GTA V and the Ick of Being a Gamer

gta box artPlease refer to the this Tumblr post as I do not have the ability to make an image at the moment.

So, as you might guess, I’m playing GTA V at the usual snail’s crawl pace I play every video game because I’m a completist (completionist? We need to finalize this word). I must discover everything. I’m nearing the 45% marker and I have to say it’s probably the best GTA yet, with San Andreas just behind it. I’ll save my fuller thoughts on the game and my opinion of IV for another day. Today, the key issue I want to explore is the rise of male gamers feeling threatened by those who criticize the sexist and chauvinistic streak in the game (and, as it happens, feel threatened by the existence of female gamers).

Take another looks at the image in that Tumblr post. Here’s the problem with GTA V: I’m enjoying it a great deal, but I don’t espouse the attitudes of the Youtube commenter. I don’t think the game is giving me my balls back. As it happens, no one ever took them. I also don’t look to a video game to give me, ahem, titillation.

What I want from GTA is some silly mayhem, not a digital strip club. The game features a strip club mechanic, the object of which is to get the stripper to take you home for an night of “hot coffee.” While the Youtuber seems to get off on poorly rendered digital boobies, I find the whole thing absurd. Such a minigame makes sense in the hyper-real satire of GTA, but it’s still kind of crass and if there is a satirical point to be made by gaming digital strippers into unseen digital sex, it’s certainly lost on a part of the fanbase.

Then again, this is the same game series that tried to make sex itself a minigame. Satire may not be the point.

And while the mere presence of the strip club mechanic does the game no favors, more troublesome is the storyline itself. The main characters are compelling for various reasons, but the few female characters I’ve seen at the 45% completion mark are generally unlikable and fit into the usual tropes and stereotypes: Michael’s wife is an ungrateful, spendthrifty shrew who screws around with her high-priced fitness instructors, his daughter a fame-whore just short of doing the deed to get her fame; Franklin’s aunt pretends to get in shape and in touch with her “girl power.” Trevor is the only character to have a friendly female presence, so far, by way of Maude, a Jabba-esque bounty hunter who sends Trevor off to capture bail-jumpers. It’s interesting that the only female voice that could be interpreted in the game — at least as far as I’ve played — as “sympathetic” is drawn physically grotesque. I’m not entirely sure what the take-away is supposed to be from that.

Seriously, the game has actually affection for her.

Seriously, Trevor and the game have actual affection for her.

Other women encountered include a militant fitness nut, a shitty actress who fakes being “barely legal,” but gets off on anal, and another actress who is terrified of the paparazzi, but turns immediately ungrateful when you rescue her from their lenses. These loosely-formed characters are meant to be parodies of women as viewed in a hyper-masculine world, but they still feed into that mindset. It makes the game, a technical marvel, tougher to enjoy.

This is actual game footage.

This is actual game footage.

And the choads carrying on about the need to reclaim their manhood via this game isn’t making it any easier.

It’s astonishing to watch this tide of resentment appear as video games, the entire past time, are pretty much evenly distributed between the sexes now. Some are genuinely threatened by the appearance of women in their hobby. Me? I’m pretty happy to know some fantastic women I can talk games with; I fail to see how it’s a threat. Then again, I’m not the most masculine person out there, otherwise, I might be terrified or something because someone noticed parts of a game I like are sexist and misogynistic.

To even allow a video game so much power that a few valid criticisms of its sexist content threaten your identity is just … well, sad. Ron Swanson would be ashamed of you.


“Now go out and kill a deer.”

About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
This entry was posted in Armchair Philosophy, Level Up, Nerd Alert and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to GTA V and the Ick of Being a Gamer

  1. Interesting comments. I enjoyed reading that. I’ve not played GTA V yet, but have played enough of the series to know what’s what.

    I’m with you entirely on this – I can’t abide all these extremes in the commentary/debate over a game – especially when some controversial, noisy nutter like your tweeter gets heard and makes good, honest gamers like you & I look bad. I’m a family man, who plays casually nowadays, who is just looking for, as you put it, some ridiculous distraction, some mayhem (to use your words), and some silly escapism.

    As to the sexism & misogyny – GTA has always been about the worst of society. The portrayal of women and the female characters are pretty awful, but, do you know what, I don’t think the male characters are exactly the best representation of modern masculinity either….

    • Erik says:

      You’re right, pretty much everyone in GTA is morally corrupt. That’s the overall satirical point of the series.

      I think the sexist content is getting a little more scrutiny this time around because there’s an larger discussion of sexism in gaming at the moment and GTA, the marquee brand of the industry, reflects the culture in its absurd way. It offers very obvious examples and will be seen by the widest pool of gamers by far. It’s a topic worth discussing, just as its worth discussing the torture mission, the amazing amount of detail the game engine can get from the outdated hardware and the interesting interplay between Michael and Franklin as the story begins. Hell, the fact there’s even a story to talk about is a leap forward for the series.

      I don’t think the more critical voices of the sexist content are necessarily looking for the best representation you’re referring to, either. Though the playable characters of GTA V are criminals, they have various shades to their characters. Even Trevor, the most morally flexible and deplorable character, is a hoot to play because of the layering of his awfulness. In the random encounters, you can even choose to let him foil some muggings. When he returns the cash to the victim, he’ll quip, “well, that’s my good deed for the day!” The women of the game, except for Maude, are one-note jokes. There are no shades or even personalities to them. That’s not just sexist, it’s also a fundamental flaw of the writing as every joke lobbed in the lap of a female character is the same one: “Women be shallow bitches.” There are other jokes and comments that can be made in the game, but it requires giving female characters personalities in order to do them.

      • Clint says:

        I started playing Borderlands 2 this past week and am outright astonished at how much nuance is pumped into its female cast, up to and including the game being unafraid to portray them as crazy as the men. As you say GTA V has a bunch of crazy bitches in it, but there’s a key difference: GTA’s women seem to be approached from that same ol’ shallow perspective that wants you to just brush them off as being nothing more than rewards or obstacles. The B2 approach seems much more egalitarian, and that’s a really weird thing to say given its genre and subject matter. But it doesn’t detract from the experience, any more than Machete became any less awesome for happening to pass the Bechdel Test. That’s probably the most important lesson to take away.

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