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I haven't played any of the Grand Theft Auto games.
When I told my husband I wanted to write a piece about how as a female gamer, I could never play a title in this franchise, he looked at me in horror and said, "If you think you're getting online hate now, it'll get ten times worse if you write this."
He's right. Even by talking about it, I'm breaking some kind of unwritten rule among hardcore GTA fans. Just ask Carolyn Petit who wrote a review giving GTA V a 9 out of 10 and still received a mountain of hate followed by a petition to have her fired for pointing out some transphobic elements. Unlike Petit, I haven't played GTA V, or any GTA game for that matter. This isn't a well-rounded, thoughtful review. Having never played, I have no right to do that. Instead, this is about why I, as a female gamer, feel like I'm not allowed to play it.
GTA is no stranger to controversy. From the "Hot Coffee" scandal to gratuitous violence, those who play the series know they are in for some amount of sensitive material. And if that was the extent of it, I'd probably be a fan. I'm no stranger to MA ratings and adult themes. I like a good helping of violence in my games and I like when my character can have sexy times on screen. And honestly, I like the drama of controversy. Sometimes, I'll play a title just to see what all the fuss is about. Really, I should fit perfectly in the GTA demographic. So why after five installments, have I avoided playing a single title?
The answer is overtly simple: I'm not a cisgender male and the series is completely inaccessible to anyone who isn't a cisgender male. As a woman gamer, I've had to learn to ignore lots of unsavory things in the games I play, like the most unsavory thing of all: a lack of female playable characters. But some things I can't ignore because they are so blatantly hateful and GTA is rife with these elements. Rockstar Games has basically developed a series that is completely dependent on misogyny, transphobia, and violence against women for its success. Fans of GTA have come to expect and even enjoy these qualities, but these same qualities keep minority gamers at arm's length.
I'll focus on GTA V since it recently started some new controversy with its GTA online "rape mod." I'm not even joking: GTA V Online lets players rape other characters. While Rockstar Games didn't create the mod, they haven't removed it either. And as Bustle so eloquently explains: "This “rape trolling” is a symptom of a larger problem that GTA set up for itself long ago: pervasive and flippant attitudes toward sexual ownership. Players previously relished in the idea of being able to treat prostitutes and strippers like property, and game designers made it part of the fun."
You see, I don't want to play Sexual Harassment: The Game. I'm already playing it in real life. I can't jog outside because the last time I did, a man yelled from his slowing vehicle, "Bet you're going to need a good f**k after that run!" I have to time my errands so that I'm home before dark because the threat of abduction and rape in a nighttime parking lot is very, very real. Whenever the doorbell rings and I'm home alone, panic sets in because there's a chance I'm about to be face to face with someone who wants to hurt me.
Since I've had to deal with issues like this since puberty, you'll forgive me if I don't want to play a mini game where a burly male protagonist gropes a female stripper as many times as he can before the bouncer catches him. (Oh, and if he does it long enough, his reward is he gets to have sex with her.)
I don't want to see billboards advertising perfume that will make me "smell like a bitch" or hear a radio ad telling the audience to "use women like urinals." And I certainly don't want to watch a prostitute service an alpha male playable character only to have him beat her over the head with a baseball bat after the deed is done. Let's not forget one of the newest features of GTA V: The ability to kill all topless women, not just prostitutes. And if that's not enough, it's possible to take a picture of their naked corpses on your camera phone afterward for further misogynistic enjoyment.
And if the sexism and sexual violence isn't bad enough, there's more. GTA V makes it abundantly clear that they also have a problem with transgender people. GTA V offers a heavy helping of transphobia seen everywhere from perfectly rendered bulges outlined in pink miniskirts to the in-universe delivery service sporting this offensive pun: "POST OP: No longer just mail" as if gender-confirmation surgery is somehow funny. Seriously, who at Rockstar Games is writing this disgusting material?
Perhaps the worst part is that these issues carry over into the gaming community. A large part of the GTA fan base are men who subscribe to many of the ignorant notions brought up by the game. Remember Carolyn Petit? She's transgender. It's impossible to go and read the comments on her review without wanting to vomit.
Of course, they aren't focusing on the things that she said about the game (which again, were largely positive) but are instead attacking her personally because she's trans. Many of the comments are scary similar to negative dialogue that exists in-game surrounding transgender people. It's hard to deny the rampant misogyny that exists among GTA players when it's all laid out so obviously in the comment section of Petit's review. If you aren't a cisgender male gamer, it's not a safe community to interact with.
You don't even have to take my word for it. Straight from the mouth of the creator, GTA V's concept is entirely rooted in "masculinity." He's talking about the lack of female playable characters (another problem but one that needs its own article), but it goes so much deeper than that. The sexism, the violence towards women, the transphobia; they all combine to create this twisted definition of masculinity. Beating up a sex worker, groping a woman until you "win her over," insulting a trans woman -- Rockstar Games considers these masculine qualities.
When they say that masculinity is an essential part of the story, I think it extends to their ideas of what the GTA community should look like. They are deliberately pushing women away from these titles to create this weird "no girls allowed" mancave environment. And it's working, at least for me.
I'll gladly step away from the franchise in favor of my mental health. The threat of sexual harassment, violence, and disrespect for no other reason other than my gender weighs down on me no matter where I go. I don't need to experience it in a fictional universe.