Last week Grand Theft Auto V became the fastest selling entertainment product ever. The manufacturers sold $1.6 billion worth of intense violence, dangerous heists and a combination of storytelling and gameplay. With 14 previous popular games under its belt the GTA franchise has a huge audience who queued dedicatedly for the release of the game at midnight on the 16th of September.
Along with the mass number of gamers and fans, there was also a multitude of reviewers raving about their experiences online. The public’s response was generally extremely positive, one online reviewer even went as far as saying “Grand Theft Auto V will go down in the history books as a landmark in gaming and one of the very best games ever created.”
As with any form of entertainment, despite glowing feedback there was also some criticism. Carolyn Petit, a reviewer for Game Spot, called GTA V “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic”. Despite this critique of the game Petit was otherwise impressed, she praised its three-protagonist structure, its ‘staggering’ amount of activities and the freedom to create your own “unstructured fun”. Along with many glowing compliments Petit also gave GTA V a superb 9 out of 10 rating.
However, the almost perfect rating did not satisfy many of the GTA V fans. Petit began receiving abuse online abuse before she even posted her review. Some simply said that the site had chosen the ‘wrong reviewer’ for the game and others directly questioned why a female would be chosen to review the GTA game. One reader commented “never, ever let a woman review games like this!”
The GTA games are known for their relentless violence, expanse of shifty criminals and negative representation of women. One review commented that women only exist in the game to “nag you, or be bribed.” According to games review sites the public’s opinion of this representation ranges from offensive and misogynistic to profound social commentary and even just ‘satirical’ humor. Petit’s review supported the former but her abundance of compliments about the rest of the game by far outweighed her criticism.
The online abuse towards Petit ranged from immature rants that the game deserved a 10/10 rating to a 700 word analysis of how Petit was “taking advantage of the subjective freedom” of her line of work and using her opinion for a “personal agenda”. Another reader argued that reviews should be objective and that Petit was “a joke”, he went on to write to Petit that “you don’t understand the job you’re doing.” Few of the comments on the review denied GTA V’s negative representation of women or rampant misogyny; instead they only attacked the reviewer’s choice of commenting on these factors.
“Never, ever, let a woman review games like this!”
Another writer subjected to online abuse for questioning the lack of appeal to women in video games is Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger for the site Feminist Frequency. Sarkeesian attended an Xbox press conference which confirmed that there would be, in her own words; “exactly zero games featuring a female protagonist for the next generation”. In response to posting this on Twitter she was barraged with numerous angry comments such as; “Women don’t belong in video games”, “What did you expect? Cooking and cleaning games?” and “Women make up a small margin of their demographic. Your tastes are obscure and unprofitable.”
However, studies by the Entertainment Software Association found that gamers in the U.S are actually 45% female. In fact, adult female gamers actually outnumber the amount of teenage male gamers. On the other hand, on the working side of gaming industry figures show much less equality. The Boston Globe reported that according to surveys women account for only 11% of game designers and 3% of game programmers.
With 89% of game designers being male it seems inevitable that the protagonists of games will usually also be male. Geoffrey Zatkin, the Chief Operating Officer at EEDAR, a video game research and consulting company, explained that “there is general feeling from marketing that it’s hard to sell a mass-market game that’s a female-only protagonist.” In fact, EEDAR’s research shows that video games with only male heroes sold about 75% more than games with exclusively female heroes. Unsurprisingly in the 16 years that the Grand Theft Auto franchise has been running it has never offered its players the opportunity to experience the game as a female character. Furthermore, according to EEDAR only 3% of gaming protagonists are female. However, the shocking factor is not necessarily that women must become accustomed to experiencing these fictional worlds through a male gaze but that many online trolls now expect women to accept a ‘male’ opinion about the games also.