Excepting further delays, Grand Theft Auto V [official site] is due to finally arrive on PC on April 18th. In anticipation, Nathan Ditum sent us this piece about how the series’ increased fidelity has created problems, and why that same “miraculous detail” is why his love for it endures.
Recently I was reminded by Helen Lewis of the New Statesmen of the current predominance of a certain kind of opinion writing, which can be summarised as “As a blank, I feel x about y.” This formulation can be limiting, to the writer as well as the pursuit of the ideas at hand, but probably also reflects something laudable about at least trying to diversify from a monolithic consensus. As a white middle-class male approaching middle age I am of course precisely the pale demographic flob from which this archetypal pitch is trying to escape, so it is with a sense of irony which apparently no longer exists in GTA itself that I present this: a list of reasons why, as a representative of the default morass of accumulated privileged perspective, I feel culturally and morally compromised by some of the bad bits in GTA V.
The amount of times black characters written by other white men like me say the ‘N’ word
“You the one all pumped up on doing this lick, nigga. I’m getting my money in the hood. I’m straight, fool.”
Did the game’s credited writers actually come up with this line? The Rockstar creative team is an overwhelmingly white group led by Dan Houser, an English man in his 40s. The problem this gives me is that instead of playing the game I can’t stop thinking about the process. When writing the script, did they type out all the times the characters say the ‘N’ word and own it, forthrightly? Or did they feed a nude line with no vernacular to the actors with a look of earnest encouragement. “Just say what you normally say because, you know, we can’t – that would be grotesque appropriation – but it’s OK for us to record you doing it and put it in our game, probably.”
This article suggests the latter – a fluid process where actors help fill in all the parts the game’s actual writers don’t have the cultural leverage to articulate – but of course that doesn’t escape the grim social tourism of a group of rich mostly white guys selling these scenes as entertainment. It’s that particular combination of author and output which makes me want to be in a different room when they’re playing out. The Wire, for comparison’s sake, wasn’t just entertainment but a social excavation. Quentin Tarantino at least grew up in the same neighbourhoods his films portray, and, until Django Unchained, they were also portrayed from a white perspective looking in. GTA V can’t claim either defence, and I can’t stop thinking about its scenes featuring Franklin and Lamar as a kind of gruesome cultural puppetry. It’s Punch & Judy: The Minstrel Special. And there aren’t even any sausages.
Also this line in that article, from GTA voice actor Lazlow Jones, is the best line. “…we don’t want a goofy L.A actor who went to a fancy school trying to be a hard gang member. There’s nothing worse than that.” Which is funny because I can definitely think of one thing.
The fact that GTA did realistic dogs before it managed realistic women
I stole that line from someone on Twitter and I can’t remember who, but the important bit is that it’s true. GTA V’s Chop the dog is more like a dog than any of GTA V’s women are like women I’ve met or who exist.
And even then, unrealistic women are potentially fine. Mrs Incredible, for instance, can turn into a parachute and yet I consider her a good role model for my young daughter. The problem really is that the depiction of women in GTA V is hateful and mad. Every substantial female role is characterised by sex. Michael is married to Amanda, a one-time stripper and prostitute turned tennis coach-fucking wife. His daughter, Tracy, is a cam girl going by the name Tracy Suxx who flirts with the porn industry. One of Michael’s missions is to forcibly retrieve her from a party thrown by porn execs, putting you in the odd position of ‘saving’ a woman from sexual exploitation in a game which revels in rubbing women’s faces in the shaming idea of sex like a dog grabbed by the scruff and forced to contemplate its own indiscreet and steaming shit.
If that sounds strong then consider that, early on, when the game has only had time to introduce us to four centrally recurring male characters and not a single woman, two of those male characters (in a game marked by the sexual obsessions of its protagonists) have a conversation that condemns a woman for enjoying sex. The actual exchange:
“This chump change. How am I gonna knock a bad, grown and sexy bitch if I don’t got a fat pee-zocket?” (writes Dan Houser).
“Who you trying to impress?”
“Your auntie, Denise. With that ass, nigga. She got ass”
“She grown, yeah. She grown into a fucking idiot.”
“Nah she sexy.”
“Sexy? She more like obsessed with sex, nigga.”
“No, mad for the penis, that’s how I like my women, nigga”
Denise, the woman in question, is a constant annoyance to Franklin and often dampens the enjoyment of his life of killing people and driving cars for money. She has meetings of like-minded women, where they exercise and chant empowering slogans, and once Franklin leaves their shared house she turns it into a women’s centre. The game twists this feminism into an object of disgusted ridicule by glibly suggesting it’s a cover for old desperate women who are obsessed with – ahahaha – pelvic strength, before having its ultimate arbiter of whatever the fuck it stands for, Trevor, dismiss them all with some clever swear words. Which is good, inasmuch as it provides us with a usefully short example of how GTA V feels about women.
This article gets to the good bits on page two.