Grand Theft Auto: A Woman Behind the Wheel

It’s no secret that the Grand Theft Auto series is aimed at a male demographic. All of the protagonists correspond to the grizzled, hyper-masculine image of a hardened criminal, and female prostitutes have been a staple of the game since the beginning. Women may be present as side characters, but even as side characters they generally get less of the spotlight. From what little I know of games pertaining to the criminal underworld, the lack of a positive (or influential) influence isn’t abnormal.

But why isn’t it abnormal? Cultural presumptions, surely. Films like ScarfaceThe Godfather, and Goodfellas, the basis for these kinds of games, are male-centric. It’s likely that the heads of Rockstar Games simply don’t see any point in including women because they don’t directly correspond to the intended demographic. However, is that really a good enough reason not to reach out to their female fan-base?

Uh…not like that.

As is true of just about every franchise, women in fact do play Grand Theft Auto. For whatever, female players are able to derive the same pleasure out of these games as males, yet they aren’t equally represented. What I wonder, then, is why Rockstar Games doesn’t take a shot at giving their next Grand Theft Auto game an optional female protagonist?

It isn’t that novel of a concept. The Mass Effect series has no doubt profited from this decision, as have precursor series such as PokemonAnimal Crossing, the Mega Man series (in ZX), and even Halo. Adding a playable female character probably wouldn’t be that hard, and it could open up some potentially interesting new ideas (such as adding male prostitutes. Just saying).

Of course, this possible course of action is not without its dissenters. In an article posted on Cheat Code Central, titled Mistakes We Hope Grand Theft Auto V Won’t Make, author Josh Engen calls the incorporation of a female protagonist “a terrible idea.” To further bring their point home, Engen claims that “there are better ways to get the media’s attention than to just drop a slutty chick into the GTA universe,” and that it would “change the tone of the series.”

What, a woman driver? Le gasp!

What universal constant says that a female protagonist has to be “slutty”? It is both incredibly presumptuous and offensive to suggest that the current GTA standard for women to be prostitutes, girlfriends, or the daughters of mobsters prevents things from ever getting better. Moreover, this article’s slant brings to mind Freud’s Madonna-whore complex. Whether or not the writer intended to do so, this article conflates moral ambiguity with sexuality, which is a complete double standard as compared to men.

Admittedly, the tone of Engen’s article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of employees at Rockstar Games. As previously mentioned, this could be the result of a perceived lack in female demographic. It could also be the result of the lack of prominent female criminals, as opposed to the legions of male crime bosses and drug lords. Maybe the GTA series is trying to reflect the harsh reality that women don’t hold much power in the criminal underworld.

Except this isn’t true. There have been numerous female kingpins of various organizations, many of whom are still active. A well-known example is Bonnie Parker, half of the duo known as Bonnie & Clyde (and to top it off, her name comes first). Other examples include Judy Moran (head of the Moran family in Melbourne, Australia), Xie Caiping (a Chinese woman who owned a chain of casinos and made a living beating up cops), Maria Licciardi (who took over and improved upon the Licciardi family in Naples after her husband and brothers were incarcerated), Stephanie St. Clair (who went to war with another crime family over Harlem territory in the 1930’s), and Griselda Blanco (a Godmother credited with bringing cocaine to Miami). So yes, women can (and do) climb up the ladder in criminal organizations, and prostitution is not a prerequisite.

Bonnie Parker, first woman to prove that women’s hearts can beat cold blood.

But then again, having women as playable characters in a video game about violent crime would still be pretty controversial, right? Well clearly not, because the Saints Row series beat GTA to the punch. Starting in Saints Row 2, players could choose a female character (of course since the story picks up from the point of view of the male protagonist from the first game, this does raise some interesting questions). Furthermore, male or female, the player is the boss of their own gang, with a parallel story throughout each route. Suddenly the female question doesn’t sound so complicated, does it?

For the progressive gangster.

As for the claim that including women would fundamentally change the series: so what? It could change a little (again, we might see male prostitutes), but who says that kind of change is bad? Maybe having a female protagonist would allow for new storytelling opportunities or inventive gameplay elements, but we’ll never know for sure unless Rockstar Games gives it a shot.

My Sources:

Engen, Josh. “Mistakes We Hope Grand Theft Auto V Won’t Make” Cheat Code Central. Copyright 2013, Cheat Code Central.

Gane-McCalla, Casey. “Top 5 Most Notorious Female Gangsters Of All-Time.” Newsone. Copyright ©2013, Interactive One.

Zehra. “Top Ten Gangster Females of the World.” The Listicles.


  2 comments for “Grand Theft Auto: A Woman Behind the Wheel

  1. Kip Casper
    February 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I think the real difference between Grand Theft Auto and the other games you mentioned is tone. Grand Theft Auto and other Rockstar games (e.g. Max Payne, Red Dead Redemption) have been dark, gritty, and semi-realistic. While you may encounter yetis in RDR or climb to the Statue of Liberty to shoot a pidgeon in GTA, the core gameplay experience has always been centered around one character with a compelling story. You become Niko Bellic.

    If we compare this to Saints Row, you find a completely different game. Your character can be anybody. You could choose to represent yourself, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, or some odd-looking naked monstrosity with a Team Fortress 2 mask. Saints Row lets you play the game your way, and if you choose to run through the streets smacking rival gangs with marital aids that is your decision. The game’s story is really just an excuse to introduce you to the wild shenanigans the developers programmed.

    You compare Grand Theft Auto to films like Scarface and the Godfather which is more than apt. Rockstar wants Grand Theft Auto to be one of these iconic films. The script for GTAV is rumored to be 1,000 pages long. Unlike Saints Row, Rockstar uses its game world to force you into a story, and while you can have your fun it still ultimately wants you to finish that story. Grand Theft Auto can’t let you swap genders any more than you could refilm Goodfellas with swapped genders and no difference. The protagonists can’t be interchangeable, because the story tries to make you one person.

    Shepard and “Fem-Shep” are the biggest example of gender swapping in gaming, and it works! It is fantastic to see such a strong female lead, with minimal tweaking to the story. The difference, however, is no two protagonists are alike. Even two male Shepards with the same backstory and appearance will be completely different by the end. Hell, in ME2 your appearance changes based on personality so you won’t even physically resemble each other. It makes for a fantastic experience, and you certainly feel like Shepard, but Mass Effect is a game about choice. Grand Theft Auto is not.

    The only other option is to have a completely gender-neutral game like Pokemon or Animal Crossing where gender has little if any impact, and you are never treated differently. In my opinion it could work, Rockstar has enough talent to make sure it does, but I’m still concerned this isn’t the right way to go about things.

    I’m totally in agreement, there is no reason Grand Theft Auto couldn’t have a strong female lead. The only difference is there shouldn’t be a choice. Grand Theft Auto isn’t a game about choice, and GTAV apparently has all its protagonists prepared. You will become the three characters they chose. There will be no femShepards because the characters are closely interwoven with each other.

    The best way, then, to include a female character is to give her a game of her own. While there will be worry about hurting the game’s sales, Rockstar is best when they create their own story. While it is too late to add somebody into GTAV, why not make a female protagonist the focus of DLC? Both DLC packs for Grand Theft Auto were full blown expansions, well-received by fans and critics alike. Since Rockstar has shown they don’t just throw out half-assed expansions, why not give a female protagonist her own 20+ hour expansion? It doesn’t hurt GTAV’s initial sales, and it will give them the chance to really create a Bonnie Parker of their own.

  2. jabbott2
    February 28, 2013 at 1:53 am


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