Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: Why I won't play Grand Theft Auto V

Siobhan Keogh used to be a fan of Grand Theft Auto, but the portrayal of women in the top-selling fifth instalment has put her off completely.

Siobhan Keogh takes a look at the portrayal of women in GTA V.
Siobhan Keogh takes a look at the portrayal of women in GTA V.

I used to be a fan.

It was a long time ago now. I was 12, and had the original Grand Theft Auto and its sequel, Grand Theft Auto: London, installed on our home PC.

I rarely bothered with the storyline, but instead would gleefully drive around, stealing the most expensive cars and taking them to the docks to be sold.

If I heard a group of Hare Krishnas, I'd hunt them down. It became a challenge - and I realise this is horrifying to an outsider - to line them up perfectly so I could run them down in my car all at once, before they had a chance to run.

Yes, I probably shouldn't have been playing Grand Theft Auto at the age of 12, but that's a whole other discussion.

But I'm not a fan now. Part of it is that I find open-world games a little bit overwhelming, but there's a bigger problem: The Grand Theft Auto games now seem to take great pains to exclude me.

Women are not allowed in the clubhouse, GTA V tells me, unless they're willing to sit down and shut up while being constantly put down.

Male roles are diverse in GTA V, however there are no playable female characters.
Male roles are diverse in GTA V, however there are no playable female characters.

It's not that I specifically need to be included. I didn't mind so much that there were no female main characters - it's a mild annoyance, but the creators can tell the story they want to tell. If that story's about men, that's fine.

The real problem is that every female character in GTA V is near-pornographic, and/or a nagging harpy. The real problem is that sexually harassing women becomes a mini-game. The real problem is that women who have an interest in sex are shamed for it while the men are lauded. The real problem is that there is diversity in the male character set, but the women are all the same.

Frankly, it doesn't make any sense. Bond University in Australia has studied New Zealand game buyers' demographics for several years now, and come to the conclusion that nearly half of gamers - 48 per cent - are women.

Not only that, but they're not just playing Angry Birds. While the Digital New Zealand study hasn't looked at the breakdown of genre by gender since 2012, when it did it found that women were largely playing the same genres as men.

In short, when you explicitly exclude women, you're throwing a large chunk of money straight into the toilet.

No one can say I didn't try to get into GTA V,. I thought maybe if I got past the picture of the blonde woman in the red bikini who was a consistent part of the game's marketing, things would get better. So I played for a couple of hours.

One of the first missions involved a disillusioned family man named Michael. As Michael, I had to save my shrill teenage daughter Tracey from a porn boat, where she was - voluntarily, I might add - hanging out with friends and not even filming any pornography.

I watched another gamer play through a later level in which Michael has to again save her from her own sexuality, when she tries out for a reality TV show by dancing in a tiny outfit.

If Tracey were the only character represented as nothing but a Hollywood bimbo - Los Santos is based on Los Angeles, after all - I might be inclined to forgive those scenes.

But Michael's wife, Amanda, is also presented as a nagging harlot.

Objectives in GTA V include trying to touch strippers.
Objectives in GTA V include trying to touch strippers.

And then there are the strip club sequences, where you can visit an R18 strip club and ask for a lap dance. During the lap dance, your character attempts to touch the topless stripper while the security guard isn't looking. If you do it right, the stripper might even go home with you.

I don't believe that Grand Theft Auto is going to encourage people to go out and treat women badly, the same way I don't believe that violence in video games is linked to violence in real life. It's fiction. There's a separation. I get that.

But it doesn't change the fact that it's misogynistic, and it makes me uncomfortable - especially the sexualised violence.

If you can just relax and enjoy the game, though, good for you. I'm not judging. In fact, I understand - the game is slick, the world looks incredible even on the current console generation, and the writing and voice acting are brilliant.

I just hope that one day, more game developers will begin to acknowledge that women exist.

What a dream, eh?

* What do you think about the portrayal of women in Grand Theft Auto V? Post your comments below.

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Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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