We’ve heard a lot leaked, rumored information about GTA 6 recently and even had a few deep dives into the sorts of next-gen graphics we can expect from it – and the good news is that thanks to today’s graphics tech the game is going to be a massive technological upgrade. Gaming tech has grown up. But wouldn’t it be great if GTA as a series did, too?
Don’t get me wrong. I know what GTA is supposed to be. It’s irreverent. Fearless. Funny. But look at the promo image above. If GTA had a smell, it’d be Lynx Africa. Rockstar knows it: back in 2013, co-founder Dan Houser told the Guardian that a woman couldn’t possibly be one of GTA V’s playable characters because “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story”.
GTA doesn’t paint anybody in a particularly good light, I know. But at least it tries to paint the male characters. The female and queer characters are barely sketched at all: they’re irritating girlfriends, sex workers, ciphers. The portrayal of trans women in particular is childish and repellent.
You don’t need to love The Last of Us Part 2 or Horizon Zero Dawn (or tons of indie games) to know that games can do better. And if we can’t appeal to Rockstar’s heart, let’s appeal to their bottom line: in 2021 in the US, women were 45% of all gamers. That’s a lot of gaming dollars. Maybe we could be the ones on the motorbikes rather than the ones in bikinis this time around?
If you're gonna do it, do it right
I’m not asking for GTA 6 to get rid of the straight, cisgender white guys. Cisgender white guys can be fun too! I’m just asking for games to include characters who aren’t straight, cisgender white guys for the very many players who are not, or who do not want to play, the same characters in every game. GTA can do it – it brought us the critically acclaimed CJ Johnson in San Andreas, the first playable GTA lead who wasn’t white, and one of the three leads in GTA V, Trevor, is bi. There are also gay characters in Rockstar’s RDR2 who aren’t portrayed with tired old tropes.
What I don’t want is to have a playable female, non-binary and/or queer lead who’s only there as a token, a character whose only difference from Default Man is the way their buttocks move when they run. Representation isn’t about programming polygons to be pert; it’s understanding that the world is different for people who aren’t cisgender white guys and reflecting that in the game world, like The Last of Us Part II did with its queer and trans characters. Even Cyberpunk had a go, albeit a half-baked one.
GTA has brought us bi characters, and characters with mental illness, and characters who’ve struggled with racism. But they’re all guy characters. Maybe that’s a reflection of Rockstar’s workforce, in which case it’s time to get hiring more diverse people to tell more interesting stories. But maybe it’s a case of inertia, of “this is how we do it, because this is how we’ve always done it” And I know Rockstar can do better than that – and unlike some game devs, it can absolutely do it without any commercial risk. GTA is that rare thing, a game franchise that’s utterly review-proof. And that means Rockstar doesn’t need to play on easy mode.