Why creative decision making, not masculinity, is the reason there’s no female protagonist in Grand Theft Auto V and why that’s okay.
So, Grand Theft Auto V has finally released to all of the hype that was expected. Eager fans queued outside shops to be among the first to get their copies of the game and critics praised it with 9s or 10s across the board. To say that the latest installment in Rockstar’s monster franchise was highly anticipated would be an understatement, and surely we’ll soon be reading reports of record-breaking day-one sales.
But what would a GTA release be without a little controversy?
Last week, in an interview with The Guardian, Rockstar Game’s co-founder Dan Houser justified the lack of a female protagonist in the game with this comment:
“The concept of being masculine was so key to this story”.
It was a small comment, a mere eleven words in a long article, yet it was singled out by enough news sites to spark debate across the internet. It was even used as a headline by many, but the attention it garnered was probably inevitable. A lot of people would have a problem with a comment like this, and I won’t deny that I can see why.
A female protagonist in GTA isn’t something I’d ever really thought about. I never expected it, as I never expected a female protagonist in many other games. Aside from the first Grand Theft Auto, each game in the franchise has featured only male protagonists, and so what? They seemed to fit in the context of the games.
But now, in an effort to tell “a more nuanced story”, GTA V will have the player switch between controlling three different characters. While I prefer playing as males in videogames anyway, I find myself asking “huh, why not a lady?” Surely such a feature would only serve to enrich the story further, giving a potentially different perspective to those of Michael, Trevor and Franklin?
Regardless, I’m quite OK with the game’s characters being men. Again, it will probably work and when playing the game I doubt I’ll give it a second thought. The issue I have is with the comment and the absolute lack of credibility to it.
It’s this idea that Grand Theft Auto is a “masculine” game, and masculinity being key to its story. But what makes the story so masculine? Rockstar are clearly talking about their own concept of masculinity, how men act. From the outside, this seems a little off. In fact, I think men should be more insulted by this than women. This notion that your masculinity is tied up in your ability to shoot a gun or steal a car. Admittedly such behaviours have been portrayed as more common among men in the media and probably even reality, but does an action being performed more often by men necessarily make it masculine?
In some cases, the answer to that question is probably ”yes”, but all people are capable of these actions regardless. To say that GTA is masculine is both understandable and built on archaic perceptions of gender. I’m sure there are plenty of women, who, put in the same situation, would go toe-to-toe in a gunfight with the most hardcore of gangsters. And not all men would.
In fact, I find I agree wholeheartedly with another quote from the interview with Dan Housen when he was asked about the decision to have an all-male main cast:
“We weren’t trying to do it off a checklist – I don’t think that will ever give you something that’s believable or engaging.”
Perfect. Don’t include something simply for the sake of inclusion, as that would be an empty token gesture and only more irritating. I’m glad Rockstar can come out and acknowledge this and it’s not an issue, but the excuse of “our game is too masculine” is a weak one.
The simple fact is that “masculine” stories can involve anyone. If RPG developers were true to the comment from Rockstar, we’d never see character generators allow us to choose gender. Any tale with an emphasis on the protagonist’s power and violent conflict can be described as masculine, yet many other games allow characters who aren’t straight males – the archetypical icon of masculinity – to take the central role.
In fact, why can’t Trevor be a butch gay girl? If we’re sticking to outdated stereotypes of masculinity. I’m sure there will be plenty of women in GTA V, and they’ll yet serve to masculinise the male characters. While I have fond memories of the girly flailings of lady rollerbladers I’d push over in Vicy City, I can’t help but feel the franchise relies heavily on tired tropes for cheap laughs.
GTA was designed without custom character creation. The developers instead crafted three specific characters with specific stories, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But let’s not attribute that to masculinity or femininity or anything like that. Let’s attribute it to creative decisions and just have the courage to simply say “we didn’t do it, maybe we will one day”.
Georgia Sampson’s rating for GTA V is a Grumpy Hooker out of 10. Feel free to dispute this rating with her on Twitter @GeorgiaAmanda.