Downtown L.A., the Figueroa Hotel. 3.5 rating on Yelp, where it’s praised for its margaritas and its parking proximity to the Grammy museum. Google Image search shows its Moroccan-themed decor: chiffon scarves on walls the colour of terracotta. Inside, it might well be Marrakech.
Outside, it’s Grand Theft Auto
Like gods of the silver screen, three twelve story murals of GTA V
’s leads overlook West Olympic Boulevard. Anyone passing, staying at the Figueroa or visiting the Downtown Car Wash below (3.0 on Yelp: “Okay if you are in a pinch”) in the past two months will have seen them, just as they would have seen Niko Bellic and company occupying the same spot in 2008.GTA
is hard to miss, so it’s odd that these three giants should be used to advertise a game that is, in effect, self-advertising. When its next instalment was first announced, fans looked for hints of what was to come by studying the font the announcement was made in. When the first screenshots were released, the fan community mapped Los Santos based on what few details were revealed in their backgrounds.
That a game allows a player to solicit, have sex with, then beat up a prostitute to recover his or her money has generated so many inches of newspaper bluster, when stacked end to end the columns would dwarf Michael, Trevor and Franklin, even if they themselves stood on one another’s shoulders. It is, perhaps, the most notorious video game series ever made.
And its protagonists? They’re just a bunch of guys. Two white, one black, there’s little to separate them from the tourists and hustlers passing in their shadow. To anyone out of the loop, in their five A.M. stubble and sweat-stained polo shirts, they could be anybody.
What they are not, is women, a fact that didn’t escape the gaming press--or indeed anyone with eyes. Half of GTA
’s potential audience would be forced to play as members of the opposite sex, which might not be such an issue if the game’s reputation wasn’t so damned big. Large enough to commandeer the Figueroa. Large enough that in its first three weeks GTA V
’s UK sales authoritatively eclipsed those of its predecessor over a five year span.
Yet the latest Grand Theft Auto
has no room for women in anything other than a supporting role. Its market assured, GTA V
could have upset the apple cart by introducing, for the first time in Rockstar Games’ catalogue, a female protagonist. Instead, even in its more positive reviews, the game was accused of misogyny. “The game’s treatment of women [...] is a real concern” says Edge Magazine
; “[GTA V’s] treatment of women is a relic” says Polygon
; “[GTA V] has an unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness running through it” says Gamespot
. All the while they've awarded the game 10, 9.5 and 9 out of 10 respectively.
With women relegated to the roles of--according to
The Guardian’s Keith Stuart--“unfaithful wives, hookers and weirdoes” - it was perhaps only to be expected that some women playing might take umbrage. In fact, the general response among gaming journalists has been one of wearied disappointment tempered with a sort of Curate’s Egg brand of optimism. “Yes, Grand Theft Auto
is offensive,” says
Helen Lewis, also writing for The Guardian. “Yes, it’s ‘problematic’ in its treatment of gender, race and sexuality. And yes, it is also an incredible technical and artistic achievement.”