Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Ever since Grand Theft Auto III, the franchise has been a satire and parody of the world and moreso America at large. Grand Theft Auto V is Rockstar's masterpiece; every game Rockstar has ever made is present in Grand Theft Auto V: the racing of Midnight Club, the size of Red Dead Redemption,Trevor is an extension of the psychotic nature of Manhunt, Michael is an extension of the classic criminality of Max Payne and Vice City, Franklin is an extension of the gang-oriented nature of The Warriors and San Andreas, cross all that with the living nature of LA Noire.
Which is interesting, considering that with all Rockstar's attention to detail, that they say that the 3D universe (III, Vice City/Vice City Stories, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories) is separate from the HD Universe (IV, V, Chinatown Wars, Online). I personally don't think that's 100% truthful for the following reasons.
First, the cities. The identies of Los Santos, San Andreas and Liberty City, Liberty are strong in gaming lore. As are Carcer City and Bullworth Academy. All of which are referenced in or directly related to the events of Grand Theft Auto V. There could be all new cities, but they chose to keep these cities the same.
With the cities, even the gangs and personalities are the same. Between the Ballas and the Families in Grand Theft Auto V (as well as the sports teams they represent) and the multiple crime families referenced in the game, it's fairly obvious that the universes are shared. In one point of V, Jimmy asks Franklin if he's a member of the Grove Street Families, to which Franklin replies that the Families left Grove Street years ago. There's even references to the riots the happened at the end of San Andreas. Franklin has CDs from the rappers in San Andreas and there's relatively conclusive evidence that D from V is Dope from San Andreas, although older and risen in the ranks to an OG. Lazlow has been in every game in some metric, and his character has changed and adapted to the arc of a career.
As I said before, Grand Theft Auto is a parody of American culture. And in the age of shared universes in other movies and games, we've come to expect that everyone is everyone else's child or parent or friend. But jus like in life, it's not always the case. When was the last time you asked about the LA riots? The fact that it's a crazy coincidence that somebody great is related to somebody great is what makes those things special. And in the Grand Theft Auto universe, just like life, you make yourself special; you're not born into it or fulfilling a prophecy. Things move on. People die. What happened in New York City in 2001 doesn't always affect what happened in Los Angeles in 2013.
We've seen a lot of controversy around the Grand Theft Auto series in the past, but for the first time in the series, Grand Theft Auto gives the player a bit more choice in a living, breathing economy. There's a stock market, twenty-three properties and businesses to own and operate. Some of these businesses, they're not savory. But they're legitimate. One character has a family, one character has a dog, one character has a business partner. They grow and change, Franklin even moving from the inner city equivalent of South LA to a home in the hills. Once the game ends, many of the illegal activities do as well. However, you have the option to do anything you want. And this is where the parody gets interesting; yes, there's a strip club, but there's also mountains to climb, a golf course, tennis courts, triathlons, races, a pilot school. The choice and control is yours.