Ask Anna #11: GTAV, Female Characters, and Feminism

I put off answering these questions for a long time because some are baldly antagonistic. Some are arguing points I never made. And because I've discussed these exact issues many times before. But let's knock them out once and for all, shall we?

  • You've tweeted about how GTAV isn't as satirical as people think it is. What would a satirical GTA look like from your PoV? 

More like Saints Row, maybe? Here's my question for everyone who says that GTA is satire: What point is it making? The purpose of satire is “to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” The intent is usually to change or improve society by skewering behavior or beliefs. I’m open to hearing about the ways GTA satirizes the lifestyles it depicts, because from where I’m standing, it looks much more like straightforward representation and wish-fulfillment. 

These questions are thematically related, so I'll answer them all together:

  • What do you have against GTA? It's not for you, so get over yourself and let gamers enjoy it. 
  • [Thinking about what happened with GTA V], how far do you think it is acceptable to go in the search for a more equal 'playing field'? Surely forcing [creators] to do something they aren't ready to do would create something hated across the board, and slammed for portraying the gender wrongly?
  • If we make the "feminist" changes you want to video games, aren't they just going to be sexist toward men?
  • Don't you know that girls like shooters too? Stop trying to speak for all women.

(It’s obvious when I did the open call for Ask Anna. :p)

I’m not giving detailed answers here. Recent events in the industry have raised these exact issues, and there’s been much debate about who games are for and who should have a voice.  My view, and I’ve only ever spoken for myself, is that games should reflect the diversity of their audience. Women make up half of gamers now—and I mean gamer in its broadest sense of people who play games—and I'd like to see that better reflected in media. I’m well aware that women play shooters, which is why I’d love to see more game companies acknowledge that. That’s really what my “feminist changes” come down to: better representation and inclusion for people who aren’t straight white men. That doesn’t mean banning skimpy costumes for female characters. It means giving players a choice about what they wear. And that includes letting men wear sexy costumes if they want. “Feminist changes” don’t mean banning women as sex objects. It means having a variety of well-rounded characters who aren’t just sex objects to balance out the equation. And it means letting men be sex objects too. It means more female lead characters, so women can feel what it's like to save the day. I don’t see how it’s sexist toward men to give them more options than the cookie-cutter masculinity that you see in games now. And having a wide range of female characters in games means that getting them "right" is less important. There's less weight put on one example. One character doesn’t have to be all things to all people. 

I’m also amazed by this idea that current games are an expression of unfettered creativity. I’ll tell you right now that creators are already compromising their “artistic vision” to match what marketing thinks will sell or what budget demands they cut. I know many creative people who are bored with the same old hero’s journey of the typical stubble-jawed, white male hero. There are so many other interesting stories out there that creators aren’t allowed to explore in games right now. Trust me, there are many creators who aren’t afraid of making female characters and who would love the chance to present their stories. Nobody is saying that every game has to have a female protagonist. But when there’s a missed opportunity to tell a unique story, like there was with GTAV, people are right to point that out. Critiquing is not issuing a mandate.