Thursday, November 20, 2014

GTA Is Ready for a Female Protagonist

The re-release of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS4 and XBox One has already caused a stir by the introduction of first person mode. Why? Well apparently that also means you can watch the male lead characters have sexual interactions with the female prostitutes that restore your health. Now in Rockstar's defense, something most publications are glossing over (the Huffington Post is the exception - huzzah for good journalism), the women are still fully clothed and there aren't really any actions that should rile up people. At least BioWare gives us naked backs. It's mostly the dialogue. But you know, we're Americans. We are perfectly okay with shooting people but sex? Something that is natural and required for procreation? Get that off the screen! That's bad! Even when they're fully clothed! *rolls eyes*

But that's not what today's blog post is about.

Given GTA's lineage of varied male leads, from black to white, European to American, straight or gay, I think it's time to introduce a women into the scenario as part of the lead protagonist deluge. Now before the super fans jump down my throat, I'm fully aware of the fact that in the very first Grand Theft Auto you could choose to be one of 4 female characters: Katie, Ulrika, Divine, and Mikki. The first game was blank-slate characters that held no personality and did not respond in any form of dialogue. They existed as colorful blocks, literally and figuratively, and did odd jobs around town to rise in the ranks of the gang your character worked for. GTA 2 restricted the characters down to one, a white male named Claude Speed who was, in essence, a sociopath. His personality wasn't defined often in the game, but he held more context then the dummy/doll characters of GTA1. By the time Vice City rolls around, the protagonist is more fleshed out and unique instead of being player driven to create their own backstories. Tommy Vercetii, Carl Johnson, Niko Bellic: these are all names that invoke strong character development for the GTA franchise. There is the option to make a female character in GTA Online, but it is very reminiscent of the first Grand Theft Auto. It's a blank slate and a character with little sway on the world, but at least it gives some options to customize the look and moral compass.

What is lacking is a female presence. Not just with the protagonist, but with antagonists as well. GTA's worlds are littered with villains of all sizes, creeds, and colors, but not so much with genders. The only notable female baddy that I could think of, and find after hunting down wikipedia articles, was Catalina from GTA3 and San Andreas. Catalina is the co-leader/Vice President of the Colombian Cartel, eventually taking over to lead the crew. Of course she is killed because she is, after all, a "bad guy" but her presence opened up a new set of game play for powerful, female characters that was rarely seen.

And it's been quiet since then. Most of the female characters you find are passive, either as the trolling prostitutes, one of Niko's girlfriends, or plot devices to keep the story moving along. And for the strength in Catalina, GTA3 is equally at fault for having the damsel in distress trope to mark the ending missions, with Claude following the bad guy's trail to save his girlfriend, Maria. Even the "gang wars" that pop up in GTA Online are absent of female characters. You'll find men of various ethnic groups but not a single woman. We know that women do participate in criminal activity. They're not focused on as much as men in the media, and typically given less suspicious job tasks because they are considered less of a threat. But if GTA is trying to base their world off of real crime stats, they need to get women involved.

This isn't the ranting of a feminist wanting more women in video games. This is a fan asking for Rockstar to expand on an opportunity. Of all of the games that I have played over the years, GTA has been the most inclusive with diversity of cultures. Yes sometimes they are stereotyped to a comedic extreme, but as the series has developed, characters have provided deeper, thematic meanings that extend beyond their stereotypes. Loss, sorrow, redemption, family, respect - concepts that many of us can relate to in our daily lives. Maybe not as crime lords, but you get the idea.

And honestly, what could be anymore poignant of just how far Rockstar has gone over the years by introducing a female protagonist as a primary player character? What better way to give the finger to all of their critics, then by providing a woman who can throw the crap back at their faces. GTA's worlds needs more Catalina's. They need more of that variation of diversity in their game space to showcase a different level of storytelling. It's not about women being able to roll with the men. It's because they always have. They just need someone to tell their side of the tale.

Maybe something as simple as that, and really it is simple at this point given the broad range of male leads (both pros and antagonist) in GTA, could broaden the other roles in the game. Male prostitutes. Female gang members. Male strippers. Who knows. But at this point, taking this step is necessary for GTA to continue growing and defining open world games.


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