Women in Grand Theft Auto games have had many roles. mum. Girlfriend. Nightclub manager. Criminal. Lots of roles. Just never the main one.
On the eve of the release of the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto V, and with no inside knowledge about who will be the star of this new game, I find myself thinking back to an article I wrote in April 2008, in which I wondered what it would be like to play a GTA that starred a woman. And I recalled how some people hated the idea and others loved it.
I wrote the piece after I'd played as a woman in the multiplayer of the then-unreleased Grand Theft Auto. It was a first. I'd played Grand Theft Auto games on the PlayStation 2, the PSP and the Game Boy Advance, and I'd always played as a man, because the characters Rockstar Games created to lead their games were men. In GTA IV multiplayer, however, you could play as a woman. So I did and, of course, it didn't make much of a difference. What would be different, I thought, was if she was the game's star.
GTA games are know, by and large, for their chaos. Say what you will about their satire, their storytelling, the quality of their cutscenes, their soundtracks and many of the other commendable aspects of the series, they're associated with interactive mayhem. You jack a car, you go on a spree. The cops give chase. That's always been GTA at its most fun, a sort of Pac-Man with guns and cars and walls you can vault a sports car over. And that kind of chaos has always been orchestrated by men. That cast of man has been diverse. GTA leads have not been the bland white guys that are the norm in gaming. We've had black, Latino, and Eastern European men in the lead roles and never in a way that seemed like a big deal. They just fit.
I'd wondered in 2008 if it would be a big deal if a woman was the lead character of GTA. Or if it'd be no big deal at all. The story I wrote back then was for MTV.com, which has scrubbed the comments from the post. The web-archiving Wayback Machine, however, kept a snapshot of the article, so I can show you some of the reactions I got. I've kept the original text intact, so forgive the spelling.
A reader named Rob:
"i think it would be googd to have a woman in the game. I think that when you start the game you should be able to choose wheter your a female or male instead of woman always being prostitutes in the gta games"
Another reader named Rob:
Absolutely not. As a side character maybe, but as the protagonist, no thank you. It's not that I've got anything again women, it's just the masculinity of ‘bazukaring' a helicopter would be somewhat diminished if I was playing as woman. IMO.
At least they took the liberty of even INCLUDING female advatars! It doesn't matter, male or female, just shut the hell up and enjoy the game as humans!
A reader named Incedious:
What a irrelevant debate this is. Why are you even arguing this. When the main character of a movie is a male (ex: Frodo in LOTR). Do we have to debate how good the movies would be if he would be a female... no. We should just accept these games as a creation of a group of artists and leave it at that. They have a story in mind from conception to creation that they want to follow. Who wants to hear a bunch of crap like … "Scarface should've been a woman" or whatever. Historically, how many mobsters can you recall that have been women ??? That's what I thought. Maybe you should go try and Google it or something.
And KJB815 said:
Whats the difference, its just a character, personally i dont think a woman would look good on a game such as GTA, not through chauvinism but simply because it would look vulgar and im sorry women swearing and killing people with AK47 Kalashnikovs isnt very realistic. I do feel sorry for all women enjoying GTA, while waiting for a female protagonist, but i think it wouldnt suit the game in the same way as Vercetti or Bellic has and will do respectively.
I apologise to the women but i think Men look better (personally)
I'd call that a mixed reaction.
I wondered what it would be like for a series that might be branded a male fantasy starred a woman. I wondered how that would affect the games' presentation of sexuality, if not violence, and what players would make of it. I wondered what it'd be like to play a GTA with a woman as the leading hell-raiser.
I've found all of Rockstar's GTA characters interesting and most of them likeable. I've heard that, for the new game, there may be multiple playable lead characters. While I won't know if that's for sure at least until the GTA V trailer hits next week, I can say that hearing about that possibility got me thinking the odds of playing as a woman in some wild GTA adventure felt like they increased just a little.
We'll find out next week. But, for the record, playing as a female lead character in Grand Theft auto? I'd be up for it. You?