By Brian O'Sullivan
Grand Theft Auto V was released to the world in September 2013 and as expected broke sales records around the world. This did not happen by luck or because the marketing team charged with advertising the game pulled off a master stroke. In fairness all Rockstar have to do is say they are releasing a GTA title and the game will sell itself. No the reason why GTA V is so successful is because it is a fantastic game.
Yes, this might seem like the opinion of one person but it is an opinion shared by many many gamers around the globe. Although known for its more controversial elements of gameplay and story like the stealing of cars from innocent NPC’s (name of the game), other violence, glorification of gangs, drug use etc to name but a few the gameplay great and it sells. The story in every GTA, no matter how controversial is well rounded and enjoyable experience, complementing the gameplay perfectly. The discussion of GTA V and how it's a great game and why could fill a small book but its raises a an issue that has been brought up countless times over the years.
Why was there no female protagonist?
When asked why there was no female lead in the story of GTA V, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser said "the concept of being masculine was so key to this story." This statement, rather than answering the question put to him, raises the point why was the story not written for a female lead? Its interesting to see in the online GTA V world how many male players use female PC’s as their online personas.
The best way to understand how the game industry has viewed the female lead protagonist over the last 20 or so years is to look at arguably its most famous female hero. Lara Croft.
When Lara was first created in middle of the 90’s by designer Toby Gard and his team at Core Design, they tried to stay away from a hypersexualized characte. At first the character they were creating was for an adventure type game in the mould of Indiana Jones. Funnily enough it was because of fears of lawsuits that the character was decided upon to be female. We all the remember the first look of Lara Croft's distinctive features but this was not the design teams intention. A simple design mistake that was seen by someone in the marketing department and light bulbs went off. This design mistake was that her bra size was 150% bigger than intended. Marketing saw this as a way to make noise in the market. So although Lara was a strong willed, well educated and most definitely not a victim it was her exaggerated polygon modeled assets than was put to the front of the marketing campaign for the game.
Thus began what is also a great game series and the character loved by gamers. This marked the first time male gamers enjoyed having a female lead in their game. The question was although the game was great was the reason for their love of the character because she kicked some serious ass or was it because of her larger than normal dimensions in certain places.
Lara design and proportions over the next few years did not change to dramatically. Although technology improved and the graphics of games got better her assets became more rounded and did not decrease in size.
So even though Toby Gard had a vision for his Lara Croft being a character being more remembered for her personality rather than her looks he lost out to marketing and the age old saying of “sex sells”.
So her look stayed pretty much the same until 2013 when Japanese publisher Square Enix took over Edios, who at the time controlled the Tomb Raider franchise. It was decided to completely reboot the series and not just story wise, Lara herself would get a complete new look. No just clothing or hair or anything else that would've been the usual idea or a Lara Croft change the last few years. Her physique would be altered to make her more accessible to gamers on a human level. More emphasis would be put on her depth of character than her body. With almost half the population of video gamers in modern society now female there was a resounding cheer that finally Lara Croft would no longer have a large bra size. That may sound a bit crass, but when ya get down to it that's what it came down too.
Tomb Raider (2013) was a successful reboot which breathed new life into the series which will spawn a whole new wave of sequels over the next few years. Was this down to the new dimensions of Lara’s physique? Maybe so. Opposition to the sexualized view and take of female characters in modern video games saw this as a victory. They hoped this would start a new trend of female lead protagonists in games. Toby Gard vision for Lara Croft, from nearly 20 years ago, is now coming to life.
After looking at the most iconic female lead in games history (apart from Ms Pacman obviously) the question is now whether we will ever see a female lead in GTA V. The excuse given by Dan Houser of story requirements cannot be given next time around.
According to industry publications the video game population is no split 50/50 in gender so does that mean that 50% of GTA players are female. The short answer to this is no. Yes you could survey people and ask them are they gamers and the will answers yes. A large proportion of the female “gamers” will consider themselves gamers because they play mobile games like Candy Crush. The vast majority of GTA player are males aged 18-30. Thats not being sexist it's a fact. The issue with this is will Rockstar use this as a reason not to use a female lead in their story in the next iteration of GTA? Has this be their reasoning all along?
The developers are now, more than anytime before, facing mounting pressure from within the industry and consumers to have a female lead in the next Grand Theft Auto. The games developers have never been afraid to court controversy with the content of their game but they are now faced with a serious question as they begin development of GTA 6, which insider sources have confirmed has begun (if the internet is too be believed). Maybe they see having a female lead as being too difficult factor into their particular brand of offensive yet humorous storytelling.
Will the next GTA have a female lead in the next installment? Suppose we will have to wait and see if developers Rockstar have the cajones to continue the initial vision of Lara Croft all those years ago. Although knowing Rockstar, prepare yourself for outrageous proportions.