Traditionally, a protagonist is the main figure of a piece of literature or drama and has the main part or role. Alternatively, the phrase denotes a primary advocate of or proponent for a cause or movement. The main character can be a hero or a villain in a story - it is just the character with the lead role. In literature, the protagonist is characterized by his/her ability to change or evolve.
It should be pointed out that the protagonist is not always the hero of the story, as implied in the Grand Theft Auto games. They may commit crimes of some sort, (which the protagonists of the GTA games certainly do) but he/she is still considered the lead character, and is known to help out his/her friends, allies or close associates.
The protagonists between Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto IV share similar qualities. Most protagonists are new to town, either returning after a long time gone (such as Carl Johnson and Toni Cipriani) or have never been to the city before (such as Claude, Tommy Vercetti, Victor Vance and Niko Bellic). The protagonists usually start with nothing, with minimal influence and reputation, having to do odd jobs around for various small-timers, gaining friends and allies (like Asuka Kasen, Avery Carrington, Wu Zi Mu, and Little Jacob) before moving up the social and economical ladder, attempting to rise through the criminal underworld, although their motives for doing so vary in each game. They eventually start establishing a name for themselves in the town, doing real jobs, making bigger and more powerful friends and business partners, and cutting real deals as their prominence, respect, money, and reputation begins to grow, until they end the game on top of the city, or at least with some powerful business and/or friends. Abnormal protagonists would be Luis Fernando Lopez and Johnny Klebitz who have always lived in Liberty City or Alderney and have already established their name, powerful friends, and high social and economical standing at the start of the game and must defend it from competitors. Most protagonists have a consistent distaste of drugs, and while deal and work with them, never use them. The protagonists of Grand Theft Auto V also have lived in Los Santos and Blaine County for at least a little while before the game begins. However the GTA Online Protagonist is new to Los Santos.
The opposite of a protagonist is an antagonist, which is the main person working against the protagonist and his actions. Again, this can be a villain or a hero, though usually a villain.
The main antagonists of the Grand Theft Auto games are usually introduced very early in the story, usually as the protagonist's friend or acquaintance until a major, personal betrayal (like Catalina, Sonny Forelli, Frank Tenpenny, Jerry Martinez and Dimitri Rascalov) and are usually seen, heard, or mentioned throughout the game, moving against the protagonists' plans or goals, until they are finally confronted in some large-scale showdown by the protagonist at the end of the game. An abnormal antagonist is Massimo Torini; he makes less appearances than all the other antagonists in the other games (only 2).
Current list of GTA protagonists
List of Ally Groups
Group reason: While Claude does maintain a close friendship and working relationship with the Yakuza over the course of the game, he always acts freelance and never makes a commitment to any gang.
Protagonist: Tommy Vercetti
Group: Vercetti Gang
Group reason: Formerly an associate of the Forelli Family, Tommy founded the Vercetti gang after taking over Ricardo Diaz's empire in Vice City. The actual name "Vercetti Gang" spawned when Tommy bought Kaufman Cabs and Doris tells the employees that the "Vercetti Gang" owns it now. She came up with it as an impromptu excuse because the firm apparently has been owned in the past by other gangs & that's all the firm knows (possibly the Mafia or Cartel, as named by Delores) then the name sticks.
Protagonist: Carl Johnson
Group: Grove Street Families
Group reason: CJ's brother, Sweet was a leader of the gang and therefore makes CJ the underboss. CJ has friendly relationships with the Triad leader Wu Zi Mu, and Varrios Los Aztecas leader Cesar Vialpando.
Group reason: Mike, like Claude, also maintains close friendships with some gangs yet has never made a commitment to one. He is first seen working for the Mafia, yet is allied with Cisco, the leader of the Columbian Cartel.
Protagonist: Toni Cipriani
Group: Leone Family
Group reason: Toni's parents possibly were in the Leone Family (as hinted by his mother in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories), but it is never given how he joined the family. He is close friends with Don Salvatore Leone and is made Caporegime later in the game and keeps his position well into GTA III.
Protagonist: Victor Vance
Group: Vance Crime Family
Group reason: After leaving the Trailer Park Mafia Vic and his brother Lance, who would become Vance Crime Family Underboss, started the gang to make money for their asthmatic brother Pete.
Protagonist: Niko Bellic
Group reason: When Niko came to Liberty city, he has to help Roman with his Taxi firm. The Jamaican Posse and the McReary Mob have and will always be allied with Niko due to his friendships with Little Jacob and Patrick McReary. Niko can also have connections with the North Holland Hustlers, if the player chooses to kill Playboy X instead of Dwayne Forge
Protagonist: Johnny Klebitz
Group: The Lost Brotherhood
Group reason: Johnny is the Vice President of The Lost biker gang, and is a full on member as well. He also is/was best friends with Billy Grey, the President of The Lost, until the latter was imprisoned and the presidential torch passed to Johnny.
Protagonist: Luis Fernando Lopez
Group: Northwood Dominican Drug Dealers
Group reason: Luis works for Anthony Prince, who isn't a part of any specific organization. He is also friends with the Northwood Dominican Drug Dealers' members Armando Torres and Henrique Bardas, and depending on the player, can spend time building up their drug empire.
Protagonist: Michael De Santa
Group reason: Michael is not attached to any group, and instead cycles through different crew members for heists.
Protagonist: Trevor Philips
Group: Trevor Philips Industries
Group reason: Trevor operates his own methamphetamine manufacturing ring in Sandy Shores with Ron Jakowski, Wade Hebert, and Chef. Additionally, Trevor is also allied with Oscar Guzman in weapons trafficking.
Protagonist: GTA Online Protagonist
Group reason: New to the city, the GTA Online Protagonist can either work freelance or as a part of a player-created crew to complete jobs for various criminal individuals and organizations.
The following are missions and cutscenes in the Grand Theft Auto series where different protagonists appear in the same cutscene or interact with each other directly. This lists excludes the interactions between the three protagonists of Grand Theft Auto V.
- GTA Vice City
- GTA San Andreas
- Wu Zi Mu - (Carl Johnson partakes in a race with Claude)
- Farewell, My Love... - (Carl and Claude race again, and Claude leaves with his new girlfriend Catalina after giving the deed to his San Fierro garage to Carl)
- GTA III
- Cipriani's Chauffeur - (Claude meets Toni Cipriani at Joey's Garage and helps with collecting protection money)
- Taking Out the Laundry - (Cipriani employes Claude to destroy three Portland Triads' vans)
- The Pick-Up - (Cipriani -through a note- employes Claude to pick up protection money)
- Salvatore's Called A Meeting - (Cipriani employes Claude to drive himself, Joey Leone, and Luigi Goterelli to a meeting with Don Salvatore Leone)
- Triads and Tribulations - (Cipriani employes Claude to murder three Triad warlords)
- Blow Fish - (Cipriani employes Claude to destroy the Turtle Head Fish Factory with a rigged Trashmaster)
- GTA IV
- Blow Your Cover - (Niko Bellic is introduced to Johnny Klebitz and Playboy X by Elizabeta Torres to offload a large amount of heroin)
- Three Leaf Clover - (Niko Bellic and the McReary Family rob a Bank of Liberty, while Luis Lopez happens to be one of the hostages on the floor)
- Museum Piece - (Niko Bellic and Johnny Klebitz are hired by Ray Boccino to sell diamonds to the Jewish Mob, the deal is then ambushed by Luis Lopez who steals the diamonds back.)
- Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend - (Niko Bellic and Patrick McReary sell back a kidnapped Gracie Ancelotti to her friends Luis Lopez and Anthony "Gay Tony" Prince for the diamonds)
- The Lost and Damned
- Clean and Serene - (Niko Bellic bumps into a pedestrian in Alderney as Johnny Klebitz and his friends ride by on their way to pick up Billy Grey from rehab)
- Buyer's Market - (This is Johnny's perspective of the heroin deal with Niko and Playboy X)
- Diamonds in the Rough - (Johnny and members of The Lost steal two million dollars worth of diamonds from Luis Lopez, Gay Tony, and The Cook)
- Collector's Item - (This is Johnny's perspective of the diamond deal with Niko and the Jewish Mob, that is disrupted by Luis Lopez)
- Knowing Me, Knowing You - (Johnny is given the number to a bugged car once owned by Deputy Mayor Bryce Dawkins, that was later given to Niko, Johnny can listen in and hear Niko being chased by police while driving)
- The Ballad of Gay Tony
- I luv LC - (The introduction mission takes place during the heist of the Bank of Liberty by Niko Bellic and the Irish)
- Frosting on the Cake - (This is Luis' perspective of the disrupted diamond deal between himself, Gay Tony, and the Cook, which is ambushed by Johnny on orders of Ray Boccino)
- Not So Fast - (This is Luis' perspective of the diamond deal at the Libertonian Museum between Niko, Johnny, and the Jewish Mob, which he successfully ambushes and escapes with the diamonds)
- Ladies Half Price - (This is Luis' perspective of the exchange of the diamonds for Gracie Ancelotti's safe return from Niko and Patrick McReary)
- GTA V
- Mr. Philips - (Trevor Philips has a heated confrontation with Johnny Klebitz, leading to his death)
- Friends Reunited - (Trevor destroys the Lost MC trailers in Stab City surrounding the coffins of Johnny Klebitz, Terry Thorpe and Clay Simons)
- GTA Online
- Romance Isn't Dead - (Trevor demands a meeting with the GTA Online protagonist to explain his recent chaos against his business, and in turn employes him himself, first tasking him with stealing a Lost MC van so that Trevor can have sex with Ashley Butler to annoy Johnny Klebitz)
- Lost My Mind - (Trevor employes the GTA Online protagonist to murder a bunch of Lost MC members, and bring a package of meth back. Trevor conducts the business through a crack in his window, presumably tripping out at the time)
- Turbine Carbine
- Crystal Clear Out
- Out of Harmony
- Satellite Communications
- Method in the Madness
- Chopper Trail
- Diamonds are for Trevor
- 3D Universe
- HD Universe
- The four GTA IV Era protagonists (Niko, Johnny, Luis and Huang) have criminal records in the LCPD Database, and each have the crime "Grand Theft Auto" listed.
- Carl Johnson, Toni Cipriani, Johnny Klebitz, Luis Fernando Lopez, and Franklin Clinton are the only characters born and raised in the location of their respective games.
- The following protagonists begin the game either new to the specific location, or has returned after a long time away, usually relative to the player.
- Tommy Vercetti is tasked by the Forelli Family in Liberty City to set up business in Vice City.
- Carl Johnson is returning to Los Santos after a five year absence in Liberty City (1987 to 1992)
- Toni Cipriani is returning to Liberty City from an unspecified location after a four year absence similar to the player (1994 to 1998).
- Claude and Niko Bellic have just entered the city as the player has entered the era (GTA III Era and GTA IV Era)
- Michael moves from Ludendorff in 2004 and eventually ends up in Los Santos before 2013.
- Trevor Philips moved across the country for many years before settling in Blaine County. Eventually Trevor also travels to Los Santos for the first time in search for Michael.
- Claude, Mike, Niko Bellic, Michael De Santa and the GTA Online Protagonist are so far the only protagonists of any GTA game to work freelance (not a member of any particular organization). However at some points Luis Lopez, (after leaving North Dominican Drug Dealers) and Vic Vance (before starting the Vance Crime Family) worked freelance as well. The online player can choose to start their own crew or work as part of an existing crew.
- Every GTA IV Era protagonist has long sleeved shirts/suits/jackets and cannot have a short sleeved shirts mostly because of the season the game takes place in.
- 2D Protagonists, Mike, Johnny Klebitz, and Huang Lee were the only protagonists to not change their clothes in the entire game. Claude starts GTA III in a prison jumpsuit, but otherwise does not change clothes throughout the game.
- In the original Grand Theft Auto, GTA: London 1969, GTA: London 1961, and GTA Online, the player can choose the protagonist, and GTA 1 and GTA O are the only games in the series to feature the possibility of female protagonists.
- Tommy Vercetti, Victor Vance, Trevor Philips and the GTA Online protagonist are the only protagonists to lead their own criminal gang. Tommy founded the Vercetti Gang, Victor and Lance founded the Vance Crime Family, Trevor founded TP Industries, and any player online can create and be the leader of their own online crew.
- Carl Johnson, Toni Cipriani and Johnny Klebitz are the only protagonists to be second in command of a criminal gang. CJ is second in command of the Grove Street Families, Toni gets promoted to caporegime during the events of GTA Liberty City Stories, eventually becoming Salvatore Leone's right hand man, and Johnny was the Vice President of the Alderney Chapter of the Lost MC; however, Johnny later became chapter President after Billy Grey was incarcerated.
- Victor Vance and Johnny Klebitz are the only known protagonists to be killed without a determinant status.
- Carl Johnson, Johnny Klebitz, Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton, and Trevor Philips are the only protagonists known to smoke marijuana during their game.
- Johnny Klebitz and Trevor Philips are the only protagonists to use heavy drugs during any Grand Theft Auto game.
- Victor Vance, Niko Bellic, and Trevor Philips are the only protagonists known to serve in any form of military, with Vic serving in the U.S. Army, Niko serving in the Bosnian Wars, and Trevor in the Air Force; however it is unspecified if he served in the U.S. Air Force or the Royal Canadian Air Force. Vic was discharged for breaking base conduct rules, Trevor was discharged after being deemed mentally unfit for service, while Niko's discharge status is unknown.
- Luis Lopez is the only GTA IV Era protagonist that doesn't work with another protagonist. (excluding the non-canon GTA Chinatown Wars) Niko and Johnny work together in two missions.
- Luis Lopez is the only protagonist whose middle name is revealed.
- Claude and Mike are the only protagonists with no known family members.
- Excluding Angus Martin whose whereabouts are unknown, all of the main members of the Alderney Chapter of The Lost Brotherhood were all murdered by protagonists. Jason Michaels and Jim Fitzgerald were murdered by Niko, Brian Jeremy and Billy Grey were murdered by Johnny, and Terry Thorpe, Clay Simons and Johnny Klebitz himself are killed by Trevor. Ashley Butler can also be killed by Trevor.