Tread carefully this week, children. For Grand Theft Auto V launched today, which meant those outlets popular enough to receive review copies released their final verdicts on the game to the rabid animals of the internet. And just like any Zelda or Metal Gear Solid (and, to a lesser extent, Uncharted) before it, any score below a perfect 10 brought with it catcalls against the reviewer and their site’s credibility, and/or the necessity of critics as a whole. And while the relationship between the press and the game makers is certainly a conversation worth having, the subject was just the opening salvo for a vile and wretched collection of gamers to get to the heart of the real issue: the industry’s bias against white men.
Ever since Dan Houser’s interview in the Guardian stated that “the concept of being masculine” was key to the narrative of Grand Theft Auto V, many reviewers and industry critics have taken an opportunity to look at the gender relationships in Rockstar’s franchise as a whole. To no one’s surprise, it looks like masculinity has been key to GTA since the original top down shooter, at least when it came to their choice of protagonist and main characters of agency. In a move either inspired or meant to draw controversy, several of the games industry’s biggest outlets had female editors writing and reading the site’sGTAV review. And in this vein, many of these reviewers pointed out the gender discrepancy, and in particular GTAV‘s collection of female characters being reportedly limited to white suburban stereotypes and prostitutes.
The rage that has followed has been both shameful and utterly expected. Early attacks mostly revolved around the assumption that these complaints were the harshest (or only) deterrents these activist critics could come up with to demote the score of the poor, helpless GTAV. This was usually followed up by the old chestnut that the free market system has long ago decided that female characters alone are a financial risk to a game’s budget, so a $200 million dollar game like Grand Theft Auto V shouldn’t be called out for “playing it safe” in that regard. Never mind that there hasn’t been a consistent enough trend of female-lead games to merit such a definitive conclusion, this is the Straight White Male Defense League we’re talking about.
The more interesting, and depressing, side to this vitriol came with Gamespot’s editorial take on the game. Lead by the openly transgender Carolyn Petit, the vastly favorable 9.0 score was apparently evidence enough of the entire transgender community’s inability to leave their identity out of “objective opinions”. So rabid was the hatred, a Change.org petition was filed for her forced removal from Gamespot (currently in it’s second, hilariously inept version here.) Here’s how the equation works: if a presumably straight male (usually white) releases a review of a video game criticizing certain equality issues or issues of representation, he is a fool catering to the feminazi movement. His gender and sexual identity is an aspect of himself removed from his alleged desire to bend over backwards for an unconfirmed conspiratorial cabal of Anita Sarkeesians, a White Knight looking for some sympathy pussy.
A female, or god forbid transgender, reviewer releases those same opinions, often more carefully worded to avoid appearing confrontational, and it’s an indigenous part of their identity interfering with their job. Of course they want more female video game characters, they’re female! They want the whole industry to revolve around their personal preferences, market trends be damned! Who cares that the free market has decided that white males are safer development bets, it’s not like we’ve been unwittingly supporting this trend for generations by refusing to play as a woman unless the camera’s fixated on her ass textures!
It’s gotten to the point where the argument is now that games criticism should be about the critique of a game’s function, not it’s content. Or at least, any of it that could carry political or cultural weight, or make someone feel uncomfortable. The fact that this would devolve reviews to a glorified controller layout menu seems lost on these people. There is a dangerous undertone to this line of thinking, even if it is only vocalized by a minority. The idea that there are those that believe there can be an objective opinion alone is distressing, but that any elements of a game that can be filed under social satire or commentary are somehow immune from critical discussion is the fastest way to reinforce the status quo.
Bias is an inherent part of every single person on the planet, but its these individual judgments based on personal opinion that allow for a diverse base of criticism for audience members of all stripes to draw from when making their purchasing decisions. If you’re plan is to troll and mock any game reviewer examining releases (no matter how high profile) in a sociopolitical light, demeaning them over social media and demanding their removal or a change to a perfect 10 score, you’re a bigger activist than someone who just wants to see a woman in GTA not tied to kids or a striptease mini-game.