I’ve been meaning to write about the Serbian elections, and the continuing slapfest over Macedonia, and some more about the frozen conflicts, and all that good stuff. But first:
Niko Bellic is Serbian.
He’s not just a generic Eastern European; he’s a Bosnian Serb who fought in the war as a teenager. The game’s backstory (which is revealed over many hours of play) involves his war experiences, and his issues with them pervade the whole game. Also, he seems to have come from rural Bosnia, so he’s initially pretty baffled by American urban culture.
So: is this a simple-minded decision, reflecting a vulgar stereotype of Serbs as violent thugs with a taste for organized crime, ignorant peasants who are thrown into culture shock in the modern world? Or is it an inspired choice, allowing the writers to make the protagonist character more complex and morally ambiguous, and position him as a “fish out of water” observer of the madness that’s modern American street life?
Note that Niko Bellic is not inherently evil. Nor unsympathetic. In fact, you can play him as a hero, albeit a rather noir one. (Yes, you can also go around killing people at random, but that’s your problem, not Niko’s.) And he’s presented as likable, and even — in the first few episodes — somewhat innocent.
On the other hand, providing the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto is not exactly a point of national pride. Niko is now the planet’s most famous Serb, and he’s a small-time crook with issues.
On the other-other hand, Grand Theft Auto! Come on! How cool is that?
So: good or bad?
Comments from informed readers welcome. N.B., you don’t have to have played the game to be “informed”, but you should at least read about it. Not hard, right? It’s the biggest and most famous video game anywhere ever.
Non-Serb commenters are encouraged to pause and ask themselves “what if Niko Bellic were [my nationality]?” Still cool?
What think you, commenters?