Does GTA V Deserve The Criticism Of Being Misogynistic?
The following is a transcript of the above video.
Today I’m going to be discussing GTA V and the ongoing debate about its portrayal of female characters and lack of a female lead. In a nutshell, the discussion surrounding it being ‘misogynistic’ and whether or not the game deserves this criticism. Now I’m looking to take a very balanced view on all of this, and I’ve given it a lot of thought recently, coming to the conclusion that neither side is viewing the problem in the way I feel it should be: which is, that it is highly complex and should be treated as such.
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The reason I say this is because I view the debate as a case of an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Why? Because if you argue that GTA V is in the wrong for its lack of female leads and the glaring differences in the way it portrays males and females, then you are stamping over the concept of creative freedom and artistic expression. Because at a basic level, Rockstar don’t have to do jack shit when it comes to female characters as protagonists or portraying female characters in the same way it does its male leads. Objectively speaking, Rockstar can have their game ‘misogynistic’ if they so choose. However, if on the other hand you are defending GTA V and saying it’s completely fine, others will argue that you’re furthering a trend that undeniably exists in the gaming industry, and by not caring about it at all, you’re part of the problem. This is not an unfair statement, because complacency leads to zero positive results.
With that being said, I believe that a core problem here is that complaining isn’t going to help. In this situation, there is a far more complex issue at play, and it’s not black and white. This isn’t a case of where we need to complain to influence change, not like the Mass Effect 3 situation for example. Because the moment you all go up in arms complaining that GTA V needs to represent females better, you’re leaning into the territory of giving females special treatment and forcing the issue. In other words, you need to tread lightly when you bring the female debate into it, because if you go all gay marriage on it, which is to make a massive deal out of it, then it stops being about the good intentions behind it and you’re bringing all these other factors like creative freedom, and the idea that it’s not the developers’ responsibility to do these things and so on and so tediously on. On the other hand, if you try to make female characters a PR deal, then you end up with fuck ups like Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider, in which they caused massive controversy by talking about how an attempted rape scene is part of character building for Lara Croft.
Now before I get to what I feel is a solution here, I think I’m a bit confused, because one must also consider the true fact that Grand Theft Auto has been consistent for years and years. It has not had a female lead. Its females, and most of its characters are portrayed in an exaggerated manner, or comically, as stereotypes and caricatures, and only its protagonists are given personalities. This is not something new about GTA or Rockstar for that matter, as Red Dead Redemption featured very similar character profiles. GTA has also been the punchline of “beat up hooker” jokes for eons, so it’s not exactly a glowing inspiration of where the industry needs to be with these issues. I don’t know why this is getting brought up with GTA V in 2013 when the series has been like this for the better part of a decade.
But things get a bit fucked up here, as this brings a further two arguments into the mix. On one side you can say that it’s not fair to suddenly pin this responsibility onto GTA when it has always just consistently done its thing and wants to continue being successful at what it does. On the other, and an equally valid point, is that with games like GTA and Call of Duty being the most popular and sold games in the entire industry, they have the potential to lead the charge with industry change, and this is a definite true because Call of Duty used to lead innovation back with the original Modern Warfare and before that, so they can definitely impact. These games do have the potential to influence the entire medium.
All of the above is me trying to put forward to you that this is not a simple issue. It’s not about “Oh females must be portrayed better or get more lead roles”, because the issue is far more complex than that. I mean, games like Remember Me thought they were making a statement by having a female lead character of mixed race, but because the game itself wasn’t top quality, it fell by the wayside and furthers the issue of publishers worrying about female-centric games not selling well. Although they always ignore Tomb Raider strangely enough.
So, this is a huge debate, granted, and too much for one simple discussion like this. What is my solution then?
Well firstly, I feel you need intelligent discussion about these issues. Arguing and complaining is not sufficient for this problem, because neither side can win. You need to break it down to an intellectual level, because this topic requires maturity and a sensitive approach. This is a collective problem that the entire gaming industry is a part of. And I feel a small solution as well is to stop making PR disasters over female leads. If you want to have a female protagonist or strong female characters, then just go ahead and do it without all the talk. Like Naughty Dog was with The Last Of Us and Ellie. I don’t see Quantic Dream and David Cage talking up every day how Beyond: Two Souls’ female protagonist will be strong and capable and you’ll have to nurture her and she’s not a sex symbol, she’s smart and that makes her sexy and all that shit Crystal Dynamics had going on with Tomb Raider. If you want a female character or to portray female characters in a strong light, do it with the correct intentions, and because your artistic direction and narrative focuses on these elements. Forget the talk, let your game do the talking. Let your audience experience the content for themselves before you tell them how to think about it or what it represents.
Instead of blaming video games like GTA V for what they do, look towards the solutions and not the problems. Start looking at it intellectually and asking the right questions. For example, start looking at the reasons why publishers are paranoid of female games selling well, despite the fact that half of gamers today are female. Start reaching out to female gamers and developers to see what their thoughts of females in gaming are, and what their ideas going forward are. I mean, I’ve spoken to an eGamer colleague (Peloma) who is female and she was pretty much more than happy to play GTA V not caring about these issues and just having a good time. Is that wrong? Is she furthering the misogynistic trend of the game? It’s a big apple. Ask why publishers limit creative freedom with females, with reference to Naughty Dog having to fight to keep Ellie on the front cover in as prominent a position she was in, and Irrational Games moving Elizabeth to the back of the BioShock: Infinite Cover, and ask why there isn’t confidence in female leads, despite how many amazing and successful games star females, like Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge, Beyond: Good And Evil, Heavy Rain and so much more.
In short, explore the mentality, not what it produces.
Solution, not the problem. GTA V is not the problem. The mentalities surrounding it are. The fact that it is being publicly criticized for something it has never even done is part of the problem.
Also, to briefly touch on the GameSpot review, I want to know what the actual fuck you people are complaining about? The author, she may have criticized the misogynistic nature of the game, but she ended up giving the game a nine out of ten. She praised it and respected its merits, and she admired what it did right, so what are you on about? It’s not like she rated it four or five out of ten where then you can that she’s letting her bias against the misogynistic nature completely disrupt her view of the quality of the game. She gave it nine out of ten, so shut the fuck up and accept that just because someone didn’t like that part of the game but still, you know, gave it such a high rating and the credit it deserves, that that’s an admirable quality. It’s an admirable quality to praise something you don’t like, or to give something the credit it deserves when you feel differently maybe personally and you know it’s just your opinion that’s making your perception of the game like this. It’s a good review and a great score for the game, so just calm down, like there’s really no reason to complain about that or get on the reviewer’s back.
Before concluding, as an extra point to think on, ask yourself why complete shit like 50 Shades of Grey, written by a female author ironically, is globally loved despite its degrading portrayal of central female characters, and representing them as submissive and needy of men. At least gaming hasn’t sunk to 50 Shades level yet, right?
So stop hating on GTA V. GTA V is GTA, and it has been this way since its inception. I can’t imagine why you’re suddenly expecting it to be something it has never been. You’re getting exactly what you paid for, and more than that what you knew you were paying for. If one day Rockstar decides to do something regarding females, it will be because they have a genuine idea about it and it shouldn’t be forced as if it’s their responsibility.
Remember, sometimes issues are a lot bigger than you think they are, and they’re not simple black and white. So often you need to explore the mentality behind something, and not what it produces.