Let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Not everybody agrees that Grand Theft Auto is misogynistic. It’s a curious case of seeing misogyny in the game, knowing it’s misogyny, but saying it doesn’t count, because the entire game is satire, and satire isn’t offensive. I get it, I know what satire is, and I also know Grand Theft Auto is interested in representing people’s darkest natures.
Grand Theft Auto is relentless in how much it treats every single person like shit. But when reviews for GTA 5 first came out, fans attacked reviewers who mentioned their discomfort with misogynistic themes and torture scenes. Some female reviewers in particular bore the brunt of this, resulting in them receiving the very sorts of misogynistic abuse they criticised in the game’s from the its biggest fans, bringing the whole thing full circle.
Here’s the thing about satire – it’s not very good if it’s just what happens in real life, and the way fans treated these reviewers (many of whom still scored it very highly) was close to the way men treated women in the game. I haven’t played Grand Theft Auto 5 in years, since I first played it on my Xbox 360 aged 17, but I remember that my baby feminist brain was having a hard time wrapping itself around what I was being presented with. I understood what I was looking at was satire, but it still made me very uncomfortable. I thought about the times men had spoken to me derisively, objectifying me, and wondered what was funny about it now that it was transplanted straight into a video game, and who the satire was designed to mock. The women in these games didn’t really do anything, they weren’t important to the story, they were just there to be ragged on. It felt like a low blow that women were being treated this way in the game while the men that treated them badly were given full character arcs and even shots at redemption.
Many people have spoken about, and debated, the misogyny in GTA 5, and I’m not interested in delving deep into it. My question is, would this still stand today, and is Take-Two willing to take the risk? We’re in a time when huge franchises like The Last of Us and Horizon are headed by, not just women, but women who date women, and they’re still making tons of money. Some of the world’s most popular media criticises wealth, the upper-class, and does so in a thoughtful way without having to punch down. There is room for satire without indulging the misogynistic behaviour of man-trolls whose hobbies include sending women hate on the internet, and the world was a lot more tolerant of this when the last game was released ten years ago. Not so much now.
We all know the world is much more polarised now, and video games have to approach their writing with a lot more delicacy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the protagonist is a woman this time round, giving women real autonomy in the Grand Theft Auto world for the first time instead of being cheating bitches or sex workers you can run over with your car. I believe Grand Theft Auto 6 might, incredibly, not hate women quite as much as its predecessor did, just by virtue of you being able to see the world through a woman’s eyes. It allows women to not always be the butt of the joke, but make the jokes. Women have been satirised through men’s eyes in all these games, and we might finally get to see men through a woman’s.
I would not put money on this. I don’t really have faith in corporations to adhere to any moral principles, let alone progressive values. Grand Theft Auto 6 is one of the most anticipated games right now, especially now that there’s speculation that it will be released next year. Regardless of how it treats its NPCs, it will make a lot of money. I am hoping it will give us biting social satire, the excellent gameplay it’s known for, and finally, a female character who doesn’t get shit on the entire time, but I’m not holding my breath. Misogyny makes money, after all.
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