Grand Theft Auto V: All That and Boobs in Your Face

I don’t usually judge games on the “for boys” or “for girls” factor. That said, I get that many of games have been and are made with the male gaze in mind. What would boys want to fight, drive, and look at…that sort of thing. It’s not something that racks my brain because I often want to fight, drive, and look at the same thing as boys. Often, but not always. So when I first ventured into the Vanilla Unicorn, Grand Theft Auto V’s sole strip club (as opposed to there being multiple clubs in previous games), I was okay with the fact that there were, and call me crazy here, probably going to be partially nude women (not men, because, question mark) in it. When I walked up to one of the strippers working the room and she inquired about a private dance, I was okay with that too. Sexy time, lap dance, fine, whatever, have at…I was ready. Only I wasn’t, because I was utterly taken aback by happened when the private dance started. Once you arrived in the special lounge, your dancer awaited, naked from the waist up. (Sure.) Upon sitting down, the on-screen view changed from behind the girl to boobs. No face, no legs, just two breasts sauntering round yo’ face.

I just don’t have the energy to search the Internet for the all the naked in the GTA V strip club. Instead, please enjoy this video of a baby goat on a trampoline.

Holy bejeezus, is that CUTE! If I had a farm, I would have, like, a hundred baby goats. Seriously. And at least a couple dozen trampolines.

Y’know, there actually are goats in GTA V. Not baby ones but big ones, and they rather get in your way sometimes. Like when you’re transversing the hills because you accidentally drove your truck into the side of a mountain, and the game glitched enough that you were actually able to climb said mountain. Only then you had to get back down. Then you found the goats.

Anyway. The Vanilla Unicorn. Unicorns are kinda like OMFGSHUTTHEHELLUPABOUTTHEGODDAMNGOATS

It took my brain several, err, moments to focus in on the task at hand. I realized that not only was I in the midst of a mini-game, but that I could change the view so as to see most of the dancer. The point of the mini-game was to flirt and touch her without being caught by the bouncer. The best view to see the bouncer and the girl was…well…yeah. Boobs.

And it’s not like things got better as the dance went on.  All tits and ass and creepily-rendered touching.  That’s when I thought “this is totally for the boys.”

That was also me being quite severe in a moment of astonishment. Oh yes. It was.

But the issue of how the lap dance was first presented  didn’t deter me from visiting the club throughout the rest of the game. It did make me a little uppity though. Till that point, I didn’t see myself as a “girl playing Grand Theft Auto V,” but rather as just another player engrossed in its action. After the lap dance, I couldn’t help but simply be more aware of the game’s masculine overtones.

The promos pretty much said it all.
The promos pretty much said it all.

But that’s the game, right? I mean, men dominate the game, from the primary quests to the side missions. There are women in the game, but they’re mostly, and unfortunately, secondary characters and scenery – the shrill wife, the calculating bitch, the sexy stripper, and the batshit-crazy loony tune.

And now I think I’ve gone a bit astray, because, yes, the whole boobs thing bugs me, but GTA V isn’t a treatise on equality among the sexes. It showcases the lives of three…well, two supremely fucked up individuals and one who’s on his way there. There’s Michael and Trevor who participate in a heist together way back when that took a bad turn, resulting in the death of one of their team members named Brad, and Michael ending up in witness protection. Shenanigans ensue, and it turns out that your run-of-the-mill firestarter Trevor believes that Brad is still alive while Michael is dead. Trevor ends up on the wrong side of Los Santos, the game’s primary setting, selling meth. Meanwhile, Michael starts his life over, takes on a new last name, gets married, and has a couple kids. But soon enough that heist itch calls, and he takes a young man with promising criminal tendencies named Franklin under his wing. Together, with friends, they rob a jewelry store. Trevor gets wind of this and figures that Michael had to be at the helm. Sure enough, the two reunite (and it didn’t feel so good), and they all decide to go in on “one last heist.” During that process, Franklin’s, Trevor’s, and Michael’s backstories are revealed — believe it or not, they don’t all revolve around degeneration — and they move on with life all Three Musketeers-like. Sorta. Just with more internal affairs stuff and less pomp.

In 2013, you couldn’t have found me more excited for a game than GTA V. With 3.5 games from the franchise under my belt (Vice City, GTA IV, Chinatown Wars, and Stories from Liberty City), moving on to the next installment was without question. When I finally got my hands on the game around Christmastime that year, I was astounded at the game’s scope. Though the game didn’t have as lasting an impact on me as GTA IV,  I still had a hell of a time exploring the crap outta Los Santos. The game was pure, unadulterated fun. The story was crazy and reckless, as were the characters. The game instilled that same feeling of bizarre comfort that I found in previous GTA titles. Like, there’s little that’s truly relatable to me in the GTA games except the simple notion of finding one’s place in the world.  No matter if your a boring, middle-class worker like me or a psychotic ne’er-do-well with a penchant for cocaine – we all have to face the same day, every day, day after day. It’s what we do with those days that makes us individuals.

Like it or not, we all have to go shopping.
Like it or not, we all have to go shopping.

See, GTA V isn’t about “men” and “women.” It’s about three human beings and their choices, and those humans happen to be men. But women aren’t dumb enough to be Franklin, Trevor, and Michael. And yes, they are dumb. Also smart. But mostly…well yeah, I was gonna say “dumb” again, but they aren’t really dumb. Rockstar actually did a nice job of infusing each of the men with basic tenets and varying degrees of humanity. One of the better things about the game is that each of them feels pretty fleshed out personality-wise. Granted, if you’ve played the game, you probably lean towards one character over the others (Michael all the way for me), but it’s kinda cool playing through each man’s life and watching how it intertwines with the others. And for that I give it credit.

It’s too bad that some of that credit is undermined by boobs in your face, but if I want a game that celebrates diversity, strong women, and the power of teamwork, I won’t turn to GTA. Should I expect more in this day and age? Probably. But sometimes I just want to go skydiving, attempt to win a car race, or just mow down asshole NPCs who think they know better. And that has nothing to do with being a “boy” or a “girl;” that’s just life.

And…okay…sure…maybe I’m saying why not put a male strip club in GTA VI? You know why? Because nobody wants to be surprised by dick in his/her face.

Maybe.

11 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto V: All That and Boobs in Your Face”

  1. Yeah, I noticed this too. Your thoughts actually remind me of how I view a lot of raunchy comedies, which can be really funny up to the point where the guys in the film start discussing women or go to a strip club or whatever it is they’re doing… and then I keep laughing a little, but I start thinking in the back of my mind, “Yeah, this movie wasn’t made for me… it’s for guys. Should I even be here?” It makes me feel like I’m in the wrong place or something, if that makes sense. Just for a minute, until the jokes change.

    But that can happen a lot. In games and movies. You’re going along, having a great time, not thinking much about gender, but then some “male” moment (meaning sexist, or at times just with the male gaze in mind) intrudes on the experience for a minute.

    I was kind of expecting that kind of humor from the movie “This is the End,” because it features a big cast of famous male actors, but I was pleasantly surprised at how “non-gendered” the humor was. (Most of it, anyway.) Even at the very end, I thought the guy’s last wish in heaven was going to be for naked women or something (I actually expected that), but it ended up being for a Backstreet Boys reunion. That totally made my day.

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    1. That’s really true, isn’t it? There are so many great silly comedies that walk that line between what you expect and what you don’t. And they seem to work best when, not only do you get the unexpected, but you get something that’s so out there, like in “This is the End,” that it makes you see the movie in a completely different light. The most recent example I can think of, since I just saw it gort the first time recently, is “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Right it’s not silly comedy, it’s extremely wry (and raw) at points. And though it’s a very, very masculine movie, the story of the abuse of power transcends gender. It’s pretty amazing. Outside of the Vanilla Unicorn, I think GTA V managed to do something similar overall. Sure, its story involves three guys, but its themes go well beyond them in ways mostly good.

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  2. As much as you are playing the game as just a player, your character is very clearly male and in a sense something like that strip club incident wouldn’t be obtuse given the person you are playing as. There wouldn’t be much point to going to a strip club if you didn’t see boob if I may be so blunt, sure maybe a different angle could be effective in keeping tabs on the bouncer while you play but then we could be doing this anywhere if the location has no meaning to it.

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    1. Oh, undoubtedly. I wouldn’t expect anything less either. What bugged me was being thrust (haha) into first-person view seemingly without choice. (Playing the PS3 version, I don’t recall any other points in the game where your immediate view changed from third-person to first-person without warning.) In dealing with the Vanilla Unicorn, I guess I expected something more along the lines of the clubs in GTA IV, where the private dances were first shown at a wide angle, and then you were given the option to change the view.

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  3. Great post! Although I haven’t played any of the recent GTAs, I watched a bunch of gangster films recently (Scarface, Goodfellas, The Sopranos) with similar questions in mind. Funnily enough, because of games like Vice City, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Scarface. I was expecting Scarface to be a complete macho-fest, endorsing the gangster culture and its male characters. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it doesn’t at all. It’s a weird paradox (and The Sopranos is the same too) that Scarface portrays the gangster lifestyle as utterly boring.

    Vice City and the GTA games though really can’t do the same thing though. I mean, who wants to play a game that isn’t fun – a game in which your actions have actual consequences? They can’t help but celebrate/endorse the lifestyle they depict, basically. I’m not saying these games are evil or anything since it’s just a game… but I can definitely see how a strip club might be off-putting in a game that rewards you for visiting it and doesn’t question or critique any aspect of the strip club at all.

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    1. Scarface is one those brilliant movies where you go in expecting on thing and come out with an entirely new perspective! (Even if you don’t like gangster/crime movies, it’s still affecting.)

      Y’know, in GTA IV, I had a blast putting Niko Bellic through any number of mundane rituals — bowling, dating, shopping. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there was something special (maybe necessary) in taking a break from all the action, in making Niko do something “normal.” Part of it was that he had friends (NPCs) who would call him to do stuff. In GTA V, none of the guys had NPCs as friends, and “being social” was wrapped up in challenges, mini-games, or side missions. I think that made a big difference in how I viewed the mundane stuff in GTA V. It just didn’t feel *as* necessary or even as fun. Could be why I latched onto the strip club as something of a whipping post here. It actually felt a little weird just being like “I’m tired of shooting stuff and being angry. I’m going to pay the strip club a random visit to cool off,” rather than being asked to go by someone. (Then again, I think the “social” aspects of GTA IV turned off some, so maybe that’s why they were omitted from the sequel.)

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  4. Yeah, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Like, things are definitely lopsided against women and depictions of them are often poor at best, but GTA V never tries to be anything more than a collection of artist’s game addition to the broader crime fiction. Crime fiction, more often than not, has really shitty female characters. Just look at Film Noir, for example, and it’s all dames.

    To me, the problem isn’t that GTA V exists, it is that nothing exists as a counter-point to it within games.

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    1. In bringing up noir, all I can think of is L. A. Noire, and women in that game are way worse off than those in GTA V. But when I way playing it, I didn’t give one though to the fact that all the victims were female because they usually are. (And you don’t need to look much further than all the crime procedurals on TV to know that, let alone the evening news.)

      I’m not sure what the answer is either. I don’t know that it’s, say, an all-female GTA game. Though oddly enough, I think that Saints Row IV has some merit in that regard. At least there are decent women characters in the team. Plus everyone falls into one or another “action hero” trope, so its like an equal opportunity offender.

      But I wouldn’t want GTA to change just for the sake of change. It works perfectly well as crime game, as you said. And if the series continues, I’d be fine with it simply improving upon that.

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      1. It is so hard to find good female criminal characters. They are always jilted lovers. Season 2 of the TV show Justified probably has my favorite. She is the matriarch of a crime family, which is an obvious but still fun spin.

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