If A Woman Was The Lead Character In Grand Theft Auto...

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.

WTFMan! said:

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?


    I'm fine with it, a female character may provide a deeper emotional attachment. (Of course a male character could as well, depends on how the writers handle it)

    I wouldn't really mind, however, in RDR if the main protagonist was female it would've (in my opinion) made the storyline less believable and ruined the actual story - you wouldn't see Abigail take down Fort Mercer.

    More to the point: If the player character was a woman, would she have to be a total bitch and a man-eater/gold-digger for the game to feel right? :P

    I'd welcome it! I really liked Kate in GTAIV, she was a loveable character. But she was too innocent for that kind of lifestyle.

    Although I could picture a female like Letty from The Fast & The Furious movies as a GTA lead role female. Especially if voiced by Michelle Rodriguez. That would be cool.

    I'd love to see something like that.

    I think that a GTA game starring a female character would be fantastic, and would make me really excited to play it. Rockstar have always been good at presenting original protagonists, so this would be the next logical step for them.

    As far as the realism of it, that depends on the tone of the game itself, which has varied quite a bit between GTAs. If it were a relatively serious entry, like GTA4, it would be hard to pull off, but in a goofy and over the top game like Vice City there would be no issue at all.

    My sisters won't usually buy a game unless there's a female option at least. They should play it like Saints Row or Mass Effect and make the lead malleable. It would grant the game wider appeal. Call the hero by their last name and set up their world so anyone could step into the role. Realistic or no, if you can be whoever you want everyone is happy.

    Hell yes, gaming needs solidly written female characters who aren't shallow eye candy who serve at best as mission objectives and there'd be no stronger vehicle for such a character than a game that would sell millions like GTA.

    Give me a normal woman in a fucked up situation, resisting the usual sexual stereotypes and kicking arse in the same manner Niko did and I'll be happy.

    GTA could be the best option for such a character since the usual characters often embody the moderately mysoginistic and definitely sexist trope well, having a female character to counter them would provide a good story dynamic and social message.

    So yeah, bring it the hell on!

    Totilo asks: "I'd wondered if it would be a good deal? Or if it’d be no big deal at all."

    I'd say it absolutely would be a big deal. It could work or fall apart, but it would be an important change. People have pointed out quite correctly that it doesn't really matter which gender you play as in Mass Effect, Cmdr. Shepard is still a badass space cop. And that's fine, but I'd expect -more- from a GTA game. The series is known for its strong characters of all races, genders, and social classes. Exploration of race in San Andreas, to give one example, was a significant tool at the disposal of Rockstar's writers. Removing the opportunity to talk about gender, as is necessary when your protagonist can be either male or female, greatly constricts the way a text can be written; one could not approach gender roles and stereotypes, sexuality, discrimination, etc, in a meaningful way if the role of the character and their gender are completely separated.

    So, given that having a malleable lead is off the table, the player protagonist would have to be a woman from the ground up to make sense in a Rockstar product. It would probably work very well, because, you know, Rockstar are extremely capable at writing and designing and just about everything else. I'd love to see them give this a shot!

    Oh, and, food for thought on this topic: Discuss the difference between Capcom's depiction of Dante and Platinum's depiction of Bayonetta. I find that the latter is a much more nuanced look at gender!

    No, I don't want to play as a woman in a GTA game because it just wouldn't be the same, it wouldn't make for a good game.

    I'm all for playing for women in other genres/games but in a Grand Theft Auto game?

    Fuck no.

    I would simply be fine with this, but as much as it pains me to say this: It won't happen, not unless it's one of those 'choice' things like mass effect or saints row.

    Because with a woman protagonist it won't sell as much, at all.

    I'd be down with this absolutely. I want to see what differences it brings to the gameplay. Bring some real changes into the game though being a woman, let her use her wits, sexuality, skills, gunplay, everything. Make sure it's not just a female avatar. Make being a woman significant to the game itself. But don't at the same time, make it a trashy parody of BEING a female.

    Sure. Why not? If she's written well, then that would be interesting.

    Playing Mass Effect and Metroid as a female screw things up?


    (This Sam is a Samuel by the way.)

    They could always test the waters by having an expansion feature a female main character, and see the response to that.

    Story first. If the story demands a female protagonist, I'm all for it.

    It's interesting seeing people's reactions to such a question and a pretty solid demonstration of the problem with how males and females are portrayed in games.

    There are plenty of women in crime throughout history if you look (And they should stand out more *because* it's mostly thought of as a male only thing). For example, Anne Bonny the pirate, Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde), and closer to home we have Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. (Recently focused on in Underbelly: Razor)

    I think "Other Rob" said it best:
    "...it’s just the masculinity of ‘bazukaring’ a helicopter would be somewhat diminished if I was playing as woman..."

    In other words, we would feel emasculated if women were doing 'manly' things.

      Who is we, though? And how is a woman blowing things up emasculating?

      Do people think their penis will fall off if they play as a woman?

      I don't understand. o_O

        "We" seems to refer to what Ahtaps believes is the core demographic for GTA games (which he counts himself a part of).

        Basically, the games do have a generally male target demographic. Sure, women do play the GTA games, but I think some market research would demonstrate they would be a smaller percentage of the player base.

        I wouldn't find it emasculating to see a woman do manly things; we have Lara Croft and Bayonetta doing extremely manly things (albiet the latter has a lot of superficially femme style added onto it, lots of pink sparkles and butterflies etc). And these games are played by a lot of men who think the leading ladies are both cool AND hot (so to speak).

        But, in general, people identify with that which is most like them. Basically, it is easier (ceteris paribus) for a male player to relate to a male player-character and vice versa.

        Thus I think a female GTA lead character would be a risky proposition, since many of the game's players may not be able to find her relatable.

        The "select your own gender" trick would help but this would necessitate either very thin protagonist characterization, or having the gameworld treat a male and female PC differently.

        Another point to add is that... well... in real life, the crime world isn't exactly fond of gender equality. The crime world IS sexist as all hell and female criminals are a minority (and also, many female criminals do tend to be clustered around the World's Oldest Profession). Its also racist as all hell (ethnic crime families only working with people of their ethnicity), too.

        Short answer is that if Rockstar do try to make a realistic treatment of the crime world and its representation of women, they'll get screamed at for being sexist.

        They're damned if they do and damned if they don't. And I don't think they'd want to take such a risk for a HUGE product like GTA.

        If anything, they'll use a standalone expansion pack to tell a story from a female's perspective, in order to 'test the waters' and minimize risk.

    A female GTA5 would perk my interest considerably. Why not? I refuse to believe there aren't women of power in situations on the other side of the law. Just like the female assassin in The Wire. If the story is done right, there's no reason why it wouldn't fly..

    If it's set in LA which it seems to be, a female protagonist could work well. I presume you'll be dealing with plenty of Hollywood types, and it would allow for different interactions than those provided in San Andreas. I'd say go for it.

    While I personally have no problem with the concept I just know that a female lead would hurt sales.

    And despite the fact I don't beleive the company is going anywhere if GTA5 doesn't sell that well the concept of a female lead no matter how awesome and bad arse they pull it off hurting sales is going to have people saying use a male lead.

    And yes I hate the fact that a generic sterotype male lead has more chance of being a favourite game character than a well developed (I mean story wise not body shape) female character.

    Rockstar, prove me wrong. Please I'd love to be wrong about this.

    I found it increasingly difficult to immerse myself in GTA 4 and I blame it solely on the ability to play female leads in other games. Once I had the choice I found it very difficult to continue on very long in male lead games, that's not to say if the game/story is good enough I can't make do, it's just an observation I have made of late.

    I have been playing games since I was 5 and never really took issue with almost every lead character being male, I guess once I had a taste of playing as a female I have struggled to go back.

    I find it hilarious to read males using "it will hurt sales" as the reason for why this shouldn't be done in a GTA game, when frankly I think it's a simple case of you want a male lead as a male lead is what you better identify with. Same goes for the girls boys so I say bring it on!

    Perhaps growing up as a female I am far more aware of strong female characters and wouldn't think it odd to see one fire a bazooka at a helicopter :D

    It wouldn't bother me hypothetically. But I'm not sure Rockstar would really know how to go about doing it well.
    They've come up with some female characters just in the past couple years that were decent, but nothing like what a female GTA protagonist would have to be like. (strong, violent, relatable, likeable, etc.) That's a pretty touch cocktail to mix and for my money the first time they really hit it well with a Male lead was John Marston.
    All their past Male leads were very unbelievable in my opinion. Everyone praised them for Niko Bellic and whatnot, but his character was very inconsistent and tonally all over the place in the narrative cutscenes let alone the gameplay. I mean, Niko was leaps and bounds better than what they'd done before, but it still wasn't anywhere near the 'Marston' level.

    A female protagonist is something I can definitely see Rockstar trying in the future. I'd just be *very* surprised to see it in GTA V... I'd say GTA V expansion or GTA VI is more likely.... but that's just me.

      *tough cocktail

      :-P half asleep and typing too fast

    I'm female and which grand theft auto can you be a girl in multiplayer or singleplayer?

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