Gaming

Rockstar Aims To Tackle Problematic Past With ‘GTA VI’s New Female Protagonist

The sequel’s new main characters will be a ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ couple

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Nearly 9 years on from GTA V’s launch, seminal game developer Rockstar has released several details concerning its sequel GTA VI — including the addition of a female protagonist.

According to Bloomberg, GTA VI will star a pair of characters loosely inspired by real-life criminal couple, Bonnie and Clyde. While the pair terrorised banks and local establishments across the US way back in the 1930s, the game will place its characters in a fictional version of Miami, Florida, and its surrounding areas.

While we don’t have any visual details, Rockstar has confirmed that one of the series’ two protagonists will be Hispanic, in line with Miami’s predominant demographic.

As one of the world’s most anticipated videogames, Rockstar have been understandably tight-lipped about the sequel for several years now — choosing to release updates for GTA V and bank over $6 billion in overall revenue, an industry record-breaker that only VI seems poised to beat.

Despite the big-name appeal, Rockstar are looking to shake up their infamous crime sandbox world — and not everyone’s keen on them taking that route.

The End of Rockstar’s ‘Frat Boy’ Culture

Back in 2020, following the horrific George Floyd police brutality case, Rockstar silently shelved a game mode they had planned to release for their multiplayer blockbuster GTA Online, called Cops ‘n’ Crooks. Feeling that a game mode centred around cop-based violence would be insensitive and inciteful during this period, the company’s executives took a sharp U-turn, releasing a lighthearted Summer Special update instead.

This was just one of several creative changes that the studio — infamous for carrying the torch when it came to insensitive, satirical, in-your-face humour throughout its series — decided to implement as it entered the 2020s. Another interesting choice made by the developers was to strongly tone down the ‘hate speech’ dialogue from its player characters — directed towards in-game trans people.

Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier also adds on how this approach to the series’ writing, which has traditionally included plenty of dehumanising depictions of women, parodies of everything from right-wing media to liberal politicians, reflects a distorted view of modern America’s sociocultural landscape at its worst.

The company culture, until recent changes took place, wasn’t too different either — featuring regular workplace drinking, brawling, and occasional excursions to strip clubs — all while maintaining the industry status quo of overtime and crunch deadlines. While all of this led to GTA V becoming the second-best selling videogame of all time, it also prompted hundreds of employees to speak out against Rockstar’s workplace practices.

Since then, things seem to have changed, at least in a few places where it matters. Most importantly, Rockstar has significantly narrowed its gender pay gap, while some employees have described the post-2018 transformation as “a boy’s club transformed into a real company.”

While the company seems to have taken a collective decision to grow up, several fans, however, haven’t.

‘Woke’ Accusations

Almost immediately after the new GTA VI updates went live, fan reactions exploded across social media — with a particularly vocal subset keen on critiquing the new creative direction for straying from the series’ choice to ignore cultural sensitivities.

While there’s something to be said for expecting political correctness from a bunch of hardened career criminals, it’s interesting to observe the trend of previous protagonists in the series.

The unnamed Hispanic lead for GTA VI, for instance, isn’t the first female protag — as several players rightly pointed out. What they’re failing to notice, however, is that the four previous female protagonists — Divine, Katie, Mikki, and Ulrika — are literally voiceless.

Beyond their names and character portraits, you couldn’t really tell you were playing as a woman on account of the game’s limited visuals and top-down view. But, technically, you could play as a woman in Grand Theft Auto all the way back in the late ‘90s. GTA Online’s female choices also count — but aren’t fully-realized characters as well, and serve as roleplaying stand-ins instead.

Most of GTA’s playable characters serve as a lens with which to view America — and bring their own unique flaws and baggage to these perspectives. Take Franklin, one of GTA V’s trio. Apart from serving as a mouthpiece for the frustrations and futility of American gang life, he’s also a victim of casual racism from other characters and most notably, the in-game police.

Franklin’s ‘mentor’ and counterpart, Michael, serves as the opposite end of the spectrum. Rich, white, bored to death with life and dissatisfied with everything, Michael vents his frustration at trans-folk in the game’s original release, punching down on a minority that he finds difficult to accept and understand.

This ‘punching’ trajectory is what Rockstar aims to change, suggesting that they want to tell stories from the perspectives of America’s less-privileged. This refers to the viewpoints of player characters such as Serbian Niko Bellic and half-Dominican Victor Vance as well as the upcoming female character.

While GTA’s classic chainsaw-wielding, dildo-smacking brand of ultraviolence is likely to be around in some shape or form, the series has often used dated humour and stereotypes to address several of America’s nuances, which a gender-flip can address incredibly well. There’s more than plenty left to say about America from the point of view of a woman, and perhaps even more from one who’s coloured, and also on the wrong side of the law.

That last part is crucially important to retain for Rockstar, if it means to tell a really compelling story. Most of GTA’s characters come across as good-natured assholes. Niko, for instance, is scarred and sensitive to his allies from his experiences as a child soldier, yet finds release and purpose through violence. Franklin, as mentioned above, experiences racism and gang culture, but relies on his ambition to make it through life, sometimes at deep personal costs.

With over a dozen fully fleshed male perspectives, ranging from violent misogynist gangsters to sensitive ex-soldiers, we’ve got plenty in the bank already. It’s definitely time for the legendary studio to flex some creative muscles, and give us a different way to experience their intricately crafted digital worlds.

(Featured Image Credits: Rockstar Games)

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