The 3 Merits of San Andreas
CJ, for short, Carl Johnson is a step forward for player characters in video games. I'd rather not go into the touchy territory of his ethnicity, as it seems all too cliché, but it does need repeating since it plays a factor in the way the media typifies San Andreas: CJ is black! But he's much more than that, at the same time. GTA III's main character really had no personality (and San Andreas pokes fun at this fact at one point) and even Vice City's Tommy Vercetti was a little rough around the edges in the morality department, but CJ is perhaps the most fully-realized of the series' anti-heroes. It is clear from the get-go that Mr. Johnson has a healthy respect for his family, his roots, and his neighborhood. The plot of the game hinges on this very fact, as just about all of CJ's actions work towards the ultimate goal of protecting everything he holds dear – avenging the brutal death of his “moms,” freeing his framed brother Sweet from prison, protecting his sister, and ridding his turf and his home, Grove Street, of the crack head menace that threatens to engulf it.
Are those not noble goals? At the very least, they constitute a lot more than “stealing cars, beating up police officers, and making drug deals.” Sure, CJ occasionally needs to do something of the sort, but it's never for the sake of doing it. Rather, it is usually a favor for a friend or loyal ally, if not for the benefit of getting closer to his ultimate, more noble goals. The game starts off with Carl's old pals (and brother) chiding him for being away for so long; for leaving Grove Street behind and forgetting about his family. As it turns out, though, with a few exceptions, almost all of these characters end up betraying the cause. So, the game is ultimately about staying loyal to your roots at all cost, even when the world is falling apart around you.
These peripheral characters, though, are the ones most often subject to the bad behavior that has solidified San Andreas' reputation in the media. They are flamboyant, crazy, delusional, or just drunk on power most of the time and they are the ones that push CJ to commit crimes or do things he otherwise wouldn't. So what drives CJ to go along with all of that? Well, he's a forward-thinking individual with an entrepreneurial spirit. Life's given him lemons, so the only way he can find happiness is to make lemonade, and that dictates that he's going to have to juice a few fruits along the way. OK, so that analogy doesn't exactly work, but CJ's a good guy. Even though he always goes through with things, he often expresses his doubts. Not to mention that, ironically, though he is sometimes offered and other characters do it regularly, Carl never actually uses drugs.
Ultimately, CJ is quite a likable character with a good personality and some noble end goals. He gets his hands dirty on the way there, but it isn't far fetched to say that everybody has to at some time in their life. Carl's actions are more extreme, of course, but hey, that's what video games are for.
1/30/2006 Cavin Smith