Grand Theft Auto V Female Character Discussion Exposes Lingering Stereotypes In The Gaming Community
Posted on Thursday, November 29 @ 10:45:00 Eastern by Heath_HindmanWhen he says "This one's for the ladies," he actually means it's for the dudes, but he hopes someone will still be intimate with him.
It's recently been confirmed that all three of Grand Theft Auto V's playable characters will be dudes, opening up a netwide discussion on the possibilities of a female lead ever showing up in the series. I've read quite a few interesting things. I've also read some total bullshit that exposes lingering issues of sexism in the games industry. The internet is great.
Saying that you prefer a male character in GTA or any other series is fine, but where this discussion turns sour is the reason people give for immediately dismissing the notion of a female lead in Rockstar's flagship franchise. Even before we knew much about Grand Theft Auto V at all, this shitty article at CheatCC pre-emptively called having a female protagonist "a mistake," with the author saying:
Are you seeing what I hope you're seeing? The author automatically assumes that this hypothetical female character must be sexually promiscuous. That the defining part of her character shall inevitably be that she is a slut. Never mind the fact that Grand Theft Auto (and most game series) features male characters from all backgrounds, countries, and sexual orientations—a female playable character by default has to be a slut. Period. Guaranteed. Why? Well, of course, because of... because um... reasons!
Yeah! Let's pretend for the sake of argument that this character is indeed a sexual butterfly like CheatCC prophesied—would it suddenly ruin the character? Words like "slut" and "whore" are used on women as insults, yet "playboy" and "jiggolo" and "playa" usually praise men. Would the same author complain about a promiscuous man in GTA? I doubt that. The above article also makes the error of assuming that using a female character is for the sole purpose of grabbing media attention. While that's possible, the same could be said of any aspect of a game's design, not just the sex of a character. I'd like to think that in most cases, a talented developer like Rockstar is usually focusing on the quality of the game more than getting media attention.
Not helping matters is the fact that the same communities that decry the notion of a female lead in GTA are the same communities that continually swoon over interviews with PlayBoy Playmate Pamela Horton. When it came out in a PlayBoy bio that she enjoyed playing video games, lame-ass websites and their horny bloggers began lining up to post interview after interview after interview. Why? Because this is a woman who plays video games, and you can look up naked pictures of her. She's not an industry figure, she's simply a woman who wants, in her words, "to work for a well-known game company as a character designer."
Well damn, I know a couple of people who'd like to do that... none of whom have been naked in a magazine, though. Is that what qualifies you for interest from the gaming press these days, takin' it off? It's no wonder this industry is still considered a joke to those outside of it.
Society conditions both men and women to focus on the aesthetic qualities of a woman more than anything else, regardless of the context or setting. When a man is fat, it's funny or even its own brand of charming. When a woman gains a single inch around her waist, you can look forward to entertainment "news" bits mocking her and tabloid covers showing candid beach photos. When we see a new game character unveiled, the internet comments on the female characters will almost certainly be about how physically attractive she is or isn't, too often in the forms of a poster declaring things he wants to do to her. With dudes, not so much.
Perhaps the bigger problem I'm seeing is the backseat scenario writing by people who should never write anything. That is to say, all kinds of boardies and forumgoers are coming out and expressing their dismay at the idea of a female protagonist, then going on to describe a woman doing things more suited to a male character. They don't realize it, but they're writing female characters the exact same way they'd write a male character, which is a perfect recipe for disaster. It's easy to see whose head can't escape "the box" on this topic, like this cat here, who says:
The flaw in the thought process here is that a woman can, must, and will do all of the things male GTA protagonists have done in the past. Why? Is there a rule written somewhere that I can't find? What the poster is doing here is quite common, and it's one reason we see so few female characters that can carry a story. Men tend to write women not like women, but like a man writing a woman.
Take George R. R. Martin, for example. As the author of the Song of Ice and Fire series, he's proven himself to be one of the best writers of our day, and none of us could hope to reach half his success. The chink in his armor, however, is his writing of women. Too often, you can almost see a man writing or hear a man's voice when the female characters are at center stage in SoIaF. I'm not saying it's not interesting and I'm not saying I could do any better, but I've found myself within these books and realizing that the women aren't thinking like women; they're thinking like a man trying to think like a woman.
The problem is all over the place in the real world too. In the United States, there's an ongoing debate about whether or not health insurance should cover birth control for women, while there are plans that already cover Viagra for men. Men are doing the thinking for women, and perhaps there aren't many red flags being thrown up because we're historically accustomed to this. Women in the US couldn't even vote until 1920, meaning we'd already elected 28 presidents without a female being involved in the decisions. Jason Jones filed an excellent satirical report on the matter earlier this year. It's hilarious not only because of the planning and delivery, but because it reflects exactly what goes on.
What this might mean is that the industry needs more female writers to begin with. A writer of course couldn't be good at writing female characters just by being female, but at least one might have a better chance of thinking the way a woman might. Political correctness aside, it's undeniable that the two sexes think differently. While men and women should be considered academic and intellectual equals, nature has also built us differently. We approach situations differently and often have different reactions, especially in times of panic. For a woman to be portrayed as acting and thinking the same way a man would, with too high consistency, simply will not feel right, even though we might not consciously be able to point out why.
But the fallacy a lot of GTA fans have been falling into is that because a female character might be written poorly, she certainly would be. They can't imagine an interesting female character because they are picturing female characters doing things in an overly masculine way.
What could really be interesting is seeing the differences brought about by including a female protagonist. We've seen the men of GTA handle things their way, but to see the differences in how a woman might go about things could lead to fascinating cutscenes, interesting plot twists, and perhaps even a playstyle not yet seen in the series. And that last part right there is probably the real reason we've yet to see a woman take a lead role in the series.
Think about Kill Bill for a minute. It features a decidedly badass female protagonist facing off against five main villains, three of whom are also women. What do we know about their sexual histories, other than the fact that Bill has tagged at least two of them? Not much, really. Vivica A. Fox's character has a child so, oh noes, she must have had sex with someone at some point! Gasp! An adult had sexual relations! It's something people do, like, in real life! Who cares? These female characters didn't need to be made into lesbians, nor did they need to be written as sluts to be interesting characters. The Kill Bill formula may or may not work for GTA, but the point is that a female protagonist could work, even if you couldn't do a good job writing or imagining it yourself.
As gamers and as members of a civilized society in general, we need to realize that the world is bigger than what fits inside our heads. Ideas can be implemented in ways we could not imagine. Quality stories can be written that we could not pen. Were it not so, we'd all be famous filmmakers, game producers, or novelists. But we're not, so maybe we need to step back and give certain people with certain ideas a shot at something before slapping the idea on the ass and telling it to make us a sandwich.
Stay within Title IX, my friends.
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