Grand Theft Auto V

Is GTA V too Masculine for Women?

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?

So masculine. So testosterone. Such good baseball player.

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.

They’re just trying to pay their tuition and care for their sick dogs.

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.

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  • Sara Clemens

    Very nice. I’m glad you mentioned how irritating pandering is, since that’s something I’m often accused of wanting. It’s like yeah, nothing makes me feel better than to be handed something just to get me to shut up. What.

    • Georgia Sampson

      Agreed. I’m sure there are plenty of people happy to kick and scream until they get what they want from developers, but I’m not one of them. A game is a product that I purchase, and if I don’t like it I don’t have to give my money to the devs/publishers, end of story. I’d love more games to be more inclusive for the sake of the industry itself, and I’ll show that support with just that – my support and my money.

      • ceekyuucee


        I really can’t support the idea here that calling out developers for only producing games that exclude women is “kicking and screaming.” It isn’t. It sounds like that Felicia Day “don’t fight the misogynistic gaming culture, just ‘lead by example and don’t make waves and men’ll like you'” schlock.

        When something is wrong with an industry, it is very wrong to paint vocal dissent as childish (ie kicking and screaming). Maybe it’s because I’m tired of the idea that minorities should play nice with the establishments in the hopes that they deign to give us something for our sacrifices so they don’t feel uncomfortable for being shits.

        And your point in the article about not expecting female protags, well. I expect them all the time. There are so damned few that it would take years of only female protags to even the score. Representation Matters.

        • But when the minority in question is actually a majority, it’s a different situation. Women represent almost 51% of the population.That is power. Use it. Complaining is the tool of the powerless. I’d argue that taking shit over by involving yourself in the industry and rebuilding it from the ground up if necessary is a much more practical way of achieving your goals in this instance since the numbers (and dollars) are there. It’s not schlock, it’s using what you’ve got in a constructive manner. Instead of demanding somebody who doesn’t understand you give you what you want, you go get it for yourself, yeah?

          • ceekyuucee

            Majority of numbers isn’t a power majority, see Apartheid South Africa. Situation isn’t analogous, but the point stands.

            Talking about an issue isn’t complaining, and it’s really naive if you think women have the power to rebuild the gaming industry. It is dominated by its target demographic, cishet white guys, and it will be until the developers decide different. Indie studios will almost never stand a chance against the big studios, and that doesn’t exactly make dismantling the establishment easy.

            What does is making people aware so they can rail against the establishment and possibly get members of the establishment to change their minds.

          • You do realize that apartheid wars ended and the government was rebuilt long ago right? And not by the internet. By economic sanctions. They got hit where it hurt. That is what they call the dreaded “don’t buy it” logic. I’m not sure you’re understanding what I’m saying, Ceeky, and since you’re calling me naive now I have to take the time to explain it to you.
            Behold my wall of text!

            [sigh] 51% of the population represents a massive creative and financial pool, meaning a lot of lost potential. Should game companies start forming with more equal gender representation to produce similar-minded games that appeal to women on a base level rather than just having pandersome male-written characters that shoot things and have boobs at the same time, they could potentially tap into an alienated segment of the market. Given the choice between games made by people who have no clue what makes women tick and games that are created largely by women with equal representation, it’s likely that a large number of female gamers would change their gaming habits accordingly. If this becomes a trend (and I believe it will), other games devs would either have to get with the program or further alienate the half of potential customers being serviced by the new breed and suffering financial loss for it. Even if we were dealing with the deliberate institutionalized misogyny you implied, no modern company values sexism over the almighty dollar.

            The other way is, instead of taking an active role to change the industry using their talent and determination, the ladies stay on Tumblr and type REALLY HARD. At best, some developers see the complaints, check their bank accounts, and then forget all about it. Obviously discussion of shortcomings is fine and encouraged (it’s kind of what we do here), but unless it’s coupled with action it amounts to words on a screen so it should not be the goal in and of itself if
            serious change is the desired result.

      • Sara Clemens

        Well said, ceekyuucee. I hate feeling pandered to, but I hate being patronized or silenced even more.

  • I’ll just chime in and say: No, I’m not offended that they would consider shooting guns, blowing up stuff and crashing cars as “masculine”. The real question is: are there as many female gamers in equal magnitude to male gamers who enjoy shooting people in the head, stealing cars, tweaking cars and blowing stuff up?

    It’s not a “trope” just to be trendy, it’s based on a history of behavior and behavioral tendencies.

    I sometimes feel people don’t really understand how testosterone or estrogen works and how it involves the impulse to gravitate toward certain activities over others.

    What Dan is essentially saying is that they didn’t write in a female just to shoehorn in a character to meet a social demand just for the sake of politically correct pandering.

    Yes, Trevor very well could have been a butch gay, psychotic female character but what’s her story and why is she hanging out with Franklin and Michael? Does it feel natural that she’s a psychopath? Does it fit in with the story they’re telling and is it cohesive to the outlandish world they crafted?

    Let’s not forget that you can still play female characters in GTA Online, just the same as APB: Reloaded — but like APB: Reloaded, I should point out that even then you still see a vast disparity between male and female gamers because, just like GTA, it’s all about shooting guns, crashing cars and blowing stuff up.

    The real question is not whether a female character fits in with these masculine tropes but rather, is this what a large majority of female gamers would be attracted to in a game to identify with that character?

    • Georgia Sampson

      Yes, you’ll notice in the article I essentially said I’m grateful that Rockstar didn’t shoehorn in a female character as a token gesture. That would have been plain stupid. By no means do I endorse pandering for the sake of political correctness, and personally I don’t even enjoy playing female characters.

      But hold on, why couldn’t Lesbian Trevor hang out with Michael and Franklin? Surely anyone can be a psychopath? Stories usually come from characters, so I don’t believe it would have been so difficult to implement. Again, not that I even care, I simply believe Rockstar should say “we didn’t put women in” rather than shoveling out a line that reeks of PR excuses. No one would have cared if the reason hadn’t been a question of masculinity.

      I must go now, for my estrogen is compelling me to decorate houses and catch butterflies in Animal Crossing.

  • Bob Black

    The thing about GTA is that it attempts to discredit myths about society, specifically myths propagated by the media – it paints the world exactly as it portrayed in the mass media in order to show how absurd this representation of society that the media peddles is.

    Hence, all men (especially black men) are violent, drug abusing criminals on the one hand or corporate sociopaths on the other. All women are shallow, self obsessed and submissive. Teenagers are all fat and lazy and addicted to video games, or they are only concerned with being popular and fashionable. This goes for Republicans, Liberals, Rednecks, Jews, Rastas, disabled people, the police, doctors, psychiatrists and everyone else in between – they all have stereotypes which are played up to the point of absurdity.

    The point of this is to DISCREDIT these stereotypes (sorry for caps – no italics button). GTA portrays women in a bad light because the media portrays women in a bad light. It takes ideas of femininity directly from the media and takes those ideas at face value to show how absurd they are.

  • The way I see it is this: Rockstar clearly loves to write stories about manly men maniliy doing mannish and macho things with many a masculine mannerism. And they are really good at that. But let’s say that they aren’t as good at writing from a female perspective at this time. Do you want a half-assed female protagonist written from the perspective of such manly men? I love me some strong female protagonists, but let the artist go to where his/her creativity takes them. If someone wants to write a story from a male perspective, then that’s exactly what they should do, because it’s probably going to turn out better that way.

    • Georgia Sampson

      I agree. The thing that people don’t seem to be getting is that I don’t care whether the game has a female protagonist and I’m glad they didn’t force one in. It’s that Rockstar should say something much like you said here; that they’re better at writing male characters. Rather than what sounds like a dodgy excuse.

      • Sara Clemens

        Also, if they’d like someone who could write a gangster narrative from a female perspective, I’m available.

        • I’d love to read that!

        • That’s exactly what I would recommend Rockstar do at this point; start looking for a female writer who is in step with their style of storytelling. Then they’d have no more reason to make lame excuses.

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  • The Truth

    B/c APB has a choice, GTA can’t.