trunk of his cab near the bridge connecting Broker, Bohan and Alderney. Niko finds out that Bulgarin is in Liberty, and when Roman says "what are we gonna do about it", he says this key line:

"I will kill every single one of them"

 

It's the first thing that came to his mind after Roman asked that question (and BTW it was also Roman to tried to calm him down and ask him not to do it). Niko, probably ever since he was a child, only knew violence and death as the ultimate solution to conflict, and at his lowest point, we can see that the only way out of his situation he can think of is even more violence and murder. This, I believe, is where Dan and Rupert tried to tie in Niko's violent in-gameplay behaviour into his character, through this line, and many other small details that may be hard to miss throughout the game. Let me show some more of them:

 

  • In the second mission, after you've lost the Albanian loansharks, Niko is furious about Roman being pushed around by them and suggests killing them, while Roman tells him that is a bad idea and will only make things worse
  • When Niko finds out Roman loves Malorie, he decides to deal with Vlad (or should I say Vova, русские поймут) by implying he is going to kill him.  Roman tries to stop him, but fails. And after he sees Vlad's body, he runs up to Niko and screams

"I told you to be calm you hot-headed chump!", while Niko responds with "I am calm! He tried to kill us, he screwed your girlfriend! What did you expect, I give him a massage?". It's laid out in front of us that Niko has absolutely no problem with murdering Vlad over this, even though Roman earlier made it clear to him of the possible repercussions for this action.

  • Even though he has second thoughts when Francis asks Niko to "put his brother out of his misery", he still accepts to do it, and the player has the option to make Niko to ask for a raise for the murder. This mission and the optional characterises Niko that he is STILL willing to do very immoral things for a price.

 

And I can keep listing more and more of these examples. What this leaves with us is that Niko just can't help himself. In this regard, Niko is a lot like Tony Soprano - they both know they're very bad people, but their environment and their unwillingness to change just doesn't allow them to lead an alternative lifestyle. Niko tells this to Roman when they go to meet Darko at the airport: 

 

      "What am I good at, Roman? What is my trade? I deal in death because that is all that is open to me."

(offtopic but I really love the occasional philosophical lines from Niko like this one, it makes him seem less like a mindless goon and more like a broken man who lived through some of the worst things in life one can live through)

 

It shows that Niko has accepted himself being a homocidal maniac and believes he can't change himself.

 

And if Niko is fine with killing people left and right over anything in the storyline, what makes it so outlandish that he could just shoot someone on the street for giving him the wrong look, especially if Niko is in a bad mood?

 

5. The CIA (IAA) using and spying on Niko

Another thing that can be missed is that the whole arc of the IAA, or as I will refer to it in this post, the CIA, it's real inspiration, to put things into a much more understandable context, is them spying on and using Niko for their own uses.

Why would the CIA, for just a single illegal immigrant in Liberty City, dedicate an entire female agent and make her be friends with Mallorie before Niko came to the city? The CIA must consider Niko a dangerous enough target to call for such unothrodox measures of pursuing him. This, inexplicably, also implies that the dangerous and violent nature of Niko is extreme, and that he's probably also very experienced in crime, being able to tell when someone is tailing him. The CIA must've had a big enough file on Niko and a big enough of a reason to prepare so heavily ahead of his arrival in the US. Now, I don't know exactly what this might be, my assumption is that it's the Adriatic incident with Bulgarin that brought the CIA's interest in Niko. Something really big must've happened there to warrant this kind of attention to Bellic.

 

This spying may also have been a "probation" period for Niko to see if he is fit for wetwork for the CIA, which they eventually decide he is. Why would they decide that? Because he's a cold-blooded killer with barely enough remorse to let him keep killing and killing people without end.

 

So, all in all, we can see that the lead writers of GTA 4 went to great lengths to explain the gameplay behavoiur of our favorite character, Niko Bellic, by leaving some obvious and some subtle details about his character. Honestly, it's not surprising how many people, including me, didn't notice this considering how it took for a GTA 5 speedrunner after 7 years of the game's release to explain that Micheal DeSanta was not in witness protection, not in a normal way at least.

 

If you ask me, I wish Rockstar would've done more with this kind of a story. I honestly think that GTA 4 is probably one of the few games that could've benefitted with being able to do a "pacifist" playthrough, where the player can either choose to let Niko try and actually redeem himself, by spilling no more bloodshed, or sinking him deeper down the spiral of violence. We can see attempts at that with the occasional choices that Rockstar gave us in various missions, but I think a more dedicated way to "not kill anyone" could've been nice, but that's just me.

 

I hope you got something out of this post, peace y'all.

Edited by olzhas1one
Link to comment
Share on other sites

FewPoleCat42

Wonderful analysis, for some reason I never thought to look at it like this. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cheatz/Trickz

There is no more or less dissonance in IV than in any other GTA. The fact that IV was the game to trigger this dissonance feeling is only a testament to Niko’s characterisation.

  • Like 1
  • Best Bru 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

universetwisters

Nice writeup! Def made me change how I thought about some stuff (though I wish niko would’ve at least kept making attempts to live a normal lifestyle, at least as a regular cab driver for his cousin)

 

In my headcanon, the IAA have their eyes on niko because he’s a big time war criminal in the former Yugoslavia. I think they’re still looking for some of them to this day iirc

  • Like 2

sTgL5iS.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Darth_Cruiser
10 hours ago, universetwisters said:

Nice writeup! Def made me change how I thought about some stuff (though I wish niko would’ve at least kept making attempts to live a normal lifestyle, at least as a regular cab driver for his cousin)

 

Always thought it was weird how he complains about killing but doesn't even try to go into any other job

Edited by The Artist
  • Like 1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Link to comment
Share on other sites

universetwisters
1 hour ago, The Artist said:

Always thought it was weird how he complains about killing but doesn't even try to go into any other job


I mean he was able to drive cabs for Roman before the depot burned down, just there was a stupidly finite number of fares to pick up and is never touched on again, even after Roman gets the insurance money. 

  • Like 1

sTgL5iS.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cheatz/Trickz
5 hours ago, The Artist said:

Always thought it was weird how he complains about killing but doesn't even try to go into any other job


99% of people complain about their jobs but fail to go into any other job. 
 

And besides, Niko doesn’t "complain", he voices his displeasure about his work when pressed on his choices, or in a conversation where the topic arises. But it’s not

like he chose that life more like it chose him. He grew up in a war and has every reason in the world to wallow in self pity but he doesn’t. He doesn’t moan unwarranted like Michael 'poor me poor me' DeSanta in GTA V.  
 

Niko just does what he has to do, if he didn’t kill he’d be killed. It’s a good job that Niko is the way he is, and not like Roman, because then they’d definitely have died early on. 

  • Like 1
  • Best Bru 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Darth_Cruiser
3 hours ago, Cheatz/Trickz said:


99% of people complain about their jobs but fail to go into any other job. 
 

And besides, Niko doesn’t "complain", he voices his displeasure about his work when pressed on his choices, or in a conversation where the topic arises. But it’s not

like he chose that life more like it chose him. He grew up in a war and has every reason in the world to wallow in self pity but he doesn’t. He doesn’t moan unwarranted like Michael 'poor me poor me' DeSanta in GTA V.  
 

Niko just does what he has to do, if he didn’t kill he’d be killed. It’s a good job that Niko is the way he is, and not like Roman, because then they’d definitely have died early on. 

 

- This isn't any ordinary job tho. Niko is deeply traumatized about the war. He mentions that a lot - "I promised myself I wouldn't kill anyone here",  "In the war bad things happened to us", "How do you think it was? It ruined me"

 

And the way he screams at Darko makes it clear he's not over the trauma yet. That's why it feels weird he doesn't try to get into any other job even tho killing still bothers him deep down.

 

8 hours ago, universetwisters said:


I mean he was able to drive cabs for Roman before the depot burned down, just there was a stupidly finite number of fares to pick up and is never touched on again, even after Roman gets the insurance money. 

 

plus it just feels like a side activity and it's not something Niko asks to do on his own. It's only after Roman tells him to help out with the family business.

Edited by The Artist
  • Like 1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Link to comment
Share on other sites

universetwisters
2 hours ago, The Artist said:

plus it just feels like a side activity and it's not something Niko asks to do on his own. It's only after Roman tells him to help out with the family business.

 

Like you mentioned earlier in the OP, if IV were made today, I'd like to think there would def be a way to do some kind of pacifist playthrough, hopefully driving cavalcade cabs would've been a part of that. Kinda like how in Red Dead 2 you had the farm chores you could've done after you beat the game.

 

Though I don't wanna imagine what IV would be like if it were made today tbh

sTgL5iS.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • 1 User Currently Viewing
    0 members, 0 Anonymous, 1 Guest

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using GTAForums.com, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.