My Female Character on GTA V

Were these incidents influenced by my character’s gender?

When Grand Theft Auto launched its online game, instead of making a virtual version of myself, I made a female character. Given GTA’s popularity amongst male gamers, and given that the leading characters of the story mode are male, I didn’t want a recurring look. I wanted my character to be different, and to have features that, in my vision, resembled a woman who grew up in Los Santos, Rockstar’s version of Los Angeles. Nine out of ten times I have the only female character in a session, which is comprised of 16 players. I thought this would not make a difference in how I interact with other players, but there were several surprising incidents that, I think, were influenced by my character’s gender.

The first time I played online, within the first ten minutes, two players inside a car decided to chase after me. I had no personal vehicle and only a cheap handgun to defend myself from their automatic, submachine guns. Yes, I know; everyone who plays online gets killed for no reason. But what bothered me was one player’s comment through his headset as I was gunned down: “yeah, take it, you fucking slut.” The comment partly bemused me because I’m a guy, but mostly vexed me with its pejorative and demeaning intent, voiced by a prideful, entitled male. I couldn’t help but remember a passage from New Yorker’s Simon Parkin’s, “How Evil Should a Video Game Allow you to Be?” where he discusses video game violence:

Last month, a user on a Grand Theft Auto V forum asked whether players would be able to rape women in the game. In the post, which was widely shared on social media, he wrote, “I want to have the opportunity to kidnap a woman, hostage her, put her in my basement and rape her everyday, listen to her crying, watching her tears.”

On one occasion, I went idle for ten minutes and left my character on passive mode—an option where you can’t be killed by other players—on a house’s roof (they can still run you over with a car). When I came back, there were five players on the street below, some trying to shoot me, others trying to climb on to where I was. After a few minutes, it turned into an all-out war amongst themselves. All of them but one eventually left—he found his way up to the roof, where he walked against my character without stop. I received friend requests from three of the five crazies on the street.

Another time, I left my character idle for no more than a minute. When I came back, there was a creep with a hockey mask taking a selfie next to my character. I was amused by the comical scene but somewhat unsettled. When I moved away, the lunatic took out a baseball bat and ran after me. We ran a few yards before I shot him. About fifteen minutes later, he messaged me, “I just destroyed your personal car with my baseball bat. What you gunna do?”

These are a few of the many events that stand out from my visit to Los Santos. I could get into more recurrent ones that include vulgar comments, ceaseless stalking and creative combinations of the words “bitch,” “whore,” “rape” and “slut,” but never mind—I think you get my point, although I’m not quite sure what to surmise. I can try to associate this post and the incidents to any sexist attitude against women, ever, but who’s to say the usual male characters don’t get stalked in Los Santos; they do. A demeaning term like “slut” aimed at a woman can be replaced by “faggot” aimed at a man. A hockey-masked creep can simply be a fan of anarchy; a brute troll who wants to irritate someone.

I like to think, optimistically so, that society has evolved beyond detrimental treatment towards women or specific groups of people, but often I’m reminded otherwise. It’s too farfetched and imprudent for me, however, to use these online episodes to make a deep, meaningful argument about women in society. Whether any incident I mentioned was the result of my character’s gender is hard to say—maybe it was tough luck. I wrote this entry because the first incident and the comment in sync really bothered me, and I wanted to share that it did. I think sexism outpaces equality when rules are suspended; in Los Santos, there are no rules. The only thing I can do, then, is shoot back, to make things fair, to even the nonexistent rules of the game.