GTA5, the latest hit in the Grand Theft Auto video game series from Rockstar Games, already featured a number of Easter eggs before its online update, including cheat codes, hidden missions, aliens, zombies, Bigfoot, but it’s added now an entire unlockable storyline, heavily influenced by French existentialism, that revolves around a bleak divorce.
“This storyline is unprecedented in console gaming, even for Rockstar,” said game blogger Mitch Curwen. “They’ve taken chances before, but a storyline that requires the player to essentially attempt suicide, only to end up trapped in the toxic relationship between estranged co-dependent spouses? That’s like nothing any game publisher has ever attempted. Rockstar’s revolutionized open world action-adventure video games before, but this feels more like an independent film.”
“It’s also really depressing,” Curwen was quick to add. “Like, to the point where it’s painful to describe. I almost didn’t want to tell people about it.”
Unlocking the hidden content is a bit complicated. According to posted walkthroughs from the few players who have opened the storyline, it can only be accessed during a thunderstorm in the darkest part of the night. This must be done while playing as the character Michael, and after having obtained the parachute. After achieving a five-star wanted level, the player must steal an airplane and fly it toward the Vespucci Beach game area. Positioning the plane above the water so that the Vespucci Beach Ferris wheel is visible onscreen if the player looks left, the player must jump out of the plane over the water, with the Ferris wheel still in sight. Before jumping, the player must look left, then press LB (on X-Box, or L1 on Playstation) without a weapon equipped. This well-known Easter egg causes Michael to make a rude gesture (“the finger”) toward the Ferris wheel.
Jumping out of the plane should cause the parachute to appear on Michael’s back as he falls. Normally, when falling, a player would press A to activate the parachute, but to unlock the content, the player must have the chute and not use it. The overall effect is that of a defiant suicide attempt. But Michael doesn’t die.
Instead, just before Michael hits the water, the screen will fade to black, then turn gray. While the screen is still gray, a haunting piano composition (identified by gamers as 19th century French composer Erik Satie’s “Trois Gnossiennes”) begins to play. This bleak music, which recurs throughout the hidden storyline, is a contrast to GTA5’s usual soundtrack, and occurs only in the French existentialist divorce scenes and missions added in the online update. For the curious, the music and can be heard in the video below:
The music plays under an animated scene, in black and white like all scenes for this storyline, in which Michael finds himself lying on a cot in a tiny apartment, wearing wet clothes and unable to get up. An impossibly skinny woman in a black robe, the new character Mouchette, sits at a nearby table, staring at a cup. For a moment, there is very little movement on screen, and then comes Mouchette’s first, French-accented line of dialogue: “I made you some tea. I do not know why. It tastes like ashes.”
From then on, players must continue a series of brief, bleak missions dealing with Mouchette and her estranged husband, Michel, who lives in an apartment just across the street. But first, just to get out of bed, the player must complete a short mini-game labeled as “Overcoming Ennui,” which involves placing the left and right analog sticks in precise positions and releasing them, over and over, until a black bar on screen labeled “Hopelessness” is reduced to nothing.
Once Michael is up and around, and able to explore the tiny, dilapidated apartment, a young boy, who Mouchette refers to as “the Maitre d’,” comes to the door with an envelope. The still seated woman explains that the papers are from an adoption agency, as she is desperate to be a mother and seeks to adopt a child. But she also says she has been on a waiting list for two years, and that she is waiting for the adoption to go through before finalizing her and Michel’s divorce. She asks Michael to get Michel’s signature on the papers, then deliver them to City Hall (located in the upper right corner of the city at Elgin and Occupation streets). In response to dialogue about why she doesn’t just go across the street and do it herself, Mouchette responds cryptically: “Once such a man could compel my strength, but now he compels only bile in my throat. If I saw his face, I might love Michel again, and love is God’s greatest lie.”
A series of similar missions involves ferrying endless paperwork between the two and various offices. Strangely, the character Michel looks just like Michael, including any in-game customization and clothing, but with a scar on his face. This resemblance is never commented on, nor is the fact that the name of every character in the storyline begins with the letter “m.”
For his part, Michel sits in a chair turned towards the wall, with a mirror behind him which he “dares not face.” Further conversations reveal that “the Maitre d’” is actually his 11-year old son with Mouchette, the repetitively named Marc-Marc, whom Mouchette has refused to look at since the boy was born. It is unclear whether Mouchette is consciously aware that the child who cooks her meals and brings her mail is her son, or if she actually believes him to be some kind of servant. She constantly refers to herself as childless, and is obsessed with her proceeding adoption case. Marc-Marc never speaks to his mother, nor does his mother speak to him, though he clearly longs for her approval, as he tends to her in long, silent cut-scenes with only the repeated piano soundtrack.
In contrast to the humorous paranoia of the conspiracy theorist character Ron, Mouchette’s realistic and debilitating schizophrenia is portrayed with a painful naturalism. At various points, she accuses the windows of her apartment of being vampires, and says the Devil whispers to her through her reflection on the surface of her tea. Her frequent attempts at self-harm are prevented only by Marc-Marc.
Marc-Marc is the most sympathetic of the three characters. He lives in a room at his father Michel’s apartment, though he spends almost all of his time caring for his mother. Given his parents’ listlessness, Marc-Marc’s only real companions are two parrots he keeps in his room, one of whom recites lines from Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit while the other repeats quotes from Martin Heidegger’s philosophical tract Being and Time, both in French. By spying on Marc-Marc in his room with his parrots, the player can observe that the boy, previously portrayed as mute, is actually capable of speech and talks to the two birds in a mix of French and English. His words are deceptively happy, a hopeful and possibly oblivious contrast to the boy’s environment. The only time Marc-Marc appears happy is after a mission in which Michael steals him a kite from a nearby toy-store, but later Michel destroys the kite in a rage, explaining only that it “pretended to be free.”
While the bleak hidden divorce storyline added in the GTA5 online update features unique storytelling and is clearly a reaction to questions raised by French existentialism, in both philosophy and cinema, no one is certain why the designers wanted to add it to a Grand Theft Auto game.
The absurdity of many of these events is heightened by the fact that attacking, moving, or even killing any of the new characters is only temporary, as they will reappear the next time their apartments are visited. Even the ever-present GTA police are changed during this storyline. Whenever the player achieves a five-star wanted level while on a mission for Mouchette, Michel, or Marc-Marc, the police abruptly cease their pursuit, smoke cigarettes, and can be heard spouting nihilistic Nietzsche quotes between their usual lines of looped dialogue.
Another mystery is why the game designers expect players to complete these missions at all. The only reward given for nearly all the tasks assigned are more cups of tea made by Mouchette, which cannot be consumed or equipped. The new teacups merely collect on tables and other surfaces, stacking up absurdly to fill the empty areas of their apartments. At one point, in a callback to the infamous Hot Coffee Mod in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Mouchette unexpectedly offers a sexual encounter to the player, but it takes the form of a fumbling, awkward, and seemingly unwinnable mini-game. The mini-game ends mercifully in another triggered scene in which young Marc-Marc walks in unexpectedly, prompting Michael to end things at once, even though Mouchette screams “It’s only the maître d’!” and expresses willingness to continue.
The most traditional mission in the storyline is the one entitled “Sagawa Sushi,” which gets the player out of the repeated back and forth between Mouchette and Michel and into the intense violence for which the GTA games are known. Mouchette expresses her belief that she could find the motivation to go down to the adoption office herself and straighten things out if she could indulge in cannibalism, believing consuming the flesh of other humans would fill her with their energy. This requires Michael to go out and kill a number of people who fit descriptions provided by Mouchette, then bring their corpses back. However, as Mouchette claims she cannot eat the bodies because she “forgot the recipe,” the only reward for this mission is $25 and another cup of tea.
Announcing that after so long, her attempts to adopt a child must be doomed, Mouchette assigns the player her last mission: Serving the final divorce papers to her husband Michel.
After a series of oneiric, furtive scenes connected only by this stunted family, the storyline ends in an abrupt and somber fashion. After Michael confronts Michel for the macabre killing of Marc-Marc’s two parrots, and is prevented from killing Michel only by Marc-Marc’s silent protests, Mouchette does something she has never done before and calls Michael’s cell-phone. Marc-Marc, speaking for the first time outside of his room, begs the player to tell his mother that the letter he is carrying is from the adoption agency, and that they have finally found a child for her and approved her case. But Mouchette, ranting, will not hear it. She says that she has just gotten off the phone with the police, as the Devil has hired a killer to come to her apartment and do away with her. Exiting Michel’s apartment, the player sees that her apartment is burning, an inferno lit by the disturbed woman herself. Attempting to enter the flaming building damages the character, but it does not allow him in.
In an ironic twist, Michel runs out screaming and crying, madly attempting to save the wife who somehow, after everything, he still desperately loves. Police cars, fire engines, and ambulances arrive, but the police, believing him to be the hired killer described by Mouchette, shoot and kill Michel. His body falls into the flames, and the same grim pyre consumes both husband and wife.
This brings the hidden storyline to a close. The few gamers on online message boards who have unlocked and completed these missions are not sure what to make of them. “Some dudes online think we should start calling it ‘Hot Tea,’ after the ‘Hot Coffee’ mod,” Curwen noted, “But honestly? I’m starting to think I’d rather just never speak of it again.”
Just before hanging up, Curwen refused to clarify any of his description, saying only, “It’s yours now.” But he did confirm that yes, GTA5 does feature this hidden divorce storyline, and that in his analysis, the bleak philosophical themes explored are likely influenced by French existentialism.
After the hidden storyline, the game continues normally, as if it had never occurred, with only one loose end. Marc-Marc vanishes after this scene, and cannot be found anywhere near his dead parents’ apartments, which remain burnt ruins for the rest of the game. But occasionally, the boy can be seen at a distance in his distinctive red sweater and blue shorts, though if approached by the player he runs and disappears. Marc-Marc is always seen watching from afar as children fly kites at the beach. He still clutches his mother’s envelope, containing news of the sibling he will never know.
Grand Theft Auto 5, featuring the bleak, French Existentialism-influenced hidden divorce storyline in its free online update, is in stores now, with a suggested retail price of $60.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing