Female Protagonists in Video Games: Legitimate Problem or Self-Serving Agenda?


From an average person’s perspective, it probably seems strange that Grand Theft Auto V, a game full of simulated murder and other crime, would draw a noticeable amount of criticism for its lack of female protagonists. The strangest form of this criticism came from Forbes writer Paul Tassi: “GTA 5 is a great game and I wouldn’t change much about it. But I think if Rockstar wants to challenge themselves and people’s perception of them in the future, they would be wise to consider a female lead at some point, even if it’s not something we can necessarily ‘demand’ of them.”

Unlike other writers who called for GTAV to have female protagonists, Tassi is bizarrely sheepish. He implies that people have no right to judge Rockstar for a lack of female protagonists, but at the same time, he believes Rockstar should include a female protagonist in a GTA game for PR purposes. Tassi’s opinion suggests that the no-female-protagonist criticism of GTAV might point to one of two things: (1) a legitimate problem in the game or (2) a self-serving agenda for those on the lookout for “sexism” in gaming.

Based on Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser’s words, the lack of female protagonists in Grand Theft Auto V is not a legitimate problem, as “The concept of being masculine was so key to this [GTAV's] story.” The Guardian’s interview with Houser also contains this explanation about the game’s three male protagonists:

“Having three protagonists allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes,” says Houser. “Rather than seeming like you’ve got this super-criminal who can do everything effortlessly, they’re all good and bad at different things.” It also led to the creation of more rounded, believable characters. “We liked the idea of a protagonist retiring with a family, and how awful that would be. We’ve never done anything like that and you don’t really see it in games – to feed into these concepts of parenting and pseudo-parenting.”

Not only is Houser’s commentary superficial and boring, but it fails to justify why the three leads in GTAV must be men from an intellectual standpoint. Masculinity is biological and social; to imply that biology covers all things “masculine” shows a lack of sociological understanding. At the same time, the average person probably isn’t seeking sociological understanding when he or she plays Grand Theft Auto. (Whether Grand Theft Auto educates people on an unconscious level is another debate and not something I can explain.)

Houser’s limited explanation probably works fine for the majority of gamers, but what about those who still believe Rockstar should include a female protagonist in Grand Theft Auto? What are these people looking for? Equality? Lack of misogyny?

As Jon Hamlin suggests, a female protagonist wouldn’t necessarily resolve any misgivings one might have about how Grand Theft Auto treats gender. I must also raise these questions: why should anyone of any gender want representation in a crime simulation? Is there anything decent about becoming a master criminal in a decadent society? My questions are moral for good reason. The idea that Rockstar should have included a female protagonist is also a moral concept. If one is going to be moral about something, one’s overall sense of morality should be strong.

I have to be honest: I don’t think many critics of GTAV’s lack of female protagonists care about morality in general. They want to stand up for women, but they don’t seem to understand basic morality, much less the idea of moral consistency. Name one reviewer who complains every time a game doesn’t have a female protagonist, and I would call that person honest and consistent in his or her moral conviction.

Grand Theft Auto might be a horrible textbook on gender, but I also believe it’s reasonable to dismiss the criticism about GTAV’s lack of female protagonists as self-serving nonsense. Wannabe journalists for wannabe criminals.

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