As I sat with a controller in my hand, I stepped into a world I had never been before. I stepped into the world of “Grand Theft Auto V.” I sat in disbelief with what I was seeing on the screen. “What’s a stud like you want from a slut like me?” Sapphire seductively said to Franklin, one of the three main characters in the game. The main concern I had while playing was the lack of female characters. Excuse me, lack of strong female characters.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of female characters in the game. But the only place you will find these women is surrounding the dimly lit neon sign displaying “Horny Girls” in a less-than-appealing part of town.
While my character, Franklin, was in the strip club, I was given various prompts about different actions I could take. If I wanted to “follow Sapphire to the private room” I was to press Y on the controller. If I wanted to “take Sapphire home” I was told to press A. I could even honk at a prostitute on the street as a sign for her to get into my car. For a measly $50, she could perform sexual acts on my character in his car, while I had the option to view this at different camera angles.
GTA V is the most recent release in Rockstar’s 16-year series. With record-breaking sales at $800 million in the first 24 hours, it’s safe to say this game is sweeping the nation. The controversies surrounding GTA are obvious, even to a non-gamer. Some of the things players can experience in the “most anticipated video game of the year” include stealing cars, an uncensored topless lap dance at a strip club, sex acts procured from a prostitute (you can even kill her to get your money back!), waterboarding and extremely offensive language. The list can continue farther as you get sucked into the city of Los Santos.
GTA’s poor portrayal of women can have a serious effect on how men view women, especially on the younger players. Although the game is rated ‘M’ for Mature, the playing audience is well younger than 17. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that “fully half of all Americans age 6 or older play video games.” There are more than 16 million gamers playing GTA V, and it’s making a heavy impact in the lives of the people playing. Boys as young as 6 years old could be playing this game, subconsciously objectifying women and growing up to believe every women should look or act like they do in the game.
With 45 percent of the gaming population being female, do you really think it’s acceptable to objectify women in an industry where women are a substantial part of the demographic? Women deserve a chance to be represented in a positive-light when they make up such a large portion of the industry.
Why is it that Rockstar continues to exclude strong female characters in their GTA games? According to Geoffrey Zatkin, CEO of Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, it’s because publishers don’t support them. Games that exclusively have males as the hero sell better. Additionally, if a female is the only hero in the game, they are given half the budgeting market as a game with a male hero. Males have been said to believe they can’t relate to a game as well when they are playing a woman even though they are still playing “Tomb Raider,” whose main character is a woman.
However, the woman doesn’t have to be the protagonist hero. It’s possible to have a strong, antihero female role. Take “Breaking Bad” for example. Skylar White isn’t Walter’s oversexed, undeveloped wife. She is his badass, money-laundering wife. She is brave and has depth, a primary antagonist in the show. Although, there is one non-sexualized woman character in GTA. But surprise, surprise — she gets sucked into a jet turbine.
This is becoming one of the most prevalent problems in the gaming industry today. Is it because women are not part of the “world” Rockstar is trying to create, even after 16 years? Women in Grand Theft Auto have never had depth and have always been sexualized. It’s clear that the woman in GTA are only in the game as objects. Objects to satisfy. Objects to run over with your stolen car. Objects that with the new, ground-breaking graphics, are up-close and uncensored.
Jim Sterling, a video game reviewer and host of the show “The Jimquisition,” said in his episode “The Creepy Cull of Female Protagonists,” “The male audience can DROOL all over them. But the moment a female heroine initiates, reciprocates, or otherwise has any involvement outside of her being a piece of alienated sex-meat, things get ‘awkward’ and ‘undesirable.’” Awkward and undesirable? In other words, the only purpose of women in video games is to cater to men’s sexual and other needs — never her own.
If there were a top dog in the video game industry for gender inequality, Grand Theft Auto would take the cake. So Rockstar, this one’s to you. This is no longer a man’s game. Challenge yourself. Challenge your players. Leave your comfort zone, change the people and media’s perception.
*Note – this article was originally written by Claire Wieger and published in the Daily Nebraskan.