Feminism and Grand Theft Auto V

TRIGGER WARNING: Violence, Sexism and MisogynySee the source image

Michael drives into a dark parking lot. On his passenger seat sits a girl that he ‘purchased’ for $10. After a 10 minute ‘service’ the girl opens the door and leaves the car. Michael approaches her from behind and pulls her hair backward. She screams as Michael assaults her and takes the $10 back. The girl passes out in pain. “Damn hookers!” Michael spits and leaves in his Ferrari.

If it were in real life 21st century, Michael would be accused of sexual assault or even attempted murder and would be expected to spend years in prison. Fortunately, this isn’t real life. It’s Grand Theft Auto V, the highest revenue generating game over the first 24 hours after its release in history. Three days after release it reached $1 billion in sales and smashed records created by entertainment products of any other kind. Teenagers, adults, elementary school students, the game went viral worldwide.

A zealous sandbox game fan myself, I certainly enjoyed the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto V, although it didn’t last long. After a long week of studying I’d hop on the couch with a PS4 and start my journey in Los Santos (fictional city in Grand Theft Auto V). In the roaring engine sounds of my silver Maserati, I went on mission after mission, one weapon after another: pistol, rifles, etc. As a female player I paid little attention to places in the game like strip clubs or prostitute spots, until a friend of mine came by and showed me the scene above.

See the source image

99% of female NPCs in Grand Theft Auto V are smoking

Going back to my opening scenario, I at first thought the prostitute would fight back, or call the police, or at least curse as male characters would if they were beaten. As she collapsed in front of me with graphic blood all over, I felt an overwhelming sense of discomfort. Later in the game play I’ve found numerous similar occasions where the female character is violently abused. Dave Cook, a United Kingdom video blogger reinforced this impression of mine: “[Female characters in Grand Theft Auto V] are either there to be rescued, shouted at, fucked, to be seen fucking, put up with, killed, heard prattling away like dullards on their mobile phones or shopping”.

See the source image

Kid playing Grand Theft Auto V in store

What’s more, the major named female characters in Grand Theft Auto V are awful: not that they’re awfully designed, but they’re awful and unpleasant to interact with. The major characters’ wives and daughters are either prostitutes or strippers who are rude and unreasonable, the ones that are working in professional industries are depicted as abusive to their male partners. Throughout the game, players would even feel pity for the guys suffering from such ‘ignorant, vulgar women’ who spend all their times cheating or running away. And for a game that’s sold to millions of people, a large part of whom are minors, it’s concerning whether or not Grand Theft Auto V would affect their moral values and ethics and ultimately result in the denial of women’s rights.

The controversy of female suppression and false portrayal in Grand Theft Auto V has been going on for years. Co-founders of the game claim that it is a game featuring ‘masculinity’ where exaggeration is needed. Yes, masculinity is common and not always problematic in the gaming industry. Ranging from Mario and Princess Peach to the polygamous Geralt and his partners in The Witcher 3, male-perspective heroism and patriarchy is everywhere, but they are not straightforwardly misogynist. In these games women are highlighted for their courage, wisdom or kindness. Grand Theft Auto V, however, disdains women in every possible aspect, and therefore achieves the superiority of masculinity.

It has been seven years since the game has been released and I’m delighted to see that women worldwide are raising awareness of the anti-feminism in the game. Some stores have pulled it off the shelf; 50,000 Australians have signed a petition, led by sexual violence survivors. Personally I’d still say that Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best games I’ve ever played, but it questions America and the entire society: is it inevitable to involve gender-based violence, rape culture and negative portrayals of women, or is it the nature of gaming culture?

-Maggie Xie


GTA 5: misogyny, teeth-pulling and subjectivity



5 thoughts on “Feminism and Grand Theft Auto V

  1. Hey Maggie,

    Interesting article – thanks for the share. As a young guy growing up around video game culture, I remember seeing a bunch of my friends playing GTA all the time. I personally never played much nor did I understand the point of the game. As far as I could tell, you ran around the city shooting people and stealing cars.

    I had a conversation with a closer friend of mine about the game and why he liked it. He mentioned the idea of freedom and the unbridled “wild west” mentality many users feel during the game. Similar I think to Red Dead Redemption – another popular RPG game.

    I find it pretty disturbing and alarming that games like this are the way they are and that they have such popularity. Why that is is a longer convo and I’m sure there’s plenty of interesting research/psych stuff around it. But I wanted to focus in on one of the things you mention in the blog – masculinity.

    I’ve always been frustrated with games like this and at large our society’s portrayal of masculinity. First off, I disagree strongly that this game depicts masculinity – at least in any form that does the construction justice. Female masculinity, queer masculinity, and other forms of non-hegemonic masculinity need more attention and games like this work in direct opposition to that. Other than reinforcing our stereotypical notions of what defines masculinity, I find the game to be a harmful catalyst toward abusive and aggressive behavior. Whether or not behavior like this should be limited/regulated in gaming platforms or VR as we move in that direction is an interesting question for public policy moving forward and I’m glad this blog brings it up.

    – Oliver


  2. Hey Maggie,

    I’m also really interested in this idea. There’s a lot of media which tends to center on the masculine (Tarantino’s filmography comes to mind), and I think it’s important to talk about this.

    The area of games like GTA is particularly important because of the sense of agency they provide the player. In a sense, the player is not only experiencing this gendered violence but actively contributing to it within the confines of the game. It’s a concerning thought, but more often than not, people don’t actively pay attention to it.

    I also like that you bring up some of the less violent components of misogyny in the game through the way women are characterized. Sexism isn’t always contingent on aggressive action, and it’s really important to note the way it manifests itself in this way.

    Finally, I appreciate that you share that you still maintain your positive perception of the game. I still like Pulp Fiction despite some moral objections, and I think there’s room for that. We just need to have these conversations.


  3. Hi Maggie,
    There are many stereotypes when it comes to video games, many of which I am not entirely familiar with as I do not play video games myself. One of these stereotypes that I am familiar with is that female people don’t play video games as much as males do. Because the creators of the games are primarily male and their audience is assumed to be primarily male as well, certain freedoms are taken with the creation of female characters. In my limited experience, I have also noticed that “gamer girls” have become sexualized or fetishized and I have to wonder if the portrayal of women in these video games has had an effect on male gamers’ views of women in the real world.


  4. Hi Maggie,

    Thanks for sharing this article and drawing attention to an important issue and phenomenon, one that I’m increasingly passionate about (I’m actually considering exploring gender inequality for my public policy studies class’s final paper). It’s crazy to me how entrenched our gender expectations truly are. Even though women legally have equal rights as men, it seems clear to me that we still collectively hold restrictive gender assumptions that guide our behavior and pop culture – assumptions that ultimately harm people of all genders. Your article also reminds me of our discussion on AI, the objectification of women through technology, and the male gaze in films. It seems especially problematic to me that these virtual worlds demean women so much – even though it’s not real life, it’s supposed to represent real life, and I think games that enforce such norms can even influence real-life behaviors. My counselor told us that pornography, for instance, is setting up unrealistic expectations of real-life intimacy and in that sense contributes to sexual assault.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s