Grand Theft Auto 5's Gender Problem

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Grand Theft Auto Five is out today. It'll most certainly be another huge hit for Rockstar Games. And it's already the highest-rated game ever reviewed on Metacritic. It also, unfortunately, has the crappy gender politics of every blockbuster video game release since the beginning of time. 


Here's the New York Times, who interviewed Sam Houser (one of Rockstar's co-founders)

For all that the game does right, it has a genuinely problematic aspect that is not its enthusiasm for violence or sex but its lack of interest in women as something other than lustful airheads (notwithstanding a late-game cameo by Houser's mother, Geraldine Moffat, a British actress of the 1960s and ’70s). One of the only young women in the game not oversexed and under-read is sucked into a jet turbine.

When I asked Mr. Houser if he had thought about the portrayal of women in Rockstar’s games, he said, “Seemingly not as much as I should have.” He added: “These three guys fit with the story we wanted to tell. It would be hard to take one of them and replace him — I mean, I suppose we could have done it, early enough on — with a female character."

Meanwhile, in the video game press, Gamespot had this aside in their review:

GTA V is an imperfect yet astounding game that has great characters and an innovative and exciting narrative structure, even if the story it uses that structure to tell is hobbled at times by inconsistent character behavior, muddled political messages and rampant misogyny. 

They rated the game a 9.00/10, which suggests that rampant misogyny will dock you about .33 points, give or take.

I'm worried that on this blog in general, I'm writing too much as a scold. So rather than yelling at the commercial video game industry for its refusal to depict women as anything other than comically absurd sex objects, I guess I'll say I'm genuinely curious why that is.

If you look at other entertainment industries, like film or television, you can see plenty of entertainment that shares cultural values with the big blockbuster game franchises. Hell, cable TV, everyone's favorite cultural star pupil, leans hard on male protagonists in their mid-40s. But in most forms that aren't video games, you see a diversity of perspectives and representation, even in the blockbuster realm. Why can't video games have an Orange is the New Black?