Grand Theft Auto Doesn’t Owe The World Diverse Characters

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I usually like Molly Lambert on Grantland, but her article on Grand Theft Auto really exemplifies what is wrong with modern media.  In it she whines about there being no female playable characters on the new Grand Theft Auto game and that she’ll have to settle for playing as a female in the online version.

I’m not even sure that is a first world problem. In fact, it’s really more of a virtual XBox problem within the first world. Like a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a spoiled American gasping for enough air to bitch about a video game in between stuffing his/her face with pizza.

The game doesn’t feature any playable women, Rockstar Games co-founder and VP of creativity Dan Houser said, because “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story,” just like it has apparently been key to every previous GTA installment.

It’s frustrating, to say the least, that a vanguard company like Rockstar Games brushes off the idea of allowing for female leads with statements like Houser’s. While it’s not an outright “fuck you” to female gamers, it’s a pretty implicit one. The decision to have three characters allows for what Houser calls “nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes.” But if Rockstar really wants to showcase diverse character types, why is the company so dismissive of having a female GTA lead? But if Rockstar really wants to showcase diverse character types, why is the company so dismissive of having a female GTA lead? Houser’s statement assumes that women aren’t capable of criminality, that violence and mayhem are inherently masculine. But Houser is wrong. And as GTA continues to push the envelope for scope, story, and vision, it’s insulting that women are still excluded.

The problem with Lambert’s line of thinking is that it’s wrong to feel insulted by artwork for not meeting your standards of diversity. Houser wanted to make a game filled with men who drove around committing crimes. That’s his right as an artist. It’s his project. To require Rockstar to cast its game like an NBC sitcom – with some perfect racial combination of a friendly black guy, an Asian girl with glasses, and a bedlam of good looking white twenty somethings would ruin his vision.

Diversity is great, but it is not more important than vision. Breaking Bad and Mad Men have triumphed because AMC tells Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner to go out and make a show. They’re free of the human resources department and audience testing that requires them to rewrite the show to appeal more to New Zealand immigrants between the ages of 34-36. That’s part of the reason cable is thriving while networks are dying.

That’s not to say that Lambert can’t wish for female characters. We all want things. I want an iPhone where the battery lasts a whole day. But the fact that Apple doesn’t make one for me isn’t an insult to me. It’s not racist, or sexist, or any kind of bigotry. It’s just not what Apple wants to do. Or perhaps its simply not even what Apple can do. Just like it doesn’t make Houser sexist not to have a female playable character. Perhaps it doesn’t interest him or perhaps he’s just not good at writing female characters.

That’s Houser’s prerogative (a word I learned from the hottest music video of all time). Same as it was the prerogative of the Tomb Raider team to make a game with only a female playable character. People are allowed to make choices, and just because they didn’t create your idea of the perfect rainbow doesn’t make them bigots.

In the end, Lambert should only be pushing to make sure female game directors have the same opportunities available to men. We need equal opportunities for artists, not equal opportunities within the art. Then, once we make sure females have an equal shot at creating games, they too should be allowed to create as many male or females as they believe they need to make a compelling game.

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One thought on “Grand Theft Auto Doesn’t Owe The World Diverse Characters

  1. “I want an iPhone where the battery lasts a whole day. But the fact that Apple doesn’t make one for me isn’t an insult to me.”

    Condescension and the likening of systematic discrimination to corporate interest does not strengthen your argument.

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