Problematic Fave: GTA V

Hi readers! It’s Mod Zan coming at you with her problematic fave. I’ll always take a chance to talk about things that I love, and I’m pretty excited to have a discussion about one of my most-played games of all time. There are no games that exist (or any media of any kind if we want to be a little more general) that aren’t problematic. It’s in our nature to enjoy things that may not hit all of our filthy SJW criteria, and I’m certainly no exception to that rule. I can think of quite a few well-loved games that are at a minimum problematic and sometimes downright offensive.

The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the longest-standing popular sandbox games, and it set a bit of a precedent for most of the sandboxes that followed it. GTA is one of the first examples that people go to when engaging in the classic “violent video games cause violence” discourse, and also one of the first that people go to as an example of a toxically masculine wet dream full of rampant misogyny and homophobia. Most of the criticisms that I’ve seen, feminist and otherwise, are pretty spot-on. However, this didn’t stop me from diving into GTA V when I got it for christmas a couple of years ago, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy a really solid portion of that game. The online mode is one of the only multiplayer games that I still regularly engage in, and even though it is a perfect example of the above issues with feminism in gaming, it’s one of my favorite games to play.

“Why?” You ask, confused. Or alternatively, “Duh,” you say. “GTA is one of the most fun games that has ever come out. Why wouldn’t you play it?”
First, as I’ve said before, I’m a story girl. And even more intensely, I’m a character girl. I live for games with awesome characterization, and though I didn’t go into GTA V expecting much out of the three main characters, I found myself genuinely interested in the stories of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. All three of them had distinct lives, personalities, and skills that all made sense for their lives as criminals. All of them (with the exception of Trevor, to be honest), were also relatively sympathetic in one way or another. You rooted for them throughout the story despite their personalities being displayed as flawed, and morality as neutral at best. The game does an excellent job of portraying the struggles of a washed-up criminal, a young guy trying to do better for himself, and a raging redneck with nothing to lose and everything to gain. All three of them were enjoyable and I rarely found myself bored while doing their story missions. And, most importantly, I never found myself wondering why one of them would ever agree to do something incredibly dangerous. It was well-done, and the plot was executed beautifully.

Graphically, the game is also nothing short of gorgeous. The scenery is varied, the color palette is vibrant, and the visual subtleties of things like switching characters, beginning missions, and more was always smooth and delightful. The houses they all lived in had evidence of each character’s life beyond what was happening in the game, and the outfits available for all of them were fun for the player to purchase and wear. Dress-up is an integral part of many games for me, and this is no exception.

The online mode takes character customization through the roof in the way of buying property, cars, and clothes as well as colorful weapons to fully immerse yourself in the universe. Though the silent protagonist is tired, for a multiplayer mode to an already full game it works relatively well. The additions to the game kept it fresh and new, and I’m still playing years after its release.

Though I have a lot of love for this game, it wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t mention the parts where it falls short. As previously stated, the female characters in GTA V are nonexistent at best, and shallow stereotypes of the “bitch” archetype at worst. Even Michael’s wife and daughter, who are likely the most developed women in the game, could easily be exchanged for a sexy table lamp with very few changes in the plot. They’re unlikeable, shallow, and serve only as cannon fodder for Michael’s character development. I would kill for a lady protagonist in GTA, but I have no idea how long it’s going to take for that to happen.

Trevor as a character is, in general, problematic. He is an admitted bisexual, which looks great on paper for representation but quickly falls apart under greater scrutiny. He’s violent, mildly unhinged, and spends a lot of time playing with the transmisogynistic dude-in-a-dress joke that gets old quickly and doesn’t do anything to help his character. Granted, he is never presented as a good person and is often condemned for his actions by the other protagonists, but having the first bisexual character in GTA be presented as a murdering hillbilly is a bit disappointing. Franklin makes great strides as an African-American protagonist, and I really enjoyed seeing him grow throughout the story, but he and many of the POC side characters fit the stereotype of a “thug” that we often see of black characters in video games and movies.    

As for the online function, the physical feature creator in the beginning is admittedly atrocious. I’ve never seen something more impossible to use that produces such poor results. Lamar hits on you relentlessly in the beginning if you choose to play as a lady, which is a bit irritating (but her cold rejection is refreshing). Both in the online and story modes, the game’s treatment of sex workers is atrocious. That could be a whole article in itself, but needless to say GTA has a long way to go before it can ever be called sex positive.

The game is clearly not perfect, but despite its flaws outlined above, I believe that it is the best installment in the GTA franchise to date. It’s important to criticize the shortcomings of your favorite games, but in all honesty, if we refused to play every game that’s problematic we’d have no games to play. Progress is an uphill battle and though I was mildly impressed with GTA V, I’d love to see even more in the next game Rockstar brings to the table.

Thanks for reading everyone, and I’ll see you next time with even more of my guilty pleasures.

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