When Rockstar Games unveiled three new character trailers for the next installment in their critically acclaimed GTA series earlier this week, the gaming world went into a frenzy with uncontrollable bouts of excitement. Despite the fact that these videos were originally billed as being gameplay trailers, many fans and critics alike were both quick to forgive this notion and instead became enamored by the cinematic cutscenes detailing each protagonist.
While the GTA series has always been the king of open world action adventure games with a pop culture twist, there is at least one nagging notion that has remained true about these games from day one: the idea that the creators have neglected the concept of placing a female in the lead role. In the case of GTA V specifically, it would have been an interesting dynamic given that now the player has the ability to play as three male protagonists.
On the other hand, many may argue that placing a female lead within the confines of a video game of this nature would instantly reduce interests and sales projections dramatically. The point of this editorial piece is to explain exactly why that theory is false and to give further insight as to why Rockstar should explore these options moving forward. Let us begin by examining three scenarios from three separate games in which the female protagonist was a driving force behind the title’s success.
The flagship Tomb Raider series continues to hold Lara Croft in high regard as the most iconic female character in video game history. Once portrayed as an athletic archaeologist with slightly over-exaggerated body features, Square Enix evolved the heroine beyond style and gave her actual substance as a relentless sole survivor in the latest reboot. Just to be clear, Tomb Raider wasn’t a perfect game and I gave plenty of concrete reasons why when I reviewed the game earlier this year. However, this game along with the 3.6 million copies sold within the first month of release did prove that female protagonists are more than capable of selling well to the masses.
The redemptive storyline behind Heavenly Sword and the portrayal of lead heroine Nariko speaks volumes about the importance of having better female roles in video games. When this hack and slash title graced the PlayStation 3 back in 2007, many were surprised just how much they became drawn to Nariko and instantly empathized with her trial and tribulations. This game was so well received by both critics and fans alike that people are still holding out hope that Ninja Theory develops a sequel in the not too distant future. If this alone isn’t enough to convince developers that more female protagonists should be in video games, then I don’t know what will.
Capcom’s bold and daring new IP Remember Me has the potential to do extremely well once it launches on all major platforms in June. With developer Dontnod Entertainment at the helm of this massive project, Remember Me is expected to be a deeply emotional story that will focus on an amnesic memory hunter named Nilin. When gamers first got a glimpse of this game shortly after being announced, they were instantly drawn to the futuristic Neo-Paris setting, compelling lead character, and engaging gameplay elements. The verdict is still out as to whether or not this game will ultimately sell well, but the choice to even make a game like this in the first place is both admirable and very intriguing at best.
The three examples above provide sufficient proof that games with female protagonists are well received and that Rockstar could achieve massive success if they decided to explore a future GTA game from a female’s point of view. While I could have easily added both the Saints Row and Mass Effect franchises to the list above, I see their choices of lead female characters as nothing more then costume swaps mainly because you don’t truly get the full raw emotion of this being a female character built from the ground up.
On the flip side, Rockstar has already proven that they are capable of making an array of diverse characters believable in their worlds. Whether it’s an African-American character like Carl “CJ” Johnson or an Eastern European descendent like Niko Bellic, the Houser brothers have proven time and time again that they have range. If this is the case, why have we not yet seen them expand beyond males? I personally have grown bored with seeing women in the series reduced to the roles of prostitutes and girlfriends, so a welcomed change is needed. It’s also worth noting that several of the gaming franchises that do have female protagonists are considered major franchises so I’m even more confused as to why they haven’t explored this avenue yet.
In closing, I have a ton of respect for Rockstar games and the impressive catalogue of titles that they have released up to this point. It’s for this very reason why I felt the need to address areas that they need to improve in and my stance on changing up the lead role is a firm one. In the case of GTA V, this concept absolutely could have been implemented and I’m a little disappointed that it’s not. Of course when all is said and done, the game will still sell well anyway but one can only wonder how much praise they would have gotten if they dared to be different.
Would you play a GTA game if a female was the lead protagonist? Do you think Rockstar should just keep making their games with male dominated lead characters? Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.
GTA V launches worldwide on the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on September 17th.