All in the Game: GTAAAA FIIIIIVE

So obviously the only game anyone is talking about this month is Grand Theft Auto V, one of the most highly anticipated games of the season, which broke sales records within days of its release. Let’s get the basics out of the way. GTA V is a beautifully crafted, fun game; the latest in a line of entertaining, if somewhat mindless, sandbox adventures. The attention to detail is amazing, and as a native Californian it’s awesome to see all the familiar landmarks on the “Los Santos” map exactly where you know them to be, from Venice Beach to the Getty to LAX (only with different names). The new tactic of switching between three main characters, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor, is also fairly ingenious for the franchise, because it enables specialization without sacrifices. You can be an expert racer with Franklin, or a great marksman with Michael, while still satisfying that GTA urge to crash unique vehicles into walls and shoot passerby willy-nilly with Trevor. Really everything about the mechanics and gameplay has only improved with time, but unfortunately the one thing that has stayed the same is GTA’s incredibly limited and surprisingly backwards treatment of women.

Dat skyline. [via GTA Wiki]

Dat skyline! [via GTA Wiki]

In the universe of Grand Theft Auto, where the motto is “be on your worst behavior,” women have never been main characters, and are snubbed yet again in this fifth iteration, a fact that Rockstar co-founder and VP of creativity Dan Houser defends, saying “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story.” Personally, I don’t buy it. I mean let’s break the idea down for just a second. First of all, let me avoid having this critique of the male-centric narratives of GTA framed as an automatic “misandrist” dismissal of anything to do with masculinity. The trappings and pressures of masculinity are absolutely a valid theme for artistic and creative endeavors. My beef, specifically, is what’s so different about this title, this portrayal of masculinity, that hasn’t been addressed in four previous games (all with male protagonists)? In general terms at least, every Grand Theft Auto game has been about the struggles of men to prove themselves to other men, achieve status and respect on their own terms, and end up on top in a dangerous and cutthroat world. Great! But how many times can we tell the same story and claim it’s doing something new and meaningful? It seems to me that this justification neatly exposes the privilege male characters are afforded in our media. Rockstar has made four separate games about criminally inclined men behaving badly while dealing with the pressures of their immediate communities and society at large. Yet they still imagine the vein of masculine angst hasn’t yet been sufficiently tapped by the franchise, and needed a new gameplay structure, with multiple protagonists – all male, of course – to finally get the message across.

See no, speak no, hear no... women? [via Crave CNET]

See no, speak no, hear no… women? [via Crave CNET]

As a result, women are the one group in GTA’s universe who aren’t given the chance to break with tradition. Whenever women are behaving badly, they’re not perceived as doing what they need to do to survive or get ahead, they’re just getting in the way of men and their machinations. Women’s motivations are often stupid, frivolous, or malicious, marking them as deserving of punishment (by none other than our male main characters, natch). This condemnation of women in subversive roles is especially jarring when you drive around the streets of Los Santos with the radio on, as cheeky satirical ads play continuously, mocking a certain mob mentality and subtly encouraging players to be conscientious and wary consumers. It would seem the game has something provocative to say on every topic, except when it comes women’s representation. It’s a shame, because a game that would allow women to play fast and loose in the morally grey world of Grand Theft Auto, the same way their male counterparts always have, might actually be the revolution that GTA V claims to be.

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