There are few games that can lay claim to the kind of pop-culture phenomena that the Grand Theft Auto franchise hit when it went 3D on PS2 consoles with Grand Theft Auto 3 in 2001. Certainly, the earlier top-down installments had created buzz with a niche group of fans but when they took the concept to fully immersible (for the time) extremes—it was the game everyone needed to play. Since then, the franchise has gone strong with every entry expanding the formula with more ambitious settings, graphics, and mechanics; from Vice City to San Andreas.
The series has its highs and lows though, from massive blockbuster success and critical plaudits to vast controversy and media scapegoating—regardless, of the hits and rewards they've taken, there's one element that has remained consistent through the years since 2001; the dedicated fan theory community and their insane (yet sometimes satisfyingly plausible) theories that surround the games and their legacies.
Given that Grand Theft Auto was one of the first mainstream games to let the player explore every facet of the map they occupied, much thought has been given to any bugs, easter eggs or unintentional elements that Rockstar has included in their several installments of the series. Some theories are just far-reaching from a bored Reddit poster, yet a lot is quite thorough and interesting, with even the most bizarre arguments having a deep backing behind it. Let's take a look at some of the most memorable of these fan theories...
25 GTA V’s Characters Are Possessed By An Online Ghost?
One of several theories centered around the three protagonists from GTA V, this one by KanyeImpressed—which has to take the cake as the most elaborate yet insane theory of them all. In his lengthy Reddit post, he goes into detail about how each character in the main campaign is vastly different...
...but how they also share suspiciously similar 'off' traits when the player takes control of them.
Well, the theory is your Online character has become a ghost after his story has wrapped up and he possesses each of the campaign's characters when you select them.
24 All Rockstar Games Share A Connected Universe
This one was pointed out by DrTatertot; there have always been cute Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout all of Rockstar’s games. This theorist has suggested that it actually establishes a connected universe.
From a radio reference to Bully’s Bullworth Academy in GTA IV to Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston's hat appearing in L.A. Noire, and even Manhunt’s Carcer City vocally being located near GTA’s Liberty City. The theorist does break it down to several types of universes in order for it to work though; the 2D universe, the 3D universe, and the HD universe.
23 GTA’s Cities Are Aggressive Because Of Their Island Mentality
All GTA maps are big cities surrounded by bodies of water, this is likely due to Rockstar wanting to nail down an isolated patch of land without awkward invisible walls. Yet, this one design choice has led many gamers to believe there's a deeper meaning.
JizzCreek on Reddit has posed such an explanation to the violent nature of each city due to a mentality from real-life examples. Historically similar Island Nation's (e.g. Japan and Great Britain) that ‘had a loss of resources and had to conquer elsewhere’ are the pointed subject. The results have led to an ingrained and violent culture within the GTA universe as their counter-parts suggest.
22 Each Character In GTA V Is A Descendant Of John Marston
Likely the best game Rockstar has made is Red Dead Redemption, whose main character John Marston was a layered cool dude with the ability of ‘Dead Eye,’ where time slowed down and he was able to gun down bad guys at a rate that would make Clint Eastwood blush.
According to IrishMerca, GTA V’s three protagonists are descendants of this character due to their special abilities; Franklin drives in slow-mo, Trevor deals a flurry of bullets while remaining undamaged, and Michael can literally slow time in gunplay. He also points out that each character is an intricate part of Marston’s dimensional characteristics as well.
21 Epsilon Group Is Based On Scientology
A controversial religion that’s shrouded in secrecy with ties to sci-fi and a cult-like mentality? No, we're not talking about Scientology—we’re talking about the religious sect set in the GTA universe named the Epsilon Group.
Regardless of how over-the-top and crazy the specific belief order is within the game itself, the blatant references to the actual religion are undeniable and are completely Rockstar Games' intention to spoof the heck of it. Don’t believe me? Check out the insane fake website the developer launched pre-GTA V—you can't tell me that the direct satire isn’t as subtle as a hammer to the face?
20 You're Never Actually Breaking The Speed Limit
Everything is relative in the GTA universe according to theorist TomJSlade. He pondered why police never bother chasing you for speeding recklessly down the road right in front of them, which in reality, would at least land you a much-deserved ticket.
Yet, what if one minute in this gaming reality, actually represented one second in our world equivalent? With this relativity theory in mind, that would mean you're actually driving slowly. It also explains why the day-and-night cycle moves at such an accelerated pace compared to the real world.
19 It’s All A Staged Movie Production
There’s no denying that the GTA franchise is a heightened version of our reality, one where you could grab any car or weapon and treat the streets like your playground.
It’s also a reality that plays like an exaggerated version of a Hollywood production.
Theorist kitterpup has cooked up a lengthy write-up of how everything ties into the concept of the games being a ’staged movie production’. How? He ties intricate links into the mechanics, weapons, and automobiles all being a little too conveniently accessible at your fingertips.
18 The Mount Chiliad Mystery Is Rockstar Trolling The Player
From this vast list of fan theories, you can tell there's one thing that GTA gamers love to do besides play… and that’s to theorize. Throughout the franchise history, Rockstar grew wise and have (likely) blatantly trolled its audience.
Theorist Black_Hipster has pointed out this sentiment in reference to the Mount Chiliad mystery in GTA V. It pretty much randomly generates ghosts at night, produces alien spaceships, amongst others things. There appears to be no decent explanation for the occurrences asides from (as the theorists pointed out) that Rockstar is having direct fun at its conspiracy theory audience.
17 Michael And Claude = The Same Person
GTA 3 protagonist Claude pretty much walked away into the sunset with that groundbreaking game and that was the end of his timeline. Yet, was that Claude's actual end? During the pre-GTA V hype, there had been plenty of theories that Michael’s character was actual Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti fully aged—this turned out to be moot.
Still, a theory on Neoseeker by Tommy Vercetti (no relation) makes a pretty interesting case that Michael is actually Claude, pointing out the close physical resemblance and Michael’s massive chest scar likely being where Claude received the bullet in the famous GTA 3 opening.
16 GTA Online Is A Direct Prequel To GTA V
For anyone who’s played through GTA Online, there are several interactions with the campaigns main cast (e.g. Trevor) that clearly take place before the main story's events—making the fact that it’s a prequel pretty clear-cut.
Yet, if so, why doesn’t your self-created character make some sort of significant appearance?
The likely reason is this just a video game and Rockstar isn't able to cover all bases. That didn’t stop fan theorists though, pondering that your online avatar was either eliminated or placed permanently in jail—considering his zero presence in the main campaign.
15 GTA Is Actually Set In The Underworld
So this theory was officially written up by Michael Rundle for the Huffington Post and not some bored forum poster. After playing through the GTA V campaign, he continues to break into a far-reaching (if passionately argued) argument that the games actually setting is in the fiery afterlife of the underworld itself.
He points out that there is no actual ‘Game Over’ even if you are offed.
Then you awake and are forced to continue your purgatory-like cycle. Also, there is no other choice but to resort to a life of crime, even if you attempt to live the straight and honest life.
14 NPCs Are Secretly Working Against You
A common complaint with GTA Online in recent times is how aggressive and unpredictable the game's NPCs have become. This being GTA, several fan theories have arisen about why, of course.
The most plausible is that Rockstar have purposefully (yet subtly) changed the NPC behavior set in order for gamer’s to spend cash on upgrading their weapons and vehicles in order to weather the storm. The less plausible (yet more awesome) theory, is that the game itself has become self-aware Skynet style and is attempting to beat the player at their own game.
13 GTA Is Set In A World Where Lincoln Was Never Eliminated
There’s no denying that the GTA universe is a slightly altered version of modern America. Was this due to Rockstar wanting to avoid legal action? Or is it really an intricate alternative history due to a specific historical figure not being eliminated?
We can quite easily take the first choice as fact yet that doesn’t make this Reddit theory less intriguing.
In it, he states that the bizarre society that exists in the GTA universe is due to Lincoln never being eliminated—it’s quite a well thought out theory that makes for some interesting reading if you have a moment.
12 The Three GTA V Characters Are ‘A Celebration Of The Series History’
CitizenWolfie posted an interesting breakdown of how the GTA V campaign's protagonists represented different generations of the series. Trevor is ‘the crazy, unhinged, old school maniac’, with him symbolic for the primitive thrills of the GTA 1 and 2. Franklin’s campaign is much more in line with the PS2 entries GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas. It’s a rags-to-riches storyline as a low-key criminal attempts to better his life.
Michael is ‘a post-modern GTA character’, in line with GTA IV and its DLC expansions. He represents a character that’s disheartened with his criminal past and is trying to make amends for it.
11 GTA’s Islands Were Created By A Nuclear Apocalypse
Ever wonder how those isolated slabs of a map you occupy in a GTA games came to be? There are several theories running around but this one by Hideus_Ex on the GTA Forum takes a fresh (if admittedly tongue in cheek) stance on it.
In his theory, he proposes that the GTA universe was laid to waste by nuclear destruction.
Only the remaining islands are all that has survived in the world with societies having strived to recreate their favorite and most beloved cities (e.g. New York) on them.
10 John Marston Is A Respected Historical Figure
So another one that ties into that Red Dead book cover in found on a shelf in GTA V. The author's inscription reads J. Marston—so let’s rewind back to the final act of Red Dead Redemption.
Obviously, SPOILERS for those who still have not played it; protagonist John Marston is gunned down in dramatic fashion, only for his book-smart son Jack to take up the mantle and avenge his demise. Could he then have gone on to write his father’s story from worthless outlaw to noble redemption in a historically respected book? It’s no stretch to think so...
9 GTA’s Islands Are Symbolic Social Commentary
So as we pointed out before, the maps in the GTA games should be taken literally as pieces of land surrounded by water (and not as convenient game design). With that said, a Redditor named angrypuppy goes one step further...
He explains that Rockstar intended a deeper meaning behind these isolated slabs of land.
His theory points out that all residents are generally superficial and ignorant, too consumed with celebrity and opportunism. He ties it together that the islands they live on represent their closed mentality—which he assumes is Rockstar's sly dig at modern American society. Pretty deep, huh?
8 Niko Bellic Has Passed On… Or Has He?
There's no denying GTA IV protagonist Niko Bellic was one of the strongest main characters the series has seen, despite the disdain thrown at that game—so why has he all but disappeared since?
Well, several contrasting easter eggs in GTA V have attempted to solve this; his former heist-buddy Packie states ‘he’s probably [deceased]’, yet a supposed Lifeinvader page shows him still kicking around. Then, a wanted poster of the character is found later—what gives? Most likely the reason Bellic disappeared so unceremoniously is that the character’s voice actor Michael Hollick had a major falling out with Rockstar due to payment issues.
7 A Leader Overthrown
Reddit theorist Zpopee has a deep concept he cooked up concerning slight references found throughout the franchise history in reference to an almost obscure piece of questionable US history.
It was speculated in 1933 the rich elite of the US attempted to take power away from Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This was done out of fear of the leader wanting to redistribute wealth amongst the nation's citizens—this was known as the Business Plot. The action naturally failed, yet if it hadn’t, an ultra-business society with minimum regulations would likely be the result; a result that looks a lot like GTA's reality.
6 Children Are Kept Indoors At All Times
Ever noticed how no kids are ever walking the streets in the GTA games? One can assume it’s due to Rockstar (purveyors of controversy that they are) wanting to draw the line with the carefree destruction a gamer can cause without the added disturbing value of adding minors to it.
Still, that leaves the door open for a random game theory doesn’t it? According to nameless88, his theory is that the highly violent world of GTA have parents quite smartly keeping children indoors at all times (or sent to Bullworth Academy).
5 Other Rockstar Games Are Media Entertainment In GTA
What if all Rockstar games were connected in a much more obscure and subversive manner then just a shared universe? Theorist Banjo-Daxter makes a direct reference to a small Easter Egg found in GTA V:
A book found on a bookshelf is inscribed with the title Red Dead (Redemption).
Asides also having a Manhunt action figure in San Andreas, there is no further solid evidence yet he assumes L.A. Noire would be a TV show (due to its episodic chapters), Max Payne is a movie (due to its cinematic nature) and Rockstar Table Tennis would, obviously...be a sports broadcast.
4 GTA’s Characters Are About The Money (Literally)
Rockstar was clear in how GTA V thematics are linked to the distribution of money, yet perhaps it went even deeper than just the obvious plot mechanics and online upgrades?
Theorist Choppy_LaStatch proposes just this, with the three types of currency—Gold, Silver and Greenback—being intricately tied to each main protagonist in the campaign; Trevor, Michael, and Franklin, respectively. This is showcased by the color that fills up the screen when each character actives their special ability, but also with subtler details (e.g. Franklin’s gang-colours are Green, the aged Michael has Silver hairs, etc).
3 Claude Is Silent For A Reason
In the opening of GTA 3 protagonist, Claude is betrayed by his love and subsequently shot with the screen cutting to black. Claude survived the gun wound yet Rockstar has never explained where that bullet actually landed.
With the protagonist being infamously silent (with this even an ongoing punchline in his reappearance in San Andreas) this has lead YouTuber ZacCox TV to speculate that specific gunfire he took, went straight to his throat. This caused him to be mute in a game full of gabby supporting players—makes perfect sense, yet where’s the scar?
2 Insurance Companies Have GPS Trackers On All Citizens
Every noticed in GTA if you off a citizen with no witness you still end up racking a One-Star wanted rating? Also, in the earlier games, the police (and eventually military forces) had an almost sixth sense n tracking down your location, no matter where you ran and hid?
Theorist gallagher222 has a reasonable explanation for this, outside of game mechanics; in the GTA universe Insurance Companies have installed life signal trackers on all of it’s public, therefore as soon as someone's vitals flatline, there are immediately alerted and aware of the location.
1 GTA V Is Rockstar’s Giant Experiment For GTA 6
In the past, Rockstar had remained a clear-cut single-player focused company throughout the years. Sure, former games featured some fun distractions into multiplayer yet it was never a priority.
Flash-forward to GTA V Online which has become their pure focus for the last several years, with also several uncharismatic delays and bugs connected to it. Fans have theorized this is all due to a mysterious game-plan behind it all... The company has been using the Online as a data testing ground for the eventual release of GTA 6—therefore creating the ultimate GTA game. Uhm... it's more likely they just enjoyed raking in the multiplayer dough—but one can theorize, can't they?