Have you met Mr. Chang?

By Anne Sharp

He's a very popular character role-played by Twitch streamer Lord Kebun in the NoPixel server's version of Grand Theft Auto.* In early performances as Mr. Chang, Lord Kebun used the crude method of reversing Ls and Rs to suggest an Asian accent. But as the character evolved, Chang’s accent also evolved into an ethnically nonspecific speech disorder in which crack becomes cwack and masturbation maskabatan (both of which Mr. Chang likes very much). People who call him Chinese are now indignantly informed that he's Puerto Rican.

His handsome face aged by years of hard living and a persistent stubble he doesn’t have time to shave, he dresses mostly in classic black menswear, his favorite wardrobe piece being a leather jacket as beat up looking as he is. Sometimes when a statement is called for he makes an appearance wearing just Rugrats underpants or camo print briefs with matching body paint. His hair and brows are usually dyed the sort of unflattering auburn common among West Coast immigrants trying to fit in with the Anglos. He is a heavy drug user and adrenaline junkie skilled at urban combat and martial arts. His spirit animal is the dragon.

He travels the mean streets of Los Santos (a gorgeous photorealistic version of the greater Los Angeles area) with a pack of fellow crooks known as the Chang Gang, his main man being Brooklyn Italian stereotype Vinny Pistone (played by the streamer Shotz.) Though fiercely loyal to friends and allies when it suits him, he can turn horrifically cold on a dime, and his interactions with others typically include a stream of uninhibited filthy innuendo and insults, usually directed at other men. The precise nature of Chang’s sexuality is hard to make out, as he’s a supreme put-on artist, trolling everybody he meets like a master improv comic. He has an alpha psychopath’s charm and charisma which attracts all sorts of admirers, including the Millie Jackson-spirited Gladys Berry (Mick) and the delicate souled street thug Freya (Curvyllama), who tried to make him her husband, only to be relegated to playing Columbia to his Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

Chang is fundamentally a man of action, his signature style involving extreme jackass high-speed driving and deliberately jumping and driving off steep precipices. This is naturally one of the keys to Chang’s success as a GTA RP character, because, you know, Grand Theft Auto. The other is the endlessly fascinating ways in which his trickster nature rides in criminal tandem with or rubs the wrong way against everyone he encounters, which is one of many ways in which he puts me in mind of Peter Lorre. Like Peter's creations, Lord Kebun's Chang is a very desirable character for other streamers to roleplay with, as his presence makes everything more interesting. But as with Peter's characters, Chang plays best when he's with others whose creators are as skilled as his is.

Chang's manic personality is a fun fit with the more mature Vinny (prompting Vinny to tell him not infrequently "I hate you so much") and his pretentions to martial arts mastery have led to much mock-epic battle play with the anime-inspired Uchiha Jones (Cyr). But his best foil is Brenda Pancake (Ashlynn), the noble and beautiful young receptionist at the Pillbox Hill Medical Center, frequented by Chang and other underworld lowlifes coping with GTA-induced trauma. To say that Chang is in love with Brenda could be valid in the sense of a traditional romcom in which a man goes to violent extremes to get a woman who's rejected him to change her mind. But given the deformed, cryptic nature of Chang’s lovemaps, Brenda’s refusal to lower herself to his level may be part of her charm.

Chang reminds me a lot of the hard-boiled characters Peter Lorre played in films noir of the later 1940s like "Black Angel," “The Chase,” and “Quicksand.” They were middle-aged immigrants with easily mocked accents living on the fringes of the American social order, getting by on hard-earned survival instincts, quick wit and a wicked taste for the absurd. Like Peter himself come to think of it.

*NoPixel runs an altered version of Grand Theft Auto V that allows selected streamers to use the game's digital characters and environment for virtual reality roleplay. The result is a 24/7 entertainment combining elements of improvisational theater, puppetry, and ultraviolent gaming

(c) 2019 by Anne Sharp. All rights reserved.