Time for an OpEd: ‘GTA’ and Gender

I try to steer clear of the political side of nerd fandom with this blog, but two things happened today that have driven me to the point where I cannot keep quiet. The first thing was my 4-year-old niece coming down to the basement where I was playing GTA IV, and asking if it was a two-player game. After informing her that it’s not a game for 4-year-olds, I then told her that it was a one-player game (I don’t multiplay because people are terrible). She then asked me where was my girl character. After telling her that one can only play as a boy, she then asked, “Is the game just for boys?”

I went on to assure her that anyone of an appropriate age can play the game, it just wasn’t made to let the player choose to play as either a boy or a girl. The answer seemed to satisfy her, and she left to play somewhere else. That the GTA franchise had never featured a female protagonist then crossed my mind, but I didn’t let it bother me. I decided that I didn’t need to play as a woman to enjoy the title, and proceeded to play.

A little while later, as I found myself looking through my email for post-worthy news, I saw that UK gaming site MCV posted a short article on why Dan Houser (Rockstar’s VP and co-founder) & Co. hasn’t yet included a female protagonist in the series. This must be a point of contention in the industry, particularly since the upcoming GTA V features three playable protagonists, leaving plenty of opportunity for at least one of them to be a woman.

His short, sweet answer was basically that the game had to have a “concept of masculinity”.

There are so many obvious arguments that can be made against this, but I’ll try to avoid those and come straight out and ask any male readers out there, do you feel that your masculinity includes a component that allows you, exclusively, to lie, cheat, steal, and be violent, even murderous, to advance your agenda, whatever that agenda may be? One of the easy, obvious arguments I could anticipate from this would be that women are so often found to be “bad actors” in our society – I myself constantly read articles and headlines where a female has done something atrocious and abhorrent – that a female protagonist could easily fit in to the GTA universe.

Since the issue at hand is not specifically gender, but the “concept of masculinity”, then can it be argued that although women are capable of engaging in criminal, morally reprehensible behavior, the behavior itself is masculine? That the “concept of femininity” is something that we still hold so sacred that it is nowhere to be found when one dismantles and examines the inner workings of violent and criminal behavior? From where I stand, it seems that the message is that even though women have been found time and again to be capable of deviant criminal behavior on the same level as men, it’s just a woman doing “men’s work”, and that there are absolutely no feminine aspects to the actions she’s undertaking. The feminine is pure, gentle, sacred, and would never, ever seek to harm or hurt.

Certainly this is bullshit. As a woman who growing up was considered to be both too smart for her surroundings and too physically unattractive for companionship of any kind, I got my share of disses from both genders; as such, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing as vitriolic and purposefully hurtful as bad behavior coming from other females. “Sure,” you may say, “chicks talk smack about each other all the time, and even get into catfights!” Yes, this does happen, but I’ve also seen young girls, middle school age at the youngest, who have gone beyond molly-whopping and scratching at eyes. They’d even gone past something as extreme as knife attacks. I’ve seen these girls attack other girls with a cluster of combination locks and roller skates (dual-axel, not rollerblades, though I’m not sure it matters much). These are exceptionally vicious attacks meant to maim, leaving disfiguring scars that said, “I was here, and you’d be well served not to forget it”. I would like to say that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a fight between males to involve such vicious improvised weaponry, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t need hands, because it never happened. It was either a matter-of-fact fistfight, or an equally matter-of-fact (though incredibly devastating) gunfight.

Can the violent encounters of the girls I described above still be said to be a manifestation of masculinity, when the ways that their male cohorts chose to express violence was completely different? Is it still fair to say that the violent and criminal behavior that are requisite of a GTA protagonist be viewed through a purely masculine filter? Is it insulting to men to say that these behaviors belong to only them?

Please know that I in no way condone violence IRL, regardless of sex or gender. I do enjoy the GTA series and play as a means of escape, not as an endorsement of criminal or violent activity, period. Again, I try to steer clear of the gender politics of the fandom, but when issues come as close to home as it did for me today, I feel the need to toss in my two cents. Ultimately, those two cents call for an end to gender disparities when depicting any types of character traits or behaviors, not just those of the criminal. In my opinion, doing so keeps us all boxed in, and in an industry that continues to seek to create games that imitate real life, this tendency to color human behavior either blue or pink keeps us from enjoying titles that truly reflect the entire human experience.