GTA V And Dead Island Called Out For Depiction Of Women

When you look at the success of stuff like The Hunger Games, Gravity and Orange Is The New Black, it’s safe to say this was a pretty good year for the depiction of women in media. Just the same, though, it hasn’t all been peachy this year.

Here’s a montage by The Representation Group (who are behind Miss Representation, a film that’s been selected for the Sundance Film Festival) that recounts many of the major controversial moments for women in media this year — and video games are included. In particular, it references the infamous bloody torso that was included in a special edition of zombie game Dead Island, as well as Grand Theft Auto. The footage shown for the latter is of a stripper giving a lap dance, though the bulk of the criticism of the game, gender-wise, seemed to lie in the fact that the single-player game didn’t have any female protagonists.

Both seem like fair grounds for critique, though it would have been nice to see at least one positive for video games shown here too — sure, there’s still a long way to go, but it wasn’t all bad! I note this not to belittle any critique of gender-related stuff, video game wise — again, it’s valid — but because successes should be celebrated too.

How the Media Failed Women in 2013 [Miss Representation via Polygon]


  • Meh, leave GTA alone, maybe next time they’ll have a female protagonist, but GTAV’s characters were the best so far and worked together to make the story fantastically. I wouldn’t trade that for a token woman character.

    • exactly. having a token character in the game just because some butthurt special interest group wants it, undermines the creative integrity of the game.

      • People who are unhappy with their lives always feel the need to complain about something. It validates their existence because they feel they have something to fight for.

        How does that line go again? “I want something good to die for, to make it beautiful to live.”

        So inevitably they often come up with weak and irrational arguments to validate their tainted views. If they just relaxed for a moment and stopped playing the victim card, they’ll realize that nobody is actually out to get them. There’s way bigger issues worth fighting for in this world like poverty in Africa, real sexism and inequality in Afghanistan or political turmoil in Egypt, compared to Seth MacFarlane talking about boobs.

        And most of that stuff isn’t even sexism. People overuse the term so much that they forget what it even means. A guy enjoying boobs doesn’t make him sexist, it just makes him a guy who’s naturally hard wired to like women.

        • Spoken like a true white middle class man! Next you’ll be asking for your pay to be artificially lowered to the same rate as that of women in our perfectly equal society!

        • What a fat, useless rant. Women in GTA V are, at best, nagging wives who fuck yoga instructors. There is not one decent female character. It’s an overly macho, unremarkable depiction of the world. Red Dead had plenty of strong female characters, as did GTA IV. V was a regression of disappointment and sexism.

          Yes, it is sexism when the strongest female leads are strippers. It is not ‘trivial’ when women have no reasonable representation in the entire goddamn world of GTA V.

          • But all men are violent gun-wielding, drug-dealing people willing to kill for a quick buck.

            yep… equality…

      • also having strippers in a game is not a negative depiction of women. its something that exists in real life. So a reflection of reality if anything, portrayed through an interactive simulation

        GTA is deeper than you think. its “art” =3

        • I’m sick of all the feminist anti sex worker anti model crap in the media, plenty of women choose to do this work because that’s what they enjoy and want to do. Why can’t they be allowed to do what they want without being labelled as exploited.

      • I wouldn’t call Women a special interest group.
        Honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to cater to the other half of the population. The character doesn’t have to be “token”. It’s not that hard to make a well rounded, central female character.

        This sort of thing is were sexism exists in games, not the boobs and bums people complain about on Dragon’s Crown.

      • I’d hardly call women a ‘special interest group’. Especially since they represent half the population and just under half of the video game playing demographic. Believing that women should be fairly represented in games in no way undermines creative integrity, what’s creative about every third game using female characters as fuel for the tragic backstories of their male characters?

        Perhaps developers should try to be a little more creative in their depictions of women?

        • there is nothing stopping developers creating stories where the women are depicted in different ways or are not the tragic character etc

          the only reason you need to know is that the main demographic of customers are male. so thats what appeals to them, and they are where the money is out. Clear and simple

          Developers arent anti feminist, sexist or think women are a special interest group

          They are simply developing for their own personal artistic vision and toward a product that will make them the most money.

          Im so sick of feminists trying stir up a topic of an issue that doesnt really exist.

          Just because there are strippers in a game doesnt mean that the developers go home every night thinking every woman should be a stripper. The concept of a stripper exists, so theres nothing wrong with utilising what is essentially a FACT.

          But by not saying something else doesnt exist (i.e. by them not depicting females as the fuel for tragic backstories, doesnt mean they believe that women can only be fuel for tragic backstories.
          similarly, just because they include strippers in a game, doesnt mean they think that is all women are worth or that they do not respect women) it is merely FICTION based on concepts and ideas that exist in the real world, plucked and compiled to create a universe for a game. Not a political statement

          You are more than welcome to create a game called Grand Brokeback Bishounen and have male strippers tragically dying thus fueling the backstory of a heroine with small boobs who grows a beard over the course of the game.

          So long as you are ok with spending GTA’s $100m developer budget and $100m marketing budget in hopes that your feminist demographic will buy it and score you the same $1bn return on launch day

          Whats that? you wont do it? Why not? The fact that you wont make such a game must suggest you are anti feminist and must think women are a special interest group then because you obviously dont believe in it strong enough to front the money to prove your point

          …thats exactly the point. This is all about money, not about men or women

        • The special interest group would be ‘feminists’. Not all women care at all about this, though feminists much as ANY interest/ideological group (such as masochists on the opposite side) would have you believe that the group that represents views like this IS ‘women’ as a group.

          It is to a degree faux over representation.

    • I think you’re missing the point; the point being that there are few good female lead characters. Having token females doesn’t solve the problems, having well rounded and interesting female leads is what a lot of people are asking for. Just because GTA is an excellent game doesn’t mean it couldn’t be made better by including more diverse characters, but including less thought out characters just for the sake of it isn’t good either, there needs to be a balance.
      The problem is that the ratio of males to females in the teams designing these games is skewed, and generally men are just better are creating male characters because that’s what they know and understand.

  • Strippers are sexist now? and how is sexist for not having a female protagonist. Is it sexist that there are no women in NRL, NBA, AFL? Is Tomb Raider sexist for not having a male protag?

    Also how is the Dead Island statue thing sexist? It’s stupid and I wouldn’t want it in my house but not because it’s “sexist”. Seriously the world is too PC now.

    • It’s not really labelling it as ‘sexist’ I think with the Dead Island statue its more talking about using women’s bodies as a commodity to entice sales. GTA not so much of an issue with you there, it is .

      The point of this whole video is not to complain and be all ‘oh no everyone is so sexist’ so on and so forth but to highlight the fact that in most forms of media and advertisement women are being used as things more than people and are being represented as being nothing more than brainless eye candy.

      But yeah, the two gaming options were probably the two most minor ones in that whole video.

    • Strippers are sexist because stripping is generally seen as objectifying the person doing it and the only strippers shown in GTA are female.
      GTA isn’t sexist for not having any female leads, but it’s disappointing that so few games have strong female characters in relation to males. This also addresses the TR point.
      No, there are no women in the NRL, NBA or AFL because men and women have different sporting leagues because men are generally more athletic than women due to a variety of genetic factors.
      The dead island statue is sexist because it only shoes a woman’s torso – i.e. boobs, which again if that’s the only part of a woman seen to be worth portraying by the designers is sexist on their part.

      I agree the world is too PC now, and that people way too often seem to look for ways to be offended just to be able to retaliate, but then that’s also what a lot of chauvinistic males do when confronted with feminist ideals. Really if everyone could learn to be more empathetic the world would be a better, easier place to live in.

      • Dead Islands setting was asking for “sexist” portrayals aha. Howcome the zombie guys with their tops off and muscles showing isn’t considered just as bad? As for the collectors items.. only idiots buy those anyway 😉

    • Male protagonists in video games are the default. Therefore, complaining about the lack of male protagonists in Tomb Raider would be completely backwards. A game is not sexist because it lacks a female protagonist. This is a highly over simplified reading of the issue.

      A game *is* sexist for not offering a well-rounded depiction of it’s female characters. If a man in a game can have an interesting, well developed arc, then why can’t a woman?

      GTAV is not sexist for acknowledging the existence of strippers. It *is* sexist when the only depictions of women in the game are strippers which the game then encourages you to objectify.

      I love GTA as much as the next person. But I really don’t see why I couldn’t play the game as a female character.

      • So your saying…

        Tomb Raider is therefore misandrist for not having a strong female character in a game and all men are shown as blood thirsty killer/pirates and because it did not offer an all around male character for the male audience to relate with?

        Just as all overtly female targeted materials such as women’s magazines and romance novels are not appealing to the male audience for not showing proper time for “realistic” male models/articles?

        The lack of an option does not define one or the other. It is simply a commercial product aimed at a general group of the populace. Can it be improved to be more inclusive. Of course. That’s why there’s always a debate of “we should have better female leads”. But just because the game in itself does not cater to specific audiences does not in itself make it any more or less for or against that audience set.

    • Can’t upvote enough…damit…

      Also, I sometimes wonder if they had released a statue of a male torso whether it would have gotten anywhere near as much attention….

  • A lot of the stuff in that video was pretty bad, but GTA5 and Dead Island criticism is pretty weak. Fiction isn’t required to have a quota of male protagonists or female protagonists; GTA5 not having any female protagonists in the single player story isn’t an issue of depiction of women, it’s just that the characters they wanted to tell their story about were male.

    The Dead Island thing was overblown as well. It’s a game about zombies on a tropical resort island, zombies and corpses in swimsuits are obviously going to feature pretty prominently. They wanted a torso in the special edition, they picked a female one, no big deal. Would have worked just the same if it was a male one.

  • I’m a bit miffed they didn’t do a female protagonist in GTA5, especially since they had 3 protagonists & since franklin was so damned boring. Perfect place to put a different kind of character

    • Franklin was the best character IMO. Micheal was a whinny douche and trev was completely unrelateable. Franklin was the only character I actually found believable.

      • Franklin was meant to be the more level headed normal one, Trevor had the most depth by far in his levels of crazy though, and Michael while being a whiney bitch balanced out the extremes between the other two.

  • HANG ON a minute there, a good 50% of that is womens depictions of women in media ffs. I mean Joan Rivers for instance. Then Miley Cyrus? Rihanna? Please. Do not for a moment tell me they aren’t powerful enough to make their own choices about how they present themselves to the world…

    • @ad since you downvoted me, I’m not offended by it, but I would like to know your opposing view if possible?

    • Man, I downvoted this a whole day ago, I can’t be expected to remember why 😛

      Either it was the Miley Cyrus part – because she seems to be being played by people making a large amount of cash from her – or I missed the joke, in which case, please insert a *whoosh* over my head!

      And @mypetmonkey – I do tend to downvote a bit recklessly whenever there’s a post about gender issues as it seems to quite often bring out the overly-defensive-moving-quickly-to-attacking gaming posts (true, not quite as much on Kotaku Au as elsewhere *cough* *destructoid* *cough*) as I’m getting tired seeing people say that as they personally don’t have a problem with *insert whatever the post is about*, then there isn’t a problem. Not the same thing.

      Saying that, I’m not arguing with anyone about representation in GTAV – haven’t played it & won’t until I’m done with ACIV – but I find people defending the statue for Dead Island II to be beyond ridiculous.

      Not pointing a finger at you or @weresmurf by the way, just putting it all in the one post. Have a good weekend, all!

  • I know i will probably get argued into oblivion for this.. but people seriously need to chill and stop getting on their moral high horse so much.. i find this whole thing to be INSANELY one-sided.

    I mean, when i was in noosa last week one of the restaurants had an even complete with muscle-bound men in hula skirts and not much else serving drinks to everyone and dancing and no one batted an eyelid. me, being me, started sarcastically raving to my lovely new wife about how offensive and exploitative this treatment of men as eye candy is, which she proceeded to laugh off.

    Exploitation, sexism and misrepresentation DOES exist, but it doesn’t exist in anywhere near as many places as people seem to believe.

    • I think you’ll find most normal, rational, sane people agree with your statement

      If anyone argues you into oblivion over this, then they have issues, not you

    • I absolutely agree with you, however I feel there’s a line, especially withing video games, where the objectification becomes a problem because that’s all there is. The only women represented were shallow and had very little depth to them other than whether they’ll sleep with the character or not. There’s no problem with the strippers being in the game, as said by some others they’re a part of life, as are male strippers. The issue is that there were no male strippers, and no objectification of men to balance that. So while being factually correct in some of these topics, they were represented in a slightly biased manner.
      Still a fantastic game though, and I find playing as a female multiplayer character to be very fun and rewarding!

  • Alot of those examples were more reflective of the evangelical right saying crazy shit than mainstream public views.

  • “…it’s safe to say this was a pretty good year for the depiction of women in media.”

    and yet all I ever see, both on Kotaku and other online rags, is headlines to the contrary. How about we see some of these positive things discussed?

  • Feminism and Sexism (two different things) concerns have gotten out of hand and beyond the scope of the issue. Media depictions of Women (and Men) are not the whole issue, the attitude of people responding to the imagery is the issue.
    The issue is attitude; sex sells and until that changes, peoples will continue to confuse sexy and sexism, they will continue to confuse deserved with she asked for it.
    Much of the sexism debate needs to happen but also much of it is complete BS that needs to be called out.

  • As a female I don’t really care about the lack of female protagonists, I have friends that think I should but it’s just not on my To Rage About list. I don’t play games just because there’s female representation, if there is that’s ok and if there isn’t that’s ok too.

  • Patricia! I’m more concerned about the shocking portrayal of men in media in 2013. All shown as violent killers and people who care about nothing but sex. Take 50 Shades of Grey as an example. That’s horrible, how could anyone describe men like that. OH. MY. GOD. You should write an article about that instead of your usual ravings about women being portrayed negatively and rape jokes.

  • Ok people, the protagonists of GTAV are now Tenneille, a bipolar meth dealer with violent tendencies who flashes her vagina at people and runs around in her underwear; Michelle, a former mobster who is bribing the feds for a cushy witness protection placement who acts surprised her husband is cheating on her because she’s been ignoring him and flies off the handle causing millions of dollars in property damage, and Frankie, a tough black girl from the ghetto who’s willing to do any nasty job, even assassinating innocent jury members, if it means there’s some money in it.

    Is that better?

  • Hi Im Dan Houser.
    sorry to women everywhere for not writing a female lead into gta 5. I was recovering from a serious headwound during the writing process and could not think straight.
    had i been in my right mind i would have realised how unthinkable it is for media to have multiple male leads.
    next time il do better

  • Assuming Rockstar are planning large scale expansions like The Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony for GTA5, I think at this point I’d be reasonably surprised if they didn’t involve at least one female protagonist.

  • Everything is racist/sexist/ageist etc. etc if you want to be enough of a whinger.

    Or don’t have a life. Surely there’s better things in life to worry about. I don’t complain because I don’t see the Greek nationality represented often in the media/games/movies etc.

    Outside Acropolis Now and WogBoy we got jack shit, you don’t hear me crying. Except right now.

  • ffs… women ARE beautiful… men AREN’T!

    that’s why we depict women in sexist… men just aren’t sexy AT ALL… they’re utilitarian, like a ute or wheelbarrow!

    • Explain the utilitarian evolutionary advantage having my junk on the outside is please. I’ve been in far too many situations where that shit has been in the firing line for it to be ‘utilitarian’. Being targeted by surprise hockey pucks, excited cannonballing dogs, accidentally catching a remote control helicopter with counter-rotating for dual testicular destruction, slipping on wooden balancing beams during mud runs and cross-country punishment PT by vindictive PTIs, accidentally sitting on them incorrectly… I mean how is any of this a utility for me???

  • I read an interview with a modern feminist and a womens rights activist from the sixties and it ended with them coming to an agreement that many people today are misrepresenting the issue. Today it’s based upon the personal insecurities we all have, about not being portrayed as the way people want to be seen. It’s weird to think that when i see a movie, i think “a person would never do that” if something ridiculous happens. If a woman sees this do they immediately think “a woman would never do that… But a man would”? I mean with the assertion that we don’t have mature depiction of women comes the inference that we have perfect depiction of men. Which characters are these exactly? The ones that tell me i like guns, which i don’t? That i like cars, which i don’t? The ones that tell me i’m a homicidal maniac, which i’m not?

    We’ve had so many ridiculous calls for more women in entertainment because women aren’t being portrayed correctly by men when women have been writing men brilliantly for years. Most of Breaking Bad was written by a woman and no one got bent out of shape. So know there’s also this idea that modern feminism holds where women can write men and women but men can only write men. The concept of gender equality is one i’m firmly behind but this is not equality. In a quest for respect there’s almost been a total loss of empathy for men that’s been replaced with a resentment. This is not equality. One day you’ll realise how selfish it is to move past that and ask the world to bow to your insecurities. The world isn’t a perfect place but it takes everyone working together, discussing, empathising and understanding eachother to initiate progress. You don’t get to name yourself judge and start waving your finger at everything you don’t like in the name of your cause.

  • If they got a female GTA lead there would probably be an uproar on depicting a woman as a drug dealer etc.

    Honestly, do they miss the fact that GTA depicts men as slobby, aggressive swearing machines that are happy to kill for cash? Or was that missed out when they saw a strip club in a game and went “but thats depicting real life too well!”

    • Hold on a sec…. women can deal drugs just as good as men. Perhaps, but I reckon they probably just wanted male strippers in the game too…

      • I woulda loved a side mission where you think you have to save a stripper, and it turns out to be a male one and you get all annoyed about it baha! 😛

  • Hmm. I wonder what their view of Saints Row would be. It’s got Kendra and Shaundi, both of which are pretty positive strong female characters in major roles. Random gang members can typically be any race or gender. While sex is played slightly differently for males, sexuality is mostly used for comedy over titillation. The game encourages you (through achievements) to gender swap, and while obviously not intentionally a pro-transgender move the cast treat you as your chosen gender at any given point.
    Homosexuality is treated as a joke, but it’s not hostile and again most sexuality in the game is treated as a joke. If memory serves correctly there’s more male full frontal nudity than female.

    Does that make Saints Row more PC than GTAV or Dead Island?

    • I actually really enjoy saints row! I feel like it does a much better job of balancing representation of both genders because it is obviously a tongue in cheek experience. Both the men and women have varied personalities and take action within the story that reflects that.

      I think that because saints row in no way tries to mimic reality it also comes away much less offensive, and I enjoy how certain actions and interactions are not restricted based upon the gender you choose, that’s what helps it break the mold.

  • Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love Saints Row as a series. I think it deserves way more credit than it gets. I’m also a big fan of dealing with complex issues by removing the restrictions of reality too. 3rd Rock from the Sun managed to explore human emotion better than most dramas precisely because it was a comedy about ridiculous aliens experiencing humanity for the first time.
    I’m just pointing out how if you go by politically correct guidelines it actually comes out ahead of most games. It really highlights how when you try to break things down into simple yes/no politically correct rules it doesn’t work. These things are complex and require a mind to make those judgement calls. You can’t just flow chart this stuff. You can’t say the male to female cast member list must fall between 3:1 and 1:3 and anything else is unacceptable.
    Political correctness exists to make it possible to deliver a speech to a million people you’re not actually engaging with without offending anyone. It sort of works for that. However you can’t just shoehorn it into everything else. Especially games and movies where engaging the audience personally is required.

    @estinne Sorry, that was meant as a reply.

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