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Misogyny and Grand Theft Auto V

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Words By Jordan Noton
 

Rockstar Games are no strangers to controversy. From the schoolyard sandbox of Bully – or Canis Canem Edit, after its censorship in England – to the graphic mutilation and murder action of Manhunt, Rockstar has faced heavy criticism within the gaming world and the world at large. I remember Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas being headline news on the television for bringing sex, strippers and violence to the living room. But with Grand Theft Auto V, the multi-million dollar grossing chapter in Rockstar’s epic crime series, the writers, developers and publishers are coming under fire from games journalists for being misogynistic. Having blasted my way through the story and side missions and encountering first-hand the men and women of San Andreas, I can’t emphasise how much I disagree with this accusation.

To begin with, GTA V is a man’s story. Three men, to be precise. Michael, the middle-aged depressive who’s stuck in witness protection after a life of crime; Franklin, the aspiring youth who wants to break away from gangbanging in the ghetto and make something of his life; and Trevor, the meth-cooking, ass-kicking and occasionally cross-dressing lunatic with a short fuse. Michael and Franklin feel oppressed by the women in their lives, but Michael’s wife and Franklin’s aunt aren’t the problem, they’re the ones shouldering the blame for the guys’ boredom and frustrations. Michael sits by his pool and drinks himself silly, whilst Franklin either sits in his room or rolls with his equally static friend, Lamar. Even before Trevor is introduced, GTA V makes it crystal clear that the women in Los Santos are a lot more independent than the men. From Amanda’s decision to leave Michael until he fixes his life, to Denise marching past Franklin with her girlfriends, shouting in unison that they are women, it’s bitingly obvious that females don’t play second fiddle to the gung-ho, gunslinging gangsters above.


From the raging fitness freak Mary Ann who pushes all three characters to their physical limits in sporting events, to Mrs. Mendoza, the only person capable of humanizing the repulsive, cannibalistic Trevor, to the ill-fated Debra who takes a stand against the madman, a direct contrast to the feeble, helpless Johnny Klebitz (interestingly, a former protagonist in the series), GTA V‘s supporting females are every bit as memorable as the supporting males, if not more so. This is also seen in ‘Chattersphere’, a radio station hosted by Michelle Minx and supported by Lazlow, a jaded hasn’t-been celebrity who is repeatedly ridiculed during the game and on the show for being a misogynist and a failure. He repeatedly shows, during the show, that he can’t handle being on equal terms with his ‘co-host’ Michelle, and tries to forget his true position as ‘assistant to the host’. Whilst women may fall victim to the villainous males of the game, they’re always flying high above them from a moralistic standpoint. Which is why the suggestion that Rockstar has a ‘serious issues with women’, made by Carolyn Petit of Gamespot, or the idea that there ‘are more interesting female characters on Grand Theft Auto 5‘s disc art than there are in Grand Theft Auto 5‘, put forth by Chris Plante of Polygon, not only undermines the writing of GTA V and the product overall, but also makes me question whether these individuals understood the core themes and messages behind female characters within the game.

GTA V portrays misogynistic viewpoints and dialogue as a character statement about the men behind them. They reveal their insecurities, their bottled up rage, their inability to overcome the female element without obliterating it completely. The moment Trevor’s mother turns up in the game, reducing the man-eating monster, who takes down private armies without breaking a sweat, to tears, making him drop to his knees, I knew I had to write this post. There are no playable females in the single player – unlike multiplayer, which allowed the player to choose their gender on its release in October – because it is integral to the story that we play as these lost souls, that we see the world through their eyes.

 

The game creates misogynistic characters and pushes them onto us to make a point, the same way American History X shows the lives of neo-Nazis but isn’t a racist movie. The inability to understand or comprehend this by critics is painful, as, like a novel or a motion picture, a videogame as complex as GTA V needs to be deciphered or analysed carefully. For Petit to state that the game ‘has a strain of misogynistic nastiness running through it’ is incredibly short-sighted and feels like an attempt to push GTA as a scapegoat in the gaming world, a world which is struggling to understand how to appease feminists and the LGBT community. I quote and challenge both Carolyn Petit and Chris Plante with respect, not animosity, but I implore them to replay the game and think carefully about why men and women in the game say, think, and act the way they do.

In closing, it feels like any game bearing the title ‘Grand Theft Auto’, will always bring controversy with it. Similar flack has been aimed at Rockstar for the inclusion of a player-controlled torture scene, despite the relatively tame violence when compared to highly successful films like Saw and Hostel, as well as the anti-torture tirade that follows (which I will admit felt very heavy-handed, and conflicted with the nature of the character). However, Grand Theft Auto should be recognised for the ever progressive form of entertainment that it is, and with over $800 million earned a week after its launch, Rockstar show no signs of slowing down.


Jordan Noton is a second year English and Film student at MMU who writes about gaming, film, media and current events. You can read his blog at jordannotonblog.blogspot.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @jordanjabroni

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