Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 1, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 1, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Opinion: The tragedy of Grand Theft Auto V Exclusive
Opinion: The tragedy of  Grand Theft Auto V
September 20, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

September 20, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
Comments
    141 comments
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive



With all the talk about "open world," "mayhem," and "power fantasy," it's easy to forget how confining the Grand Theft Auto series now feels, writes Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander.

I wanted to do something nice for Michael. He'd been rejected in turn by each member of his family, as it seems he is every day. Even with medication and therapy he can't seem to deal with his anger or find a sense of purpose, and his doctor is hiking up the treatment rate again.

I'm controlling this guy Michael, standing on an LA sidewalk at sunny midday. I pull out his phone and I go through his contacts and I dial every single one.

The only one who answers is accidental pal Franklin, a young car thief trying to go legit. The bewilderment in Franklin's voice is palpable -- why is Michael calling? We just saw each other, man.

Michael is standing on a sidewalk, graying hair, dorky polo and cargo shorts, peering down at his phone as cars whizz past on some bleak LA highway. The sky takes on a late-day tinge and if I don't press anything he will stand there forever, looking sad, waiting for someone to call.

[][][]


With all the talk about "open world," "mayhem," and "power fantasy," it's easy to forget how confining the Grand Theft Auto series now feels: All of that endless vista, and you with your eyes too-often glued to the mini-map. Orbiting missions and objectives that dot your map like bites to be scratched. You have to shoot. For a game defined by its attitude to freedom and openness, it gives you very little liberty to escape its structure. You can go for a drive, or play tennis or do yoga, but you're delaying the inevitable.

To make progress, you eventually submit to going to a place, and you drive there, and pull up, and you're in it, and only after a long pause do you realize nothing begins until your car touches, precisely, the indicator halo in the middle of the sidewalk.

I feel for the characters in this game: They're living lives on rails, and they can't seem to get out, nor reconcile how to be happy and secure given the directions they've chosen. As Franklin, I drove for miles and miles away from the neighborhood where I've been taking over my cousin's tow truck shifts to keep him and his awful girlfriend afloat while they struggle with crack addiction. I drove what felt like forever, and I rode my bike the wrong way down a train tunnel and emerged on a railway bridge at dawn.

I had Franklin take out his phone to snap the view. It was the first time I'd used the phone in the game, and I noticed I could click the right stick to make Franklin turn the camera around on himself. The character model's position, expression -- phone at arm's length, slightly angled, the selfie-expression open, bewildered, positive -- was perfect. Innocent, even. I don't belong to Rockstar Social Club, the social network membership required for me to be able to save photos, but I took it anyway, pretending Franklin could show his unhinged friend Lamar back home, the one who claims his "Apache blood" forces him to escalate dangerous gangland conflicts.

Then the train came. It struck my parked bike, and then me. I saw Franklin's stunned and mangled body. Then I saw him dazedly exit some small town hospital, as if the adventure had all been a dream. There really wasn't anything else for me to do but drive back. Find another mission. Probably kill some more faceless gangsters, in a game where the best compliment you can give to its third-person shooting is that it's practically automated.

This game gives me everything, and yet I can't stop feeling sad. Trapped.

[][][]


The "mayhem" thing, the freedom thing. I remember when that was an actual feature of Grand Theft Auto: I've always said Vice City was my favorite game in the series, drenched in the mad, manic excesses of 1980s Miami. You killed every gyrating bunny in a dance club because you could: not just because there was a freshness to the gesture, a newness, a transgressive excitement, but because the garish world felt so silly, so impermanent. You never even dirtied your awful polyester. I'm sure I died again and again and didn't mind. It wasn't a real world, not really. It was a story of a set of values in a certain time, just like San Andreas, a hyper-textured early-90s hip-hop video -- where you could also drive weary and wary through the fires of the L.A. race riots. That was a thing.

Punching out a stranger for cash is something I could do in pointy-collared Tommy Vercetti's blocky world, or even in C.J.s, as a way of asserting control, of taking ownership of whatever bleak expectations people had of me. It's important to me to tell you that, in Vice City I chased down a prostitute in the rain and beat her to get my money back. I mean, I think I did that a lot -- hired and beat a lot of prostitutes -- just the one in the rain is the one I remember, cackling madly because Foreigner's "I've been waiting for a girl like you" was on my car radio. These were the times GTA felt illicit, rebellious, guilty, challenging.

I had to confide about the prostitutes, because I'm one of the people who said I thought it would have been better if GTA V let you play as a woman, and that I thought the game was misogynistic. I still feel that way, but it's not because I'm offended, or because I'm sensitive, or because I want to intervene upon anyone's vision, or because I regret the things I did in older games. It's because I want new monsters. It's because I want to be shocked again.

When Vice City came out, we had a young man doing heists and punching upward against expectations, misconceptions and the traditional boundaries of "permissible" game content. It's more than a decade later, and we have all grown up, and we're given an old man shuffling around his expensive pool in a dorky polo, doing the same heists. We have yet more characters who cannot get out.

I remember old Grand Theft Auto: You're driving around, and you see a car you've never seen before, and it looks expensive, and you want it. And when you fight for it and you shake the cops and you bring down the helicopter and you repair and re-paint the car, and you finally, wincing every tiny turn, drive that fucker to your garage because you worked for it? You felt the needle move.

In GTA V you shoot down a police helicopter within the first couple of hours, with no consequences. I feel gluttonous and bored. I start the game with a gorgeous car because I am a car "reposesser." And if I see another car I want, I pull over and I get it. When my fender gets too banged up, I pull over and I get another car. Nobody ever even really stops me. Neither GTA IV or GTA V have ever given me, personally, a Wanted Star for stealing a car.

I throw some poor guy into the street and I take the car. Some poor lady. I always like to know what they were listening to on the radio when I drive off, unpunished.

Am I coming up in the world, or am I just throwing terrified people into the road?

The thing that feels the most "correct" in GTA V is to drive within the lines, to stop at red lights, to try to do the right thing. To try to call people for Michael to hang out with. To make sure he goes to his doctors' appointments.

[][][]


Where do I go from here? Edge concluded its GTA V review with the quote "Beat that." Do I have to? What constitutes "more" when you have enough? What constitutes transgression when you're some mean, over-the-hill bully?

GTA V is that character -- the $800 million man who doesn't know what to do next. Who used to be a rebel, who pulled the same damn tricks until they stopped working, and then kept doing it.

I know that's not what Rockstar wants. I read all the Dan Houser interviews that are parceled out so rarely, always about vision and never about execution. Always about games and Hollywood, as if there's a competition, and about how interactivity offers us the potential to tell better stories than we did before. In that regard, GTA V is profoundly disappointing: One of the earliest jokes in the game involves a dog doing another dog in the butt. The game is constantly grating you with frat humor whenever you're trying to Have a Moment with it.

Always prescient, the game aims to lampoon the modern obsession with smart devices, social networks -- none-too-subtle "LifeInvader" subs for Facebook, and "Bleater" for Twitter -- and internet politics, but is mostly heavy-handed about it: any elderly pundit at a middle-American local paper can skewer Twitter as an outlet for narcissists' boring snippets. "Information isn't about imparting knowledge anymore," gloats Bleater obtusely, "the internet changed all that."

This is watching your sharp, witty father start telling old fart jokes as his mind slows down. And as much as the internet is habituated to defending GTA as "satire," what is it satirizing, if everything is either sad or awful? Where is the "satire" when the awful parts no longer seem edgy or provocative, just attempts at catch-all "offense" that aren't honed enough to even connect?

Here's a series that has been creating real, meaningful friction with conventional entertainment for as long as I can remember, and rather than push the envelope by creating new kinds of monsters, it's reciting the same old gangland fantasies, like a college boy who can't stop staring at the Godfather II poster on his wall, talking about how he's gonna be a big Hollywood director in between bong rips. You call the trading index BAWSAQ? Oh, bro, you're so funny, you're gonna be huge.

Everything it seems you'd want to compare GTA to, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad, includes interesting and antagonistic women. GTA is not brave. Anna Gunn gets death threats for her incredible performance of Skyler White, the primary antagonist to Breaking Bad's Walter. You can't avert your eyes from their scenes in this last season. That is brave.

Whenever cinema and dialogue start happening on GTA V, I check Twitter. What am I doing this mission? I don't know, chasing the yellow dot, as always. Killing the red ones.

All a video game had to do to be seen as brave, edgy, risk-taking again would be to give it a shot: Try to write a monstrous woman, a frustrated woman, a hungry, opportunistic woman, and treat her frailties with nuance. This isn't something even TV and cinema regularly knock out of the park.

Instead, we have another GTA. It is so big, and so beautiful, and it's fundamentally just another GTA. It's good. I like it. It's fun to mess around in. It's like an SUV through a glass storefront, declaring that you cannot ignore video games.

We can't help but acknowledge what Rockstar has wrought: No one has ever seen a game world this size, this lifelike. If you squint a little, it almost looks completely real, creepy-real. It approximates the absurdist fantasies futurists have always had about video game, it is like what a movie about the future thinks video games are. Can you do this? Yes. Can you do this? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sometimes it's too smart for video games, and too cool: The impeccably-curated music selections for the game's radio stations, or the way the game's light behaves, warm, slow haloes flickering across a low-riding luxury car. It understands cool-hunting, power-hunger.

And it's ruthlessly researched that you have to be dazzled, as if in the presence of a mothership of a mind much more observant, much more well-traveled, possessed of much more social wisdom than you, some chump holding the controller.

And still: so confined, so trapped, so tragic. A shame.

[][][]


I drive my shiny car around Los Santos and I kind of wish I had a turn signal. Stranded in traffic, I honk the horn over and over again, and nobody moves. I am triangulated by some missions, none of which I really want to do, stuck in the city's web of repetition. I want to do something nice for Michael. I want to get him out of this sad, sad cycle. It seems to be what he really wants. I can hear it in every note of his pained, excellent voice performance.

My son and daughter have ditched me at the beach. I ride the roller coaster all by myself, a slow, cotton candy sunset-tinged arc across a neverending beach vista. Walking along the beach, I press the wrong button by accident and swing my hairy fist impotently at the sunset, at nothing.

It's dark, maybe. But it's not brave. It's not that funny. It's not a power fantasy, it's not your escape. It's just sad.


Related Jobs

DoubleDown Interactive
DoubleDown Interactive — Seattle, Washington, United States
[09.30.14]

Game Designer
Machine Zone
Machine Zone — Palo Alto, California, United States
[09.30.14]

Game Designer
Raven Software / Activision
Raven Software / Activision — Madison, Wisconsin, United States
[09.30.14]

Lead Engineer - Raven
Trendy Entertainment
Trendy Entertainment — Gainesville, Florida, United States
[09.29.14]

Tools Programmer










Comments


Sean Monica
profile image
Thanks for writing a cool article.
I feel like I want to ask you a lot of personal questions as from this you might have something going on inside yourself that may be a problem :p. I think you're the first person i've heard talk like this about the game which is cool not another tag along article. The only question I had though, is it not true though that most real open world games often fail? I mean from past examples. Whenever players are given a real open world game with little guidance the game itself empties out. I wont list anything to avoid any opinions but i'm just going from facts. Anyway, thanks again!

Kevin Fishburne
profile image
Good point Sean. Open world games empty out because one quickly discovers the inputs and every possible gameplay output. As long as the outputs are more complex and satisfying than a narrative event open world gameplay will remain engaging and defy predictability.

GTA probably has a lot of story, so I'm guessing the online portion is for the hard core sandboxers? No idea.

Jean-Marc Wellers
profile image
Indeed, Sandboxers will probably be the main population for online part.

Nick Harris
profile image
GTA fails because its many systems are largely compartmentalised. Halo 3 multiplayer succeeds because its scarce systems are highly interrelated and actually create a far larger space of possibilities on repeated exploration. As it differs in genre it may be fairer to compare GTA to Far Cry 3 or Crackdown, both of which iterated their core systems until their combination became fun.

Case in point, getting a tattoo has no practical benefit in the world of GTA V, whereas it makes all the difference in the world in Far Cry 3. An existential misanthropic psychopathy characterizes its parody of criminality, but the script is too sweary to be funny. Well, it has numbed my ears and made me lose all empathy with the protagonists.

Deny them suncream and let them burn.

Sean Monica
profile image
Nick I gota say man, you have to follow your stuff with IMO. A bold claim like GTA fails is huge to say, especially when economically and rated it has succeed :P Thats factual friend. I mean I'm not arguing with you here just going off facts of sales and how many have already rated it across many things. Just want to keep it an intellectual conversation here k.

Kevin Fishburne
profile image
Yes, throw ALL their parts into a fire. Individual screams will emit from each of them! A cacophony of multi-timbral shrieks. Yes.

Kevin Fishburne
profile image
One could summarize the misunderstanding of the social implications of the passage of time with your article. I don't know about GTAV specifically, but it sounds like bemoaning everyone staring down at their phone. It sounds like an accurate depiction of how people think about life right now. It is sad, but it's not just the game.

Allan Munyika
profile image
Sounds like a trip to uncanny valley. We will undoubtedly see more of this in the coming generation as game developers lazily decide to use the spike in computing power to create even better graphics and ignore all other aspects of games.

Johnathon Swift
profile image
Oh certainly, but it's not like GTA V didn't advance in the AI or physics department. The cops no longer have a homing beacon on you, meaning they go and look around for you as best they can, which is a huge improvement over 4. There's also acknowledgment of cellphones now, as random civilians will call your crimes in and distant cops will converge on the position you committed the crime, giving you a chance to get away over fences or down back alleys.

It's just that the actual missions haven't opened up in terms of progression. Which is a shame in and of itself, but not to say that nothing else has changed or advanced. AI has of course a million miles to go in games, and it may be a shame that it's not being advance as much as "yet more graphics!" but that's no reason to pick on a game that's done better than its predecessor.

Benjamin Foxworthy
profile image
Great article! Very interesting take on the game, so thanks for writing this.

I love your observations about transgression... Vice City was so edgy in its irreverence, but the whole shtick has become merely expected in games. Killing a prostitute in 2002 was perhaps a statement, and arguably even art? - but now it's just a stereotype. It's not that the game is worse than before, it just deserves more scrutiny, because we've been here before and the bar has been raised.

What does GTA have left to say, now that it's values have become so dominant? For that matter, what does this generation of mostly white, male, 30ish game developers have left to say? I don't think the answer is "nothing" - lots of smart & talented people out there - but maybe some soul searching is overdue?

I will probably enjoy the game regardless (nostalgia if nothing else), but I wonder if the industry is turning a corner. Maybe in hindsight, GTAV will eventually be seen as a "last hurrah" for the Vice City generation.

Jakub Majewski
profile image
"For that matter, what does this generation of mostly white, male, 30ish game developers have left to say?"

You know, it really bothers me when people just casually drop racist and sexist comments like this, almost as if they were universally accepted facts. Have we really reached the point where it's universally accepted "fact" that white men cannot create anything other than GTA, in the same way that 60-70 years ago it was universally accepted "fact" that blacks cannot possibly handle something as complex as an aeroplane?

Again: "Mostly white, male, 30ish game developers".

Really? Is that their problem? The reason they have nothing to say is because they're white, male and 30? If some of them were black, they'd have more to say? If some were women, they'd have more to say? You know what blacks and women do in the games industry? The same thing the white men do, buddy - they make GTAs and CoDs.

Now, I know you go on to say that there's lots of smart and talented people out there, and they can do more - but very clearly, you do think that being white and male is a limitation, otherwise you wouldn't even mention it.

Of course, silly "politically correct" racism and sexism aside, the lack of creativity is a real and genuine problem. But that's what makes statements like yours all the more idiotic - if you really think having more women and minorities onboard will solve anything, check out Hollywood. Film directors are certainly a much more diverse lot now than they were back in the 1950s and 60s... so why is it that all they seem capable of are sequels?

Kris Graft
profile image
You left out the sentence that came immediately after the sentence that you cherry-picked:

"For that matter, what does this generation of mostly white, male, 30ish game developers have left to say? I don't think the answer is "nothing" - lots of smart & talented people out there - but maybe some soul searching is overdue?"

Jakub Majewski
profile image
Nope, I went on to respond to that as well:

"Now, I know you go on to say that there's lots of smart and talented people out there, and they can do more - but very clearly, you do think that being white and male is a limitation, otherwise you wouldn't even mention it."

My point isn't that Benjamin is saying white men can't do anything right - my point is that if anyone tried to say the reverse, the racism police would immediately be on top of him.

Seriously, can you imagine the reaction, if someone here posted a comment like the one above, about a game developed in Africa? Talking about the game's low quality, and offhandedly mentioning that most of its developers were black? And would it get him off the hook, if he went on to add that there's lots of smart & talented blacks out there?

I am near-certain that had Benjamin not picked on the one ethnic group that can be freely insulted today without falling foul of political correctness, his comment would have been deleted.

John Handling
profile image
What I find interesting about this, though, is what seems to be the suggestion that this 'soul searching' isn't already a reality. Maybe not in AAA, but certainly in indie. What about Cart Life? Actual Sunlight? I Get This Call Every Day?

I think journalists like to pretend these games don't exist when they want to make this sort of point, and they know they can get away with it because so many people have not played them. But they're out there. There are lots of 'soulful' white dudes in their 30s making games.

Daniel NyeGriffiths
profile image
70 years ago the War Department had complied with the Appropriations Bill amendment signed in 1939 mandating that funds be assigned to train African-American pilots, and African-American airmen were flying combat missions. I'm not sure that's a great example.

60 years ago, give or take, Benjamin Davis was accepting a promotion to Brigadier General in the USAF.

I'm not entirely sure history supports your assertion.

Kris Graft
profile image
"Racism police." You mean the people who don't like racism? I'm thinking you better tone it down! I hear sirens.

Rob Wright
profile image
I was about to post "Reverse racism/sexism comment in 3, 2, 1..." but apparently I'm WAY too late....

Michael Joseph
profile image
Maybe Benjamin Foxworthy will amend or clarify his remarks. Perhaps what he's talking about is the fact that we humans can stagnate quite easily if we aren't careful. If people are not careful maybe they'll have that one great early success and for the rest of their careers be stuck trying to recreate that same tired experience over and over again but always falling short because in-between work and familial obligations and spending the remaining free downtime goofing off (bars, gaming, tv) to unwind, we stopped growing and instead just became stuck in time intellectually, philosophically, politically, spiritually and emotionally. This is one of the hidden costs of working 40+ hours a week for 40 or 50 years. You stagnate. What new insights can you share with the world through your creations when you haven't grown in the 20 years since your first hit came out?

It's no small wonder so much of what has been fresh and new in our industry over the past 50 years were made by people in their early 20s.

Michael Ball
profile image
That in no way invalidates his observation that at one point it was thought that blacks couldn't possibly handle something as complex as an aeroplane.

Drew Ayers
profile image
Jakub: Are you denying that personal history and experience affect how we see and experience the world? Personal and cultural experience is profoundly impacted by things like ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, country of origin, etc., and that shows up in the art people create. If I'm reading Benjamin's comment correctly, I think he's implying that there's a paucity of experience represented at the upper levels of game design. It's not that "mostly white, male, 30ish game developers" have nothing interesting to say, but their viewpoints represent a tiny fraction of human experience.

And your comment about Hollywood directors is simply incorrect. Or, I guess you could define "much more diverse" as shifting from 0 to a handful of women and black directors. (It wasn't until 1969's THE LEARNING TREE that a major studio film was helmed by a black director. Yes, there were black filmmakers before 1969, but they didn't work with the major studios.) I'll let you do the research for yourself, but do a quick tally of women and minority directors directing major Hollywood films. There aren't a whole heck of a lot.

Again, it's not that white guys have nothing to say. It's that art and culture can be made richer by including a more diverse collection of voices and experiences.

Guillaume Couture
profile image
Being white and being male ascribes us to certain life experiences, a certain understanding of culture and society. It is certainly not uniform, but you'll find much more similarities in the values of a group dominated by white males than if you compare it to a group dominated by indigenous women, for example. So the first aspect of criticizing the over-representation of white male perspective is the idea that it limits originality and society depictions.

The second aspect is the idea that being white and being male are privileges, in the sense that they are statistically linked to power and dominating social behavior. White men are typically richer and typically tend to be more encouraged to have entrepreneurship. In a capitalist system, money is the currency that indicates power. Although one can see masculinity as a burden, it is one that drives the individual towards power. On the other hand, femininity is a burden that drives the individual towards submission. Other examples of privileges that work the same way would be the absence of disabilities or impairments, cis identity (not trans), heterosexual identity, upper social class, etc.

ni po
profile image
You missed the point. The idea isn't that white males are only good for one thing or that someone of a different ethnicity or gender would be better. In fact, your extrapolation is part and parcel of the Victimocracy of white males these days. Hopefully a time of awakening will come, but until then, we are just going to have to keep explaining white privilege to defensive white males in their 30s.

The world was built by and for white males. In doing so, white males have a fluidity in social networks that provides them more opportunity and freedom. A lot more, in fact, and it is statistically demonstrable (from incarceration to income to health outcomes). Point being: you can't really be "racist" or "sexist" against the dominant culture in any functionally meaningful sense. Prejudiced? Bigoted? Sure. But it's the very lack of awareness of their privilege that leads white males to get so defensive when their privilege is called into question; they become understandably confused; most of them don't even really know what you're talking about. We should all start taking it upon ourselves to teach white males to be mindful of their privilege.

To the matter at hand: the video game industry is rife with (actual) sexism and racism, and it's precisely because the industry is dominated by the dominant culture. Harmless mentions like the ones in this comment/article are simply a call for white males to be mindful of their privilege. In doing so, we can expand our understanding of character creation; we can not begin to understand other people until we understand ourselves.

Daniel NyeGriffiths
profile image
It's useful to observe what people are observing before telling other people what their observation is. Here's what Jakub actually, in fact, words-on-page observed:

"Have we really reached the point where it's universally accepted "fact" that white men cannot create anything other than GTA, in the same way that 60-70 years ago it was universally accepted "fact" that blacks cannot possibly handle something as complex as an aeroplane?"

This is simply factually incorrect. Black people did not get to fly aeroplanes very much 70 years ago, because of racism - structural racism that both made it hard for black people to be in a position to train as pilots, and the specific racism of the organisations hiring pilots from pilot school.

However, it is manifestly untrue that it was a universally accepted fact that black people were not thought able to handle aeroplanes, even 60-70 years ago. 70 years ago you had black Americans trained to fly and sent to fight by the US. 60 years ago one of those airmen became the first African-American Air Force officer to achieve flag rank. 59 years ago, to be exact, but I think the point stands.

So, here's the useful takeout here - if you want to lecture people about racism, and the history of racism, as part of accusing them of racism, then it's good to _know what you are talking about_.

Now, if you'd like me to address the observation that _you_ are saying Jakub made, which he did not, then we could talk about that. Bessie Coleman was flying planes in the 20s, within a decade of Glenn Curtiss' Aerodrome and the effective beginning of commercial powered flight. She had to move to France to learn to fly, but I don't think that necessarily supports the observation that you are claiming was made.

Rather, it demonstrates a wholly different observation - that _racists_ have not believed that black people could handle an aeroplane since pretty much the beginning of the age of flight. It just happens that the number of racists who believe that, and the acceptability of them sharing their views, has dwindled over time.

In 1939 it had dwindled enough for Congress to mandate that the US Army Air Corps recognise the reality that black Americans could fight for their country in the air, and that this asset was being neglected. In 1943, 70 years ago, it had dwindled to the point that those airmen were flying combat missions. In 1954 it had dwindled to the point that one of those airmen could become a general in what was by then the USAF. And so on.

There are no doubt still people who believe that black people are not competent to fly aeroplanes, in the teeth of the evidence, _because they are racists_. If by "it was thought", you just mean "somebody, somewhere thought this at some point", then that is absolutely correct, but it's not hugely indicative of anything.

In this case, in particular, it's odd to talk about racist attitudes towards black people in history because it's not really relevant to what's being said.

Here's what Benjamin Foxworthy actually wrote:

"What does GTA have left to say, now that it's values have become so dominant? For that matter, what does this generation of mostly white, male, 30ish game developers have left to say? I don't think the answer is "nothing" - lots of smart & talented people out there - but maybe some soul searching is overdue?"

It becomes clear pretty quickly that he is not saying that white men cannot make games that are not GTA games. So, the easy answer to the question Jakub actually asks:

"Have we really reached the point where it's universally accepted "fact" that white men cannot create anything other than GTA, in the same way that 60-70 years ago it was universally accepted "fact" that blacks cannot possibly handle something as complex as an aeroplane?"

is "no, we have not really reached that point". Followed by "In fact, that's such a counterintuitive reading of the statement that it makes it look like you might just be looking for something to be offended by."

Possibly followed by "Also, if you are seriously equating 'the current generation of senior game developers being criticised for a lack of innovation' with 'black people being kept out of high-status professions by systematic racism', then I think there may be a sense-of-proportion issue here."

So, yeah. Jakub created a hypothetical world in which Benjamin said "white male developers can only make GTA V". He then created another hypothetical world in which 60-70 years ago it was universally believed that black people were unable to fly aeroplanes. You have now made up another hypothetical world in which he did not do that, and simply observed that "at one point it was thought that blacks couldn't possibly handle something as complex as an aeroplane".

All these worlds are interesting, and discussing them might lead to some interesting further hypotheses, but getting them mixed up with the world we actually inhabit just leads to a really confusing discussion.

Benjamin Foxworthy
profile image
Wow, baffled by this response.

First, I'm white, male, and 30ish. Maybe that gives my statement some context?

Second, the statement "this group of artists is creatively stagnant" is very different from "this racial group is incapable of a skill".

If more developers were non-white and/or women, they might have different things to say. That doesn't mean white men are inferior, merely that they are expressing cultural viewpoints that have already been expressed.

Diana Hsu
profile image
Just out of curiosity, what are the cultural viewpoints that white men are expressing that have already been expressed?

Elwood Blues
profile image
Racism and sexism imply larger cultural biases against disenfranchised groups. There's no such thing as "politically correct racism and sexism". At least in the US, there's no such thing as racism against whites or sexism against men. These are privileged groups. There may be cases of discrimination, exclusion, or stereotyping, but the *isms don't apply. HTH.

Luke Meeken
profile image
He was obviously referring to the fact that a largely homogeneous group will have a necessarily more limited pool of potential experience to draw from creatively than a largely heterogeneous group.

He's not making a racist claim that white men have nothing to say while black women have plenty to say. He's saying that a group that is predominately - or entirely - within a single demographic bubble, and which has been producing media from within that bubble for three decades already, may have to work harder to tell new kinds of stories and create new kinds of media than either a.) a group with a wider variety of live experiences and perspectives to draw from, or b.) a group whose life experiences haven't already ubiquitously informed games up until this point.

Michael Pianta
profile image
I have to say I do think it's problematic to talk about people in categorical terms. When we shoehorn people into broad categories, as though that explains some (or all) aspect(s) of their life or behavior, we are in danger of forgetting the inherent uniqueness of each individual and our individual experiences. It reminds me of art school, where often times you learn these general rules of human proportion (so many heads high, etc). These types of rules are useful to an extent but applied to real human beings they are all wrong. They are correct in the abstract but totally wrong in every particular instance. No real person is so idealized in their proportions. Similarly "white privilege" or whatever concept you choose is perhaps real in some large statistical sense, but at the individual level everyone has various combinations of good and bad things that have happened to them and these personal experiences are way more meaningful than any larger sociological identity.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kevin Forest
profile image
"What does GTA have left to say, now that it's values have become so dominant? For that matter, what does this generation of mostly white, male, 30ish game developers have left to say? I don't think the answer is "nothing" - lots of smart & talented people out there - but maybe some soul searching is overdue?"

If you remove "mostly white, male, 30ish" from your sentence, you still make a similar point about your feelings of the game industry without taking the position that the [insert problem here] is due to white, male, 30ish men.

As an alternative, if you happen to know that Rockstar is made up of "mostly white, male, 30ish game developers" you could replace "this generation" with "Rockstar's current crop of" to make a point that doesn't your feelings about a single studios shortcomings on an entire industry.

One final thing, the "I'm a [insert demographic here] so it's ok if I discriminate against them" defence doesn't help me take your comments more seriously or paint them in a better light.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Alex Covic
profile image
I have GTA IV running on one of my machines (PC) to this day... as an elaborate screensaver. I call it "ambient gaming".

Occasionally I look at the traffic patterns, or discover some animations of two cops (inside a car) while Nico's car is waiting at a traffic sign. How many have ever seen that animation? Seeing some workers, smoking outside a "Burger Shot", in their uniforms. Bums running up to me, asking for a dollar ...

The world of GTA is sad. It is a caricature of real America to the point in time, where I don't know the difference between the one and the other, anymore. Of course, it is a sad game, Leigh?

Brennan Paterson
profile image
I like your story very much. I didn't play GTA but after reading your story. I become to consider to try it. I might enjoy the game too and be able to experience what you have experienced. It may not be the exact feeling as you feel but somehow I can have beautiful story to tell about GTA.

Jed Hubic
profile image
Why do I feel like this article, is really just about the game only having male protagonists? GTA V basically let's you do more than any previous GTA, and never really promises anything it's not. I also think the charm of GTA is it's heavy handed humor that they've had from the start. If it tried to be too edgy and take itself too seriously I'd personally find that worse. At the end of the day it's GTA and I'm glad it's not trying to be something else. Sometimes you want something more in a game, but sometimes you just want something that let's you mess shit up really really well.

Jakub Majewski
profile image
Well, that's feminism for you in all its ugly, sexist glory. You find a game boring and derivative? Well, oh my, it would be *so* much better if the main character was a *woman* :).

Kris Graft
profile image
Leigh gives a pretty good reason why she -- as a player, not just a critic -- would've liked to see a woman as a protagonist.

"I had to confide about the prostitutes, because I'm one of the people who said I thought it would have been better if GTA V let you play as a woman, and that I thought the game was misogynistic. I still feel that way, but it's not because I'm offended, or because I'm sensitive, or because I want to intervene upon anyone's vision, or because I regret the things I did in older games. It's because I want new monsters. It's because I want to be shocked again."

Daniel NyeGriffiths
profile image
Well, it's a tough question, because it's basically a psychological inquiry that only you can ultimately answer, but I would probably say "because it mentions the lack of a female playable character, and you focused in on it to the exclusion of the rest of the content".

Oliver Reid-Smith
profile image
It's much, much more than just the gender of the main characters. I find it hard to describe, and Leigh does a pretty excellent job here.

Personally, I found the opening sections with Franklin positively surreal. It was like playing Memento: The Video Game; I have no idea who I am, or where I am, but a man is running, and so I'm chasing after him.

From there, every character seems written to be as stereotypical and cliched as humanly possible. If there's going to be a computer nerd, then he has to be a nasal, myopic, asthmatic cripple - because that says computer nerd. Right?

It's like the game is trapped in what everyone expects it to be, and justified on the same grounds. It's always been like this, so it always should, even as the rest of the world moves on.

I don't know. It remains a remarkable technical achievement, and the mechanics are still great fun to play with. However, I can't escape thinking that in a time when TV is putting out material like Breaking Bad and Justified, satirising dumb cliches by acting dumb just doesn't have the bite it used to ten years ago. The rest of the world has got so much smarter in the meantime.

Jakub Majewski
profile image
Yes, yes, she wants to be shocked by the novelty of playing as a woman protagonist. I did read the article, also the bit where she explained why she felt that such a charater would be shocking. But come on, Kris, does this change in any way the fact that the word "woman" seems to be the key to her criticism? :)

To me, it's a case of ideology-inspired magical thinking - the notion that GTA would suddenly become sparkling fresh because of the novelty of a monstrous female character is absurd. It would still be the same game. Would a woman beating up prostitutes (male or female, don't matter) be shocking? No, because it's more of the same, only with the roles flipped.

I do tend to agree with Leigh's article overall, by the way. It's a good article, and very sound criticism of GTA V - I just don't think her proposed solution makes sense.

Rob Wright
profile image
@Jakub I'm not sure if this is your stated goal, but you're coming across as EXTREMELY threatened by the fact that ONE video game critic is taking issue with the game and its gender roles in a massive sea of positive reviews and effusive critical praise, and you seem to be honing in on the fact that the critic in question is a woman.

I'm beginning to think this is exactly why Rockstar didn't have a playbale female character in this game.

Marijn Lems
profile image
@Rob Wright

I kind of drew that conclusion after he said:

"that's feminism for you in all its ugly, sexist glory."

Or the mental gymnastics he showed off in casting white males (of which I'm one, BTW) as an oppressed ethnic group.

Rob Wright
profile image
Look, I'm not trying to get into name-calling or personal insults. I just think Jakub's comments here is indicative of what Kris wrote about in his column yesterday, and I think this hive mind backlash against any criticism that's even REMOTELY gender related may be part of the reason that Rockstar didn't go there with female characters. You can call it pandering to the masses, or you can call it a smart biz decision to give the majority of gamers what they want. But I believe it was conscious decision whatever the reason, and it's ultimately based on the reality that you're more likely to see comments about GTA like Jakub's than Leigh's.

Alexander Muscat
profile image
The charm of GTA used to entirely be constant unrestrained chaos and absurd nonsense. I can't say I enjoyed the turn to a rigid, confined story lathered seriousness in GTA IV or the dropping of an open ended faction structure by the third in favour of cinematics and more scripting. But nonetheless, the series promised something new. Maybe it's time for a different approach to what it promises? As much as I have liked these games since the first I can empathise with Leigh's point.

Mike Jenkins
profile image
"ONE video game critic is taking issue with the game and its gender roles in a massive sea of positive reviews and effusive critical praise"

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with your overall point, but you haven't looked very hard, there are several major sites which take their social agenda cues from Gamasutra. If you need help, start with Polygon and Gamespot's reviews. I'll provide more if you require.

Rob Wright
profile image
@Mike

"there are several major sites which take their social agenda cues from Gamasutra."

Ha! This is hilarious. Yes, Gamasutra and Leigh Alexander...influencing social opinions across the Interwebs one gaming site at a time.

I think what you meant was, there are several major sites that have offered similar perspective on gender and social issues regarding GTAV. I love Gamasutra and all, but I think you're overstating things.

And more to the point, I've looked at quite a few reviews and critical analysis of GTAV. And yes, Polygon made note of the "poorly drawn women" on its way to giving the game a 9.5 score, hardly an indictment of the content.

Ditto for the GameSpot review, which I just read, actually, and is penned by a woman. She calls the game "profoundly misogynistic" and yet...incredibly fun?

I'll leave you with the last line of Petit's GameSpot review.

"Your time in Los Santos may leave you with a few psychological scars, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from visiting."

I'm sure you'll be able to tell the difference between that and and what Leigh wrote.

Rob Wright
profile image
Oh and Mike? I just saw this, thought you'd like to read it. I think it illustrates one of my previous comments pretty well:

"Gamers petition for sacking of GameSpot writer who criticised GTAV for misogyny"

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/gamers-petition-for-sacking-of-gam
espot-writer-who-criticised-gtav-for-misogyny/0121238

Jakub Majewski
profile image
Now, hang on a sec, Rob - I don't quite see how I can be giving the impression that am I threatened by Leigh's review, given that I even stated outright that I agree with the general gist of her article. I think she is fundamentally right in her assessment of GTA V, and ultimately the only thing I disagree on is that having a female main character would improve the game.

And to be clear, I also am not in any way against having a female main character in there. All I'm saying is that the flaws that Leigh describes in her article have nothing, utterly nothing to do with the sex of the main character. For this reason, I did take issue with her "see, it would be better with a woman" stance, because it simply is grounded in ideology instead of reality.

Rob Wright
profile image
@Jakub I'll take your word for it that you're not threatened, but you'll forgive me for making the assumption about reading earlier post about femisim and its "ugly, sexist glory."

To your larger point, having a female playable character in GTA V wouldn't suddenly balance out the legions of negative portrayals of women in the game. But that's not really what the column is stating -- the author is lamenting the fact that GTA V doesn't feel compelling, and part of the reason is the main characters aren't relatable to her. I find this criticism to be entirely valid and not knee-jerk idealogy. As a male gamer, I would have been much more interested in a female GTA-type character for this installment rather than just another male lead like the series has delivered so many times before. I've played Tommy Vercetti, Carl Johnson, and Niko Bellic. I want something new/

Dane MacMahon
profile image
Like I say below in my long response, gaming seems to be the only type of media where people think writing in a male voice is wrong. This is, in my opinion, because we lack alternatives in the marketplace, rather than there being something inherently bad about males writing in the male voice.

Mike Jenkins
profile image
Are you serious Rob? In what way does that illustrate your point?

And no, there is clearly a "me too" progressive movement among certain writers. If you think this is all springing up at the same time coincidentally, you are incredibly naive.

Charles Miller
profile image
"Why do I feel like this article, is really just about the game only having male protagonists?"

Probably because you went into reading the article mentally primed about the GTA misogyny debate, and as a result the couple of mentions of that subject in the context of a much longer discussion leapt out with far more prominence than they objectively deserved.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Jed Hubic
profile image
Ummm...yah so I never jumped to any conclusions about gender, also I don't really see the name Leigh as only feminine.

No offense but people like you are the worst. Someone says one thing in a discussion, and you can't wait to extrapolate it to larger issues of sexism in the most condescending, and uneducated way possible, just waiting to mold the faintest reason into a hardcore rant about issues to prove a point no one cares about.

Also way to assume anyone with an opposing viewpoint is a white male, sound logic there skipper. People like you are entirely the problem, and the main reason why the internet is good for a laugh, while you take a break from reality.

Simply put the author's mention of a female protagonist and how it would change GTA V is a point among other within the article myself and many other people (likely white males, aged 25 -28, wearing baseball caps, with rusty blonde hair, and size 10.5 feet, every single one of them), disagreed with. It's not some subversive comment meant to bait armchair activists like yourself, or bring down women. It's simply people "commenting" back to the author, with diverging viewpoints, there have been no personal attacks other than by condescending people, with a holier than thou complex. I'm sorry if people disagreeing with you means they're all idiots, but you know that's the world we live in.

Diagnose away, I'm sure I'm an idiot and you know better, you seem to be pretty big on yourself. I can't wait to solve real issues on the comments section of website that's largely gone to shizit. Also guess my gender, age, cultural background, and place of origin! You can't start throwing these mind blowing accurate guesses and not give the crowd some more!

Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
To be honest, what happens with me, is not just about female characters, but the fact that the industry has advanced a lot since GTA San Andreas, but the Game hasn't.
Oddly enough even Red dead Redemption showed a fair bit more maturity within a similar system.
What happens is that, its fine if THE NEXT iteration of a game gives you more of the same, but when time passes, the failures of its originals become more obvious, and in contrast with the emotional advances of games such as TLOU, become even more glaring.
(Of course, completely different, but still contrasts the way that drama is handled)

About the humor, that too evolves, endless satire of everything wears thin, and players tend to expect more as time goes by. Vice city's humor was entertaining for me, it didn't break the fantasy, San Andreas managed to still keep it sufficiently divided. But in GTA4 the never ending stream of Southpark worthy humor DID manage to clash with every other aspect of the game. (I have only started 5, but I can see how it's pointing in the same direction)
In this sense, even Saints Row manages to be more cohesive in its tone.

I personally would gladly welcome more interesting female characters, but as a whole what I'm missing in GTA as a whole is more MEANINGFUL characters of any sex. Throughout my play of GTA4, people came and went, without ever really having any impact, I remember there was an undercover police lady that tried to seduce you at the beginning of the game, and after a certain mission, she just disappeared never to be seen or heard from again.

But that is not only the case for her, Most characters in the game only constitute forgettable stepping stones towards the completion, a completion that, for the record, fails to really mean anything to the main character. By the end of the GTA4, I felt that Nico was less developed and interesting as a character than at the beginning of the game (how can THAT happen?).

Oddly enough, again Saint's Row, with all its bombastic, over the top stupidity, manages to connect you to the characters in a far more significant way.

Now as for Men or Woman characters, a story should obviously have as many of each as needed, but it does seem sometimes that women in GTAs are used as meaningless proxys for the fulfillment of a required standard.

For example, in The Sopranos, which shares a lot of plot similarities with some of these games, although the story revolves around male characters, the female characters ( notably The psychologist and The wife, are portrayed as pretty strong characters and they do bring a lot to the weight of the narrative as a whole.

In any case, I think I'm gonna take some time before I continue playing GTA5, until I can shake off the hype and the expectations.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Rich Chatwin
profile image
Interesting read. I've only just got GTAV so can't really comment, but my thoughts are:

1. yes, they really should have included a female main character. It would have been an interesting change from before (and probably allowed some good humour lines when frequenting prostitutes/strip clubs etc. Or maybe male versions of these?)

2. I think your expectations are too high- ultimately it is a game, so there are limits. And complaining about respawning from a hospital? That's standard GTA!

3. Great point about the flash cars. I remember playing the first game and you're absolutely right, it was such a thrill to find a nice car and manage to keep it. You also had to wait because the nice cars only showed up in later areas. I 100% agree that it's a shame they dropped this, it would be much better in the later games if they made you work for your nice cars!

Bob Fox
profile image
Complaining about lack of nuance in GTA is like complaining McDonalds is not a high class restaurant. That's not what they are about. Gaming is a business, so it does only what is necessary to maximize profits.

Christian Nutt
profile image
Tell that to Dan Houser.

William Garroutte
profile image
There's this moment early in the game, on one of Franklin's side missions. He meets a loathsome paparazzo, who repels both Franklin and myself. The paparazzo provides no incentive to help out - not to Franklin, monetarily, and not to me, entertainmently (totally a word).

Franklin shakes his head, asks, "Why am I even doing this?" And then the mission starts, and he (and I) are locked into helping out a man neither of us can stand.

You're right - it's really, really sad.

Nick Harris
profile image
I did a lot of dubious things in game up until that point, including the cathartic experience of going to a park and finding a dog off its lead and shooting it in the head, something I'd love to be able to do in real life. Yet when I encountered this slime and realised that I couldn't even justify helping him disrespect a celebrity's privacy on the basis of necessary role play as the protagonist had cold feet about it and not being offered a choice, I got out my pistol and shot the pap in the noggin.

Look at me assert my player agency... oh, wait... MISSION FAILURE.

Maria Jayne
profile image
To be honest, I would have liked to see a female protagonist alongside the male characters. The fact they have created a mechanic to switch between characters was a perfect opportunity to experiment with a female lead who isn't politically correct and doesn't follow the norm of video game female stereotypes. You then have the option to play as that female character or not.

I'm neither offended nor annoyed this isn't the case, I'm just disappointed it didn't happen. Perhaps if they release some story DLC we could still see something along these lines.

Sterling Reames
profile image
I think you may be taking this video game a little too seriously. Perhaps some Saints Row will cheer you up?

But seriously, I understand your point. We can't ask games to evolve overnight though. GTA V is certainly the next evolution of the series. I think we are a ways off from the open endedness you are suggesting. One game can only do so much!

Michael Joseph
profile image
And maybe if people aren't openly criticizing it, the next iteration wont evolve at all.

Kujel s
profile image
@Micheal: Ssshhh the hive mind doesn't approve of independent thought :p

John Paduch
profile image
Great read, I can't argue with any of it. What I think is worth noting, however, is the best line I've heard all week:

"...it's reciting the same old gangland fantasies, like a college boy who can't stop staring at the Godfather II poster on his wall, talking about how he's gonna be a big Hollywood director in between bong rips."

I'm still laughing. XD

Harry Fields
profile image
All I know is it's already been worth the 60$. I'd pay 200$ for this title. I guess it all depends on what you look for in entertainment, and to each their own, but I fell they still have *it*. In my meaningless expeditions, the little nuances that create stories without the need for a narrative hand-holding session are priceless.
Since they decided to do the multiple main character route this time, I do think adding a reluctant female protagonist would've only helped the game. Maybe one of the expacs will address that.

Paul Marzagalli
profile image
I was never a huge GTA fan, though I am fascinated enough by the scope of the game that I've bought every entry since its big leap forward in III. That's why I have to disagree with this piece. What's fascinating about GTA for me is the iteration - the little or major changes in mechanics and design sensibilities that come with each new game (and in response to the previous ones). It sounds like V solves a great deal of the problems that I have with IV. This process informs their other games, be it RDR or LA Noire, and in return elements from those games find their way into GTA. It also inspires other franchises, like Volition's Saint's Row games, to stake out their own territory in wild and fascinating ways, the way Star Wars gave birth to a sci-fi renaissance. I am fine with the slow burn of Rockstar's game design and evolution.

It's okay to feel tired of it, too, the same way I was permanently turned off by platformers after years and years of Super Mario Bros games (and their knock-offs) or the general twitch reaction by many when some franchise or another is morphed into a first or third person shooter. Yet even those genres found new ground based on different companies working the formula (Sonic and Portal spring immediately to mind). GTA is so big, so influential, and so (to use Leigh's term) "ruthlessly researched" that they are like a big research company trying to find the next breakthrough, except in games instead of medicine or whatnot. Some indies or smaller studios might find it beforehand, but I'm content to let Rockstar keep working the problem their way in the knowledge that they are well-positioned to find it (whatever "it" may be).

Marijn Lems
profile image
I feel that the most interesting thing about the discussion is the question if GTA's initial counter-culture identity has been overtaken by the fact (or rather, my estimation) that mainstream media itself has become ever more transgressive. When GTA III came out, it was "cool" because it felt like rebelling against the status quo, and against received ideas about the morality of the representation of violence - whereas now GTA's approach has BECOME the status quo, and works that call for a more serious approach to the representation of ideas in interactive media are the counter-culture.

On the other hand, I was 21 years old when GTA III came out, and I'm 33 years old now, so I can't objectively say what part of the above is a real cultural shift and what part of it is my tastes maturing. Fact is though, games have matured as well - when GTA III came out, it was the cutting edge of political and social commentary in the medium, whereas now there are many many more sophisticated examples.

Jarod Smiley
profile image
@Marijin I think that's basically it...as a poster mentioned above, GTA is still the face of gaming, for those inside and outside the industry. It's simply not saying much anymore, but then again, who is?

People talk about women/minorities/social issues all the time, and for those to be in a video game (they are in GTA5) perhaps is not as jarring as before. But I also think it's just the time we're living in. People are afraid about jobs, the future, purpose, etc...and just looking for something to follow.

I don't think GTA can be as groundbreaking as previous titles because, well right now, THERE'S NOTHING TO SAY. Video games are not scrutinize to the level where creative freedom is hindered anymore. You can now have prostitues/violence/foul language in your games, and if there's real merit to why a game is so violent, it's applauded just like any well written movie/book. (TLOU) So what does GTA have to say about society or the gaming industry that it isn't? The Woman issues are in there, racism and economy are in there. I believe, that gamers have just grown up. And we're finally ready for a character that fulfills our own personal hero role, rather than one that has the freedom to do anything he wants anymore.

Perhaps that's why you felt sadness, because you wanted a "good ending" to all the characters. Good being the key word here, is an element that has been shun away from in many mainstream video games, and perhaps, people are just looking forward to that, because real-life isn't that good anymore?

GTA will always leave you with a question of "what's the point?" And I think society is still searching for that answer. Now that the shackles of creativity, or undue scrutiny, have been broken by the GTA franchise, people are going to start looking at it from the same view as movies/books. "So what does this industry have to say?" I hope developers are ready for it...Because I think GTA will always simply be a reflection of society and norms, perhaps offering some perspective and perhaps making us take a long hard view of what we find acceptable. But it will never satisfy us with some type of answer.

Marijn Lems
profile image
While I agree with you, I also think that it's not that black-and-white. GTA could have something to say about the world we live in if it was better written, if it took real chances on social and political issues, if it took its characters and its world more seriously. Its brand of superficial satire just feels like old hat - it's safe, it's juvenile, it's boring (not as a game, mind you, but as a critical narrative). It's especially disappointing because there are many games out there that DO manage to say something about modern society: what if they let Richard Hofmeier (Cart Life), or less radically, Neil Druckmann write a GTA game?

Michael Joseph
profile image
I doubt there are a lot of teenagers posting well written critiques about GTA 5! So you have a point in that it's a lot of middle aged folks who are of the first generation or two to grow up playing video games (and thus have a broader perspective) who are criticizing certain games for not having grown up with them.

And you make another good point I think in that if shock is what is selling your game, then perhaps your main competition is time itself. Shock gets old and significant parts of the audience at some point will crave substance again.

In the meantime, GTA 5 will sell a ton of copies. It didn't quite work out for Duke Forever though, but it took a lot of incompetence to destroy a beloved franchise.

Marijn Lems
profile image
Whoa, whoa, middle aged? We're in our early thirties man! Stop giving me a heart attack! ;-)

Marijn Lems
profile image
This excellent article by Cameron Kunzelman does a great job of delving deeper into the issues I was talking about in my post: http://thiscageisworms.com/2013/09/20/why-is-grand-theft-auto-v-s
o-conservative/

Jarod Smiley
profile image
@Marijn

Perhaps...I dunno if Rockstar is willing to take that risk though. It's sales obviously come from gamers like us who want to read between the lines and see what the devs are "saying" outside of simply enjoying the gameplay elements and open-world aspect to the title. But what are the majority of people who buy GTA playing it for? 15 million copies sold in 3 days, so lets say it reaches 40 million. How many of those people bought GTA to see what the game says about society, what the humor really implies, and what the game is "saying" versus just fulfilling there rebel-like fantasies and having fun causing as much mayhem as possible in a huge sandbox closely resembling our own world? I think Rockstar has to cater to those people first and foremost, but ironically, almost make fun of them for enjoying that "mindless" aspect of the title with the innuendos in the game.

I agree though, the game can say more, but I think the folks at Rockstar take pride in being a mirror to society and it's acceptable norms, perhaps even questioning a few of them. But I don't think they will ever stand up and take a stance with anything one particular way, but I hope to be proved wrong with there next title. Perhaps they will cater to the audience that has grown up with GTA and offer something more compelling to a 30 year old.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
Great comment, Marijin.

Marijn Lems
profile image
@Jarod You're probably right. But we can dream, can't we!

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Haven't played the game yet but the one thing that surprises me is this

"No one has ever seen a game world this size, this lifelike."

Can GTA really still offer this, after everything this gen? I get the impression that we've been spoiled for open world games. For me at least, a large world, a dense world, isn't impressive anymore. I've played huge game worlds and incredibly detailed game worlds, and so have a lot of people.

Eric Geer
profile image
I feel like people are trying to read in to this far deeper than GTA was ever meant to be.

It's a gangster game, its called Grand Theft Auto. You steal cars, kill people, rob things, cause mayhem. It's not called Classy Open World Where You Can Do Anything You Want And Have An Emotional Attachment To Every Character and Every NPC. It's full of mayhem, empty of emotion--some things are disturbing. Moving on.

Alexander Muscat
profile image
In all fairness the GTA today isn't the GTA it was ten years ago.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Sure. I think this is what George Lucas figured with the prequels. But this is just a convenient argument more than a reasonable one because Lucas didn't want to anger those mature audience members who fell in love with the original films in the 70's and 80s.

I don't think this means that older generations are claiming to own the franchise and demanding that their needs be catered too, but at the same time I don't think it's wise for creators to ignore the fact that a significant portion of their audience has matured and want the experiences of their beloved sequels to mature (at least somewhat) as well.

Marijn Lems
profile image
@Eric Well, like it or not, GTA is part of the cultural landscape, so it's perfectly valid to write a critique about what it communicates.

Kris Graft
profile image
"I feel like people are trying to read in to this far deeper than GTA was ever meant to be."

We can agree or disagree on whether or not GTA effectively delivers an emotional narrative, but to say that GTA's creators never meant for it to be anything more than making things explode is incorrect.

"On the emotional narrative side, it's stronger just because of the nature of the rest of the game, and on the mechanics side, hopefully we've just designed it better, we've smoothed off the rough edges of it and made it a stronger part of the game." - Dan Houser on GTA V

I'm sure we can find other similar examples of how Rockstar has said it intends to push narrative, storytelling and emotion with this series.

Rob Wright
profile image
@Eric I disagree. Not only did RockStar, by its own admission, aim for a more emotional, story-driven narrative, but the developer also filled the game with what a lot of critics have called witty humor and sly, subversive social commentary (By what I've played so far, I think those folks are seriously stretching it, but that's another point for another time).

True, it's not intended to be classy, but it's also not intended to be completely shallow or absent of emotion. You can certainly play it as such, and I'm sure a lot of folks do, but you can't blame people for playing it the other way -- which is what Rockstar intended -- and then asking why, if Rockstar put so much effort into building a story and loading it with social commentary, is the portrayal of females so disappointing?

Dane MacMahon
profile image
These games are definitely in the realm of South Park... witty, American focused social commentary within a wrapper of fart jokes and bravado. Some people don't get that kind of thing, and that's fine, but we can't pretend the game is all explosions and sex jokes.

Alexander Muscat
profile image
Great read and good commentary about how the series has turned after testing the boundaries. I felt the internal logic of the series has gradually become more at odds with itself over time.

The 4th as a character driven crime drama with believably written characters seemed to knock heads with the traditional ethos of GTA. As Rockstar has been leaning more and more towards this direction the absurdist reality and nihilism that characterised and contextualised the series so much, and the goofy adolescent incidental humour didn't play nicely with the cinematic dramatics and general didactic story arc.

Interestingly enough is it contrasting to Red Dead Redemption, an entirely straight faced Spaghetti Western epic. The continuity of writing, world and game functions all made far more sense than if it was bathed in the same stuff that coloured GTA.

From what I've read about the 5th and remember about the 4th the series seems like it's in a weird inconsistent place, not really knowing what it wants to be- having it's cake and eating it too. Maybe finding a new direction, edgier or not, a switch in gender, or maybe a different structure might actually help it find it's footing and a stronger identity? It's a wonder.

Marijn Lems
profile image
While I see your point about Red Dead Redemption, it too struggled with the GTA legacy: almost all of its side characters were just as much broad caricatures as the "quest givers" of the GTA series. But yeah, it was certainly a step forward in the arc of its main characters.

Isaiah Taylor
profile image
It's heartbreaking. How is this the same group [speaking vaguely... specifically, it might not be] that pitched and delivered on Ballad of Gay Tony? How?

How is this group that gave us CJ and didn't build off something more important? How?

It stings more knowing that "they know." Like, in the cracks... we know it's there. And they could do it. They could portray characters a number of ways because they have the brilliant writers, designers, R&D funds to do so. I felt this way about how GTA IV wanted soo badly to ape Eastern Promises. And they couldn't, because that chance doesn't seem 'worth it'.

Corwyn Kalenda
profile image
This is a great piece. Leigh, you've managed to find words for the vague sense of 'eh' that permeated my being every time GTA V has come up this summer. I've had any number of people in the last few months-- fellow designers, fellow gamers, etc-- ask me why I could be SO EXCITED about the then-looming release of Saint's Row 4 and so apathetic about GTA V news. And this is it. This is why whenever someone talks about wishing the Row had stayed 'more GTA-like' I can't help but sneer to myself over it. Because 'GTA-like' simply isn't what it used to be. You used to be able to hear news about the game, and every time they teased something new you'd think "there can't possibly be more they're not showing us, can there?". And then there was. That's Saint's Row these days, not GTA.

Steven Ulakovich
profile image
I look at Grand Theft Auto V as the culmination of everything this generation has been about. The massive emergence of the open world game, the push to by more like Hollywood with script and presentation, over the top action set pieces to wow the players, and the power fantasy of the world versus the player.

I really am enjoying my time with the game, but it does feel like it is the last seven years of AAA gaming distilled into one 40ish hour experience.

George Menhal III
profile image
I was playing the game late last night and started to feel my skin crawl. I remembered a recent quote from Dan Houser about how GTA V represents "the end of the American dream." I started thinking about the shape that Detroit finds itself in, and how terrible of a place it must be to live.

That's how I see Los Santos. Not a satire, but a nightmare. A reality of this modern time. You're right, it is sad. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that none of the characters in the game wanted to be there.

Like a bad dream that just goes on and on.

William Boggess
profile image
I would argue that utilizing and allowing a character like Trevor to be playable takes far more courage than the hypothetical female protagonists you allude to.

Rockstar might not have gone in the direction you personally wanted, but their edge is still razor-sharp.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
This is a great article I agree with in a lot of places. I also disagree in a lot of places.

The gameplay is stale, lets be honest. I thought it was stale in GTA4. You drive with the arrow, watch a cutscene, drive with the arrow, shoot a few dudes, drive with the arrow, another cutscene, done. It's not very interactive, it's the kind of Hollywood aping I generally despise in other games. I like player agency! I like choice! Games aren't movies!

And yet I love playing the GTA games. I've played 3, 4 and their expansions multiple times. Why? Because Rockstar's cutscenes and world are worth seeing, basically. They do it so well it's worth forgetting the gameplay is pretty routine. If you want to look at it this way, I guess you could say it's worth sacrificing for.

Yet I hear a lot of people say the gameplay is great, fun and reactive. These tend to be people who still enjoy doig random chaotic things, in my experience. I did that in GTA3, to test the limits of this new 3D world I was given, but I haven't done it since. Probably for the same reason my thief in Skyrim never joined the mages guild, or why we're both tempted to obey the traffic laws in these games... We want to live in the world, not be shown it. We seek immersion and engagement more than chaos or show and tell. Again though, the story is worth sacrificing for.

Where I cannot agree is the almost righteous call for a female perspective. Like the Anerican setting, deemed essential to the series today despite the developers being in Eurrope, I think the male perspective is core to what GTA is. The satire, which unlike you I consider to be present and strong, is written in the American male voice. That's the flavor of the series, like Fallout's take on classic Americana. Like Dan Houser said himself in a recent interview, yes you can change that... But would it still be GTA? Perhaps more importantly, would they be as effective writing in a different voice? Writers are told everyday in colleges around the world to write in their voice, not someone else's. I've never seen people demand writers or movie directors change their voice and style the same way we do with game developers.

The problem isn't creative types focusing on the story and perspective they want to tell, the problem is a lack of female creators making alternatives. No one complains about The Expendables having a male voice because there are thousands of female voice options on Netflix to watch instead. You could say the problem is cyclical, male focused games keep women away, but the solution there isn't to override the creators we have.

Anyway, thoughtful story as always, glad it's being discussed.

John Trauger
profile image
Sounds like GTA 5 suffers from the same problem Iron Man 3 suffered from.

We know how to make one of these. We know the tropes that are expected. It's a formula now. We came crank out one of these in our sleep.

So we do.

Richard Carpenter
profile image
This article hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, GTA V is representative of the direction most such games are taking these days. It seems that devs and publishers are now, almost across the board, convinced that the player must be presented with a gaming experience tailored to the ADHD demographic. They're not necessarily wrong, because with the expansion of gaming into more "mainstream" demographics, the number of players who actually *choose* to play that way is growing exponentially. I'm a huge MMORPG fan, and I can't tell you how much money I've thrown away on "the next big MMO", only to find a very shallow, linear experience.

The sad part is, the very nature of such trivialized game design assures the game to be short-lived from a mass appeal standpoint. All one has to do is think back on all the AAA titles that were largely hyped and actually seemed to live up to that hype but only for the first several months, sliding into a fairly small niche thereafter. I tend to think of them as "cotton candy" games. They taste great at first, but one can only take so much pure spun sugar, and it seems to dissolve into nothingness in little time at all.

Six months later, when such a game has lost 60% of it's initial player base, people want to call it a bust. The fact of the matter is that it is actually a success, because that's pretty much the half-life that was designed into the game from the beginning. The players insist on the rapid infusion of huge amounts of pleasure from the game, and once it's used up, they're done and complaining that there is just not enough depth. The paradox is that they have no patience for the depth that they so demand.

Every now and then a situation arises where it is completely accurate to make the claim that people just don't know what's good for them. I think this is just such a case.

James Coote
profile image
So, who's up for making some GTA 5 mods?

jin choung
profile image
honestly this article just sounds like it needed to find SOMETHING bad to say.

this is a GAME. not a VR world simulation. but the article seems to be complaining that it's not a VR world simulation.

is ms. pac man a "tragedy" that the only thing you can do is eat pills?

kind of like complaining that a movie has a plot rather just a rambling verisimilitudinous progression of events like real life.

really?

i guess it's true what they say - "a writer's gotta write"... but i guess that's as much a bad as it is a good.

Benjamin Sipe
profile image
What I don't understand is why can't I choose the path that I want to? Maybe people want to play as the thugs or scum of the earth, but maybe others don't. I'm not against violent video games, but what's the point if they are random acts of violence.

I want GTA with D&D alignments http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons)...

Dane MacMahon
profile image
If you don't want to play as a thug or criminal, GTA is not for you. Simple as that. A girl I dated in high school couldn't stand the movie Pulp Fiction because "all the characters are evil." I don't think we consider that a bad movie.

Taste varies.

TC Weidner
profile image
great article. I agree with a lot of what is being said here. I think these open worlds would be much better served, as would we players, if the whole larger story arc was just ditched. Dont make me jump through hoops all games just so you can tell me some story I probably dont even care about.

Allow the world to just open up for players. Allow the world to be just full of tons of small branching quest that can lead players on all different types of game experiences. These open world games will really hit their stride when after 60 hours of play, two players can compare experiences in the game and they are nothing alike.

To the next big open world developer I would suggest....Create worlds, dont tell YOUR story, let is stumble around and create our own stories.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
You can tell a strong, focused story with player agency and tons of choice. See: Deus Ex.

It's just harder, and it doesn't let you ape movies as much.

Nick Harris
profile image
It is possible to explore themes of trust and betrayal in a fictional city afflicted by organised crime without restricting player agency. For this to happen there could be no predetermined script, even a narrative that allowed for multiple paths and alternate endings would be insufficiently non-linear.

What is needed is for the game to simulate the plans of differently motivated “offstage” gang bosses, whose information about the world is imperfect as it is relayed to them via their imperfect, corruptible, henchmen.

Bratva, Mafia, Triads, Yakusa, Yardies and Zetas could seek a fragile truce in order to maximize the profits from illegal activities in their territories rather than waste their resources fighting each other, the Police could also be a ‘gang’ of sorts whose members were open to bribery for essential information.

A player could exist completely outside of this world of crime and the first thing they would know of it might be witnessing a petty street crime, or a full scale heist. They could commit crimes themselves including Grand Theft Auto, but this could put them on the ‘radar’ of organised booster gangs who resented you muscling in on their area without approval. They could just as easily join the Police, as well as infiltrating any organisation on the behalf of another.

Narratives would emerge from the interrelationships between virtual dramatis personae. These NPCs would have personal aims and ambitions that they would seek to accomplish, yet keep secret in fear that they would be manipulated by other’s knowledge of their desires. It is even possible to ‘funnel’ the role player towards a wholly synthetic climactic ending that was never written down beforehand.

Obviously, you wouldn’t get high quality voice acting; you’d be lucky to have the subtitles verbalized via some kind of speech synthesis like Spookitalk as heard in Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic, but that would at least be a step up from Zelda. Valve have started to explore this area a little with context triggered incidental character dialogue in Left 4 Dead 2.

Stories, should naturally be coauthored by the player and simulation (as constrained by the software’s thematic director), like the movie Infernal Affairs which was successfully remade into The Departed by Martin Scorsese, or Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infernal_Affairs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donnie_Brasco_(film)

Clearly, this leap in technology isn’t going to happen overnight and I wasn’t in any way expecting GTA V to write its own scripts, but I think it is worth mentioning that a completely non-linear open world is possible without having to lose engaging stories. It is just a question of continually reasserting the underlying theme.

Paul Hatfield
profile image
If women want to see women as protagonists in games like GTA, they better be prepared to not argue the other way when a GTA-style game is released with a female protagonist. I can guarantee the blow back from women when a developer uses a female protagonist in GTA would be much greater than the women rooting to see one.

Jonathan Lin
profile image
... Women are capable of independent thought, you know. One woman wanting a female protagonist in a GTA game doesn't prevent another from hating the idea.

Paul Hatfield
profile image
I understand that. My point is that despite the continual pressure from women (independent and as a group) to see female protagonists in 'racy' games like GTA, they would be more if not equally disappointed in the result.

William Garroutte
profile image
...Based off of what evidence, exactly?

William Garroutte
profile image
...Based off of what evidence, exactly?

Basil Allen
profile image
So...if it's just sad, does that make it a sadbox game?

(Joke aside, I wonder (and the answer is probably 'no') whether the game is supposed to be sad. Or does it even know what it wants to be?)

Dare Man
profile image
After reading most of comments I realized this discussion might not be real either, some stuff sounds scripted and orchestrated, like some great mind is giving us lines to respond.

Paranoia will destroy ya.

John Flush
profile image
Wow, 100+ comments about GTA V... then I realized all it was is the same old thing on gamasutra. It seems every 100+ comment thread is about racism and sexism. Maybe that is all we have to talk about in games these days...

As a developer I would love to have a return of some of the talk that discusses the rendering, AI, and other moving parts aside from the story and character development.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kris Graft
profile image
Just in the past week or two we've run some really great technical blogs from our community. We're constantly promoting and featuring these on the site. Here are a few that came to mind:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ConorDickinson/20130919/200656/Stu
nning_Procedural_Skies_in_WebGL__Part_1.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RichardMyles/20130917/200432/Baddi
e_AI_in_Lost_Outpost.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/StanleyHandschuh/20130912/200187/A
I_Pathfinding_Ray_Casting.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JayelindaSuridge/20130905/199626/M
odelling_by_numbers_Part_Two_A.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JayelindaSuridge/20130903/199473/M
odelling_by_numbers_Part_One_B.php

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
Well one day games having female avatars won't be or feel as rare as they are today, and articles talking about it won't bring as many controversy and evergreen discussions like today. Then we'll see which websites have an agenda of whichever nature and which ones are just in for the views clicks.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
Not to defend his poor wording, but she is really twisting it. He obviously meant tastefully presented, not tastefully done or tasteful participants. She doesn't have to twist what he said to make a point, what he said was legitimately silly.

Huck Terrister
profile image
I think your diagnosis is spot on but the prognosis is shakey. GTA is old; creaking. The gameplay at its core hasn't really put a single foot forward since GTA3 over 10 years ago, instead choosing to make incremental improvements and adding the illusion of more depth through ancillary features-- comedy clubs, movie theaters, golf minigames, dating-- to itself. The competition has been doing roughly the same thing just with newer, fresher; more unique ideas that take greater advantage of the sandbox environment and emergent AI and gameplay systems than GTA's linear, restrictive, fail-state-driven missions ever have.

I think a female character would just be another nonstarter. Something that gives the illusion of freshness without really offering much that is truly different.

I know, the sales figures are likely not on my side on this one.

Harry Fields
profile image
Sales figures and many millions of fans. A lot of people don't care for the series. A lot do.
There's an old saying about fixing something that's not broken. Playing it safe, when you're spending 240+ million on a title, is not a bad thing. And out of curiosity, what would you have them add that would make it so much better than its' predecessors? I'm really curious because I've read that comment a lot in the last week. I think their gameplay systems are so incredibly fun at their core, that there's not a whole lot more they could do without cutting corners elsewhere. For 60$, they deliver * a lot* of entertainment to fans.

Madden does the same thing... only every year :P

Thomas Janson
profile image
I see this very, very simply.

When a creative work offers so much, containing so much imagination and opportunity, it leaves little to the audience's imagination. Then audience engagement might suffer. A balance between linearity and freedom may work better. This applies to music, films, games, photography, illustration, any creative work. It's a push and pull, two way communication between the audience and the work.

GTA V is a record breaking, technically outstanding game, but it gives the player so much freedom, which makes it more of a Hancock than a Superman, where the player is OP and bored, rather than a super powered being threatened by equally powerful opposing forces in the plot, for example.

Richard Black
profile image
I remember playing GTA3 when I still divided my time somewhat equally between console and PC. Played the hell out of it, actually made a point of beating it. I remember it being very satisfying beating people down with a bat, but I didn't go after prostitutes or anything just followed the story. Which was pretty basic but pretty good, you were a small time thug making your way between families who kept screwing you over pretty much. I remember how happy I was killing some mafia don with one grenade and a lot of stolen cars piled up in an intersection. The chain explosion inspires a chuckle to this day.

I played 4, but by the time it was out I spent most of my time on PC so never really got that far with it but I liked the story. I knew a lot of Russians and I found the story of 4 pretty compelling though I barely got more than a quarter into the game. I've always meant to play more of it though cause what I played I really liked.

My wife has 5 and has been playing a lot of it, and I was going to grab it cause she wants to play co op, but I watched her play a lot of it and it just depressed me. Maybe it was a bad moment but she was playing the older former whatever who finds his wife cheating and follows a tennis pro to lethal weapon 2 some house engage in a shoot out and then be threatened by some old guy with a bat even though he prusumably still had the gun he used to waste a few cars full of people. I was left just feeling this was phenomenally stupid. I don't wanna play this guy. I had no problem playing a violent thug as long as I could play things my way, and I could before, or a down on his luck immigrant struggling to get by or excel, but a repressed cuckold with his depressing scripted cutscenes I obviously would have no choice in just grated against me. Maybe it was only 30 minutes of gameplay and the rest of the game was far better but I just found nothing endearing to make me want to engage. It also seemed to be sort of 'magician's choice' which what looked to be freedom at a cursory glance with a big open sky, but you looked to be on guide rails if you actually looked down and channeled to one scripted event after another.

Ivan Mussa
profile image
I remember when Red Dead Redemption came out. Everybody was loving it. I couldn't. I felt trapped, just like this post describes. Moving from letter to letter, from dot to dot, completing objectives and watching cutscenes. Eventually interacting in emergent situations that are incredible at first, but too quickly end up getting extremely repetitive.

I'm wondering why I can't agree with this post, though. I don't feel trapped in GTA V. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see it reinvent its structure. New things to do, some kind of "true nonlinearity" (see Anthony Burch's old video on youtube). Maybe a little less hand-holding. But those things are not bothering me at all. Except for the unquestionable lack of good female characters, the plot and dialogues are keeping me very very engaged. The city is beautiful and well designed, just like you described.

Maybe when I playes RDR I was expecting a revolution in open world game design, a game that would always result in perfect instantaneous stories for me to experience. Now, with GTA V, I know that Rockstar isn't aiming at that. Leave true nonlinearity for open world RPGs and indie games. At the end of the day, where is it written that a "true nonlinear" game is better than a structured experience that takes place in a fantastically built open world?

But we sure could use a bit less of obvious clichés in the references, and a lot more well written women :)

John Krajewski
profile image
The game is called GTA 'FIVE'. I don't know what you were expecting. And I don't see how writing a woman in would have changed any of the existential woes you list.

If it's innovation you're looking for, you can find it in spades throughout the nooks and crannies of the game industry. You're looking at the polished shiny showpiece, being what it is better then ever before.

I haven't played the new GTA, and I probably wont for the reasons you list here, it's an experience I've already had. But that doesn't mean it's not great and shouldn't be what it is, it has it's audience (obviously) and it serves its purpose.

Hayley Winter
profile image
Being one of the many female game enthusiasts out here, I can say I'd love to see this magically innovative leap that many of this type of article seem to desire. Only...I don't think they really want it. Oh, sure, they like the idea of it. But when confronted with the reality of what it means to be a female in the criminal world, I'm putting my money on lots of complaining about how she is treated. Personally, I'd love to see the gaming world get a taste of the different way women are treated (on average) in this setting. I'd could give 'power fantasy' a new dimension.

I've seen the way most women are treated in the world of inner city crime - and it's not progressive. It's ugly and uncomfortable. If you think a game or movie paints an ugly picture, get ready to find entirely new ways to be disgusted if we ever get our wish for a real crime story with a female protagonist. In the mean time, read part 4 of 2666 as a primer.

The criminal world is, for the most part, a sad place. Congratulations, you've uncovered their dark secret. For all the talk of wanting a better life, much like the 9-5 rat race, the world of crime is lost in the same maze of discontent. The sadder part is that I know you know better than this. In an attempt to conjure a relevant article, we just get a sad juxtaposition of a trapped criminal element and what you think is a trapped and tired franchise.

It's not wrong to want more from our AAA games. But it feels cheap to dismiss something simply because you don't get the experience you wanted from them. That's one of the more peculiar effects of sandbox design at this stage in gaming: too many people mistake themselves for the director.

Jacek Wesolowski
profile image
I think we can safely assume GTA was never intended as a documentary, or anything close to that. My impression is that the player is supposed to feel more like a rebel than a criminal.

Although, I can't really take part in this discussion, since the last GTA I played was GTA 2. It was a game where churches served as save points, because "Jesus saves", while the police would forget you the instant your car entered a paint shop. The mood of the game was one of hilarious naughty mayhem. I remember running over a group of joggers and finding that this was a fun thing to do. The experience was shaming. I never played GTA again.

In this context, I think casting a woman as a protagonist and then giving her the same kind of storyline you had in previous games (i.e. one where you end up with a woman acting like a stereotypically male criminal) would feel similarly subversive. You would be acting against the prevailing cultural norm, and you would (probably) be having fun in the process. Although the mood would probably be anyhthing but hilarious, given that the more recent GTAs are definitely less goofy than the old ones.

Of course, the trick would only work once.

Richard Black
profile image
I remember The Getaway was a semi-GTA3 rip for the ps2 I quite enjoyed as it was far more serious and had a more compelling story to me. Plus you could tear around a lot of actual London streets. Had a fairly badass woman as I remember you could play briefly but of course she was a prostitute before she became a hitgirl. It largely seems even if you manage to get a female protagonist in a game, even peripherally, she tends to be a stripper or prostitute. Kinda saddens me.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
Great reply. Last line is very relevant to game criticism. Thanks for the thoughts.

Justin Speer
profile image
"That's one of the more peculiar effects of sandbox design at this stage in gaming: too many people mistake themselves for the director."

I don't think people are mistaking themselves for directors. I think that in many cases, people aren't saying "that's not how I would have done it," but rather "This isn't working for me, I think there are conflicting elements here."

It's any thinking person's right to have an opinion, or even go as far as to have a passionate opinion. Thoughts like these are just as valid as whatever the director says drives his vision. Nobody is simply right by default. Even if someone wants to say "I would have done it this way," whether it's in regard to games or politics or even after eating a meal, I think that's still valid as well. Maybe someone else in the restaurant might tell them on the chef's behalf "just shut up and enjoy your meal you pleb," but who do they think they are? Honestly. Are they mistaking themselves for the chef?

If someone saw the theatrical version of Blade Runner and expressed the opinion that they didn't appreciate all that heavy-handed narration, are they mistaking themselves for the director then? Should they simply accept that it's a movie with narration and that's the way it is?

Of course not. Blade Runner, Mass Effect 3, GTA5... these are all commercial products and a viewer/player/consumer/random person off the street is not being uppity or pretentious if they criticize it.

Dane MacMahon
profile image
No one is saying you can't have an opinion or critique. The problem occurs when you dismiss a work of art because it doesn't adhere to your vision of what it should be. A subtle but important difference is there.

Megan Swaine
profile image
She said that she liked it, but that it also made her sad. That's not "dismissive". This is an opinion piece, not a review. She's not coming from on-high to give her verdict.

She was hoping to be surprised or delighted or to see something new. She didn't feel that she did, and was disappointed. That is not expressing an alternate "vision", that is pointing out that she doesn't feel she's gotten her money's worth, and she's suggesting a few things that would've changed that.

Nerds tend to do that...a lot.

Are you going to accuse the legion of nerds complaining about Sim City of "dismissing" the game because it didn't live up to THEIR "vision"? (OMG, ALWAYS ONLINE, NOT FAIR!!)

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
So the inclusion of a playable torture scene was not brave? I guess the author didn't bother to keep up with the backlash that received.

The missions where you go bounty hunting for undocumented immigrants wasn't despicable? The fact that said missions involved a loyalist American who speaks only Russian wasn't thought provoking? I guess I'm the crazy one but those are some bold decision choices in my world.

I also shouldn't be surprised that this author seems to think that nothing could make the series brave or exciting so long as the lead characters were all men. I suppose it also doesn't matter that the themes Rockstar chose to depict here were the father and son dynamic between Michael and Franklin or the brotherly love/hate relationship between Trevor and Michael. After all, What About the Womenz?!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the narrow minded and pedestrian way the author went about by classifying GTA V as a tragedy. After all, she was also the one to characterize Bioshock Infinite as a "waisted Disney caricature" and an exemplar of what not to do in storytelling or relationship design. She was also the one to describe The Last of Us as the "least we should ask of games."

It seems to me that the article was more an exercise in writing for the sake of writing. To me, describing GTA V as complacent makes me wonder whether she played the game at all.

Christian Nutt
profile image
Not that it relates to the argument made here, but no -- I'd argue that the playable torture scene is not brave at all. It's tawdry and designed to get the game attention. It doesn't have anything to say -- it's just meant to be shocking.

Harry Fields
profile image
Yet I wasn't shocked. I mean... when the series is known for shooting cops and prostitutes whose services you just purchased to get the money back, the torture scene was decidedly numb. Especially since it did yield enough information to take out the proper target. And perhaps because the torture methods were so cliché (busted kneecap, car battery to the nips? They were doing this stuff in movies in the 70s) Maybe others will be unoffended by everything until they hit that scene, yet I suspect players that make it to that point in the title will not experience any shock.

But I don't think "brave" is what Rockstar goes for. Shock value? absolutely. Controversy? check. Condemnation from the press? You bet. But that's all free publicity and only drives curiosity and sales.

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
The author brought up Skylar White and how the actress received death threats as an example of creative bravado. GTA V has been receiving all sorts of threats from anti torture advocates. In my crazy world, I see similarities there. I'm not sure how we can call the former brave and the latter tawdry if we use the author's measuring sticks.

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
Just to be clear Christian, I thought the media's coverage of the torture scene was overzealous. But I also find Skylar to be one of the least interesting characters in Breaking Bad. My response wasn't about what I personally think, but rather examining the author's assertions here.

Michael Wenk
profile image
What I got from this article is that Ms Alexander is jaded and as such is not a real good reviewer of games. I also caught the sexism undertones, but to me that seems secondary. It reminds me of a movie critic that gets so sick of seeing the same old thing time after time that they forget that the work is meant to entertain the masses, and not the critic. I also started to wonder if it could be hipster backlash against something that is incredibly popular. Much of what Ms Alexander says would apply to any game, open world or not.

IMO, and to frame my opinion, I have played about 3-4 missions in GTA and find it much better than GTA 4 in terms of story. I personally will not let this article color my judgement.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Megan Swaine
profile image
Two words: Pam Grier.

Take every movie she's ever been in and make a game based on it.

Or how about a game inspired by "Death Proof"? Gearhead chicks stealing cars and joyriding and being chased by murderous other stunt people? I would play that.


Also: this is an opinion piece. You don't have to agree with it. You don't have to like it. But please don't sit there and try to invalidate her entire piece with comments like "she doesn't know enough about games". It doesn't matter how much she knows about games. She doesn't need to prove her "nerd cred". She is legitimately unhappy with the game, as a customer and as a fan of the series. Is she the only one? I doubt it. Consider why.

I was impressed by the graphics and the open world, but I'll never play it in full. I don't see anything in there for me. And if I'm wrong- well, I shouldn't have to play several hours of a game to find something in it that I like. Nobody should have to do that.

She's not condemning the game or saying nobody should play it. She is not personally attacking anyone who likes it, and she even admits that SHE likes it. She's not here to take anything away from you. There is nothing here for you to take personally or get worked up about: it's just one person voicing how they feel about their gaming experience.

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
Is the article meant to exist in a vacuum? Or are we allowed to point out the poor reasoning the author uses? Can we call her out over the (not-so-hidden) agenda she is pushing?

I just want to make sure it's ok with you if people express their opinions about an opinion.

From where I'm standing, I think it's pretty lame to drop articles that criticize a game that many people love and then pull the "let's not get worked up about it" card.

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
.

Arman Matevosyan
profile image
.

Troy Thomas
profile image
"This game gives me everything, and yet I can't stop feeling sad. Trapped. "
Eh? Are you sure it's all just not you?
It's a game. A decent game with a decent narrative, but I put the controller down, and went and did something else. Never felt trapped by it, nor ever compared it to television shows in the same genre (I really dislike comparisons of creative works, as it's far more difficult and rewarding to judge a creative on its own merits than frame it in the scope of somebody else's work)
Tragic? Why are we psycho-analyzing a game with barely adequate first year college course semantics? Get out and do something else, then. Take up a hobby.

Jason Kabir
profile image
It's quite amusing seeing all the "critics" dissect every fiber of this game going on about how the series isn't really showing any signs of "maturity" or how, in Leigh's case here, it isn't "brave" anymore. It's amusing because the developers, or rather the writers, at Rockstar Games acknowledge the fact that the drive to be subversive or edgy or provocative diminishes with time and have tactfully let the game comment on itself in that regard.

Upon completing the game's 58th mission "Pack Man" Molly Schultz claims that Franklin is being too immature about handling the cards he's been dealt to which he replies...

"I boost cars! And pop motherfuckers! Maturity isn't really my fucking thing."

Not a very subtle commentary on the very nature of the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole.

Frog Wind
profile image
I think the game sort of gave up on advancing its characterization and world after SA (or, really, it took a wrong turn.) The first few games in the PS2 era dramatically changed their direction after each one:

In GTA3, like the earlier eras, you were a nameless, voiceless cypher. Most of the other characters were equally hollow, one-note caricatures who existed to give you missions and nothing else.

GTA:VC gave us an over-the-top main character with a clear voice and personality, as well as slightly more development for supporting characters over the course of the series.

GTA:SA tried to make us sympathize for the main character (which is risky, given the subject matter); it also made CJ's race central to the story (since the ripped-from-the-headlines C.R.A.S.H. based plot wouldn't have quite the same resonance without it.) But probably the most important way it advanced was in its supporting characters; to the extent that we sympathize with CJ, it's really because of villains like Tenpenny and supporting characters like Ceasar, The Truth, Toreno, Woozie and so on. SA was the only GTA where I really felt that I wanted to see more of the supporting characters, or where I kept playing because I actually wanted to take the main villain down. CJ's interactions with the other characters were actually fun to watch on their own, basically.

It feels like they sort of lost their way after that. Since then, the heroes have been rehashed not-quite-as-interesting variations on their previous ones, and the supporting characters have mostly regressed into hollow caricatures.

I think a radically different sort of protagonist would be a good start, but what's really needed is to go back to a more interesting supporting cast.


none
 
Comment: