Nuances of Satire: Falling into GTA V’s Biopolitical Trap

By Erik and Gaines

Ever since Grand Theft Auto V’s (GTA 5) release, there have been a series of blog posts concerning the deviant and aberrant behavior one can engage in within the game. Topics of discussion have ranged from the ease of initiating sexual encounters with strippers to the rampant misogyny found within the game’s world. Overall, these criticisms are largely correct: it is very easy to have sexual encounters with prostitutes; the game is plagued with misogynistic moments; and the in-game violence does present itself as the easy solution to all problems.

There has also been criticism about whether or not these events represent a satire of everyday American life, or if they are merely gratuitous in nature. However, we would like to argue that, for satire, parody, and meaning-making to emerge, an internally consistent world is necessary where violence and misogyny become the norm to be reproduced rather than that which must be evaded. GTA 5 immerses players in an internally-consistent world that demands a complex and thick analysis.

In case you missed it, GTA 5 was released, and it is terribly misogynistic, violent, and vulgar.  Carolyn Petit at wrote an excellent review of the game, and the gamer-cum-comment culture responded with what’s become a predictably sexist response. Some say it needed a female character, and, by the way, it did. Some play it as a grotesquerie for which the dominant concern is whether or not it wasted the player’s time, and, by the way, it is grotesque and can be played as a grotesquerie. Far from being apologetic, we’re saying that a nuanced critique of GTA5 as a satire exists, and it lies between the “unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness running through it” or “lazy misogyny” and “all the game does is reinforce and celebrate sexism.”

 We’ve also heard that GTA 5 is not a satire, but it is a failed satire.  We’ve heard that GTA 5 is not critical – let alone provocative.  And, we’ve heard that only apologists call it satire. Satire, though, is a complex and confusing thing.  The apologists that Anjin Anhut calls out for defusing misogyny with satire do not understand satire.  Claiming GTA 5 is not satire is untenable, but alleging it is a failed satire is tenable.  Finally, to be clear, if you think that GTA 5 being satire absolves it of its misogyny, you don’t get it — neither satire nor feminism. So what is satire?

Satire is a text, like a book, movie, television show, or game, that uses irony to set up a target for derision.  It requires a satirical text that sets up an ironic appearance of reality and a real target for derisive criticism, but it also needs you. Satire needs you because satire is, most crucially, a way of interpreting or playing.  

Let’s try a definition by example: if you are the stereotypical fan of Fox News watching The Colbert Report or the racist in the audience at The Chappelle Show and cannot see the satire of these performances, these performances are not satire.  If these performances are satire, you’re hearing and seeing them as satires (of American media and American racism, respectively).  That is, you have to be on board with the satire — you have to “get” satire — to get what is a satire and what is being satirized.

For the misogyny apologists: Satire does not let GTA 5 off the hook for its misogyny.  The misogyny in GTA 5 happens as part of its ironic representation of the American dream, but GTA 5 doesn’t give us any reason to suspect misogyny as the target of its derision.  The misogyny in GTA 5 is lazy, i.e., not developed as a clear target of derision, and unnecessary, i.e., not required to satirize the American dream.  

Let me put this another way. Rockstar could have written a satire of the American dream without using misogyny. They didn’t. The game they made is a satire and misogynistic. The game asks you to deride representations of the American dream but not how sexist those representations are.  Is the real American dream still wrapped in a patriarchal bow? Yes. But, GTA 5 doesn’t ask you to see that bow for the sexism it is.

GTA 5 Hero of Ancient Rome

The best way to describe GTA 5 would be to say that it is set up as a satirical carnival.  The idea of the carnival rotates around grotesque realism, which GTA 5 shows us through its obsession with the few actions you as a player can take in the game, namely kill, die, fuck, eat, drink, and drive.  But, this carnival of the seediness of life derides our ideal of the American dream.  The characters in GTA 5 don’t know they aren’t real, they don’t know their dream is a wrong dream, they don’t know how to pursue the dream the right way, but we know that (or we should) — this is irony.  Our knowledge and self-reflexivity in Los Santos makes it satire.

One of the most common ways a satire reminds us to see it as satire is by using what’s called a “stylistic hook.”  Stylistic hooks are a kind of sign post, often as puns, to a satire’s irony. Los Santos is an almost believable city surrounded by a ridiculous media environment. Whether it’s a billboard with a woman’s pelvis advertising “Gusset” or the NASDAQ-turned-BAWSAQ stock exchange website, this is an inescapable media environment that cannot reasonably be believed in a Los Santos that has believable traffic patterns and recognizable socio-economically segregated neighborhoods. This perverse and parodic media environment is the stylistic hook that GTA 5 uses to keep pointing you back towards its social criticism.

The social criticism of GTA 5 is complex and poignant.  However, when we talk about social criticism, we look at the narratives that are being deployed, how they are being deployed, and what work they do.  In GTA 5, one such narrative is a critique of common representations of the American dream, developed through satire.  But, the work this does relies on an appreciation of satirical cultural space developed through gameplay in the Los Santos world.

Within this particular critical framework, Los Santos is a lively cultural place with its own character and rules. Specifically, Los Santos deploys violence as the means through which conflict resolution can and should be enacted. Very few, if any, actions taken in Los Santos possess any kind of morally or ethically redeemable qualities. However, Los Santos as a satirical cultural space enables the deployment of particular cultural archetypes that allow us to reflect upon and question why their everyday life and practices appear to be abhorrent to us.

A useful framework through which this can be understood is that of biopolitics. Coined in the late 1970s by French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, biopolitics is, simply put, the capacity for any existing system to institutionally produce and reproduce the particular normal human roles and identities that are necessary for the system’s continuation. Originally conceived through a historical study of human sexuality, the framework nonetheless lends itself surprisingly well to the analysis of a multitude of systemic and institutional events.

For example, Trevor can be built up as a pathological character who will go to any lengths to obtain what he desires. Trevor lashes out violently for any and all reasons, sees violence as a sure way to accomplish his goals, and espouses the Los Santos way of life to its fullest. This is exemplified in the numerous missions available to Trevor.

For instance, a mission set available only to Trevor is the rampage. During these events, Trevor becomes enraged and attacks a series of opponents ranging from rednecks, to the military, to cycling hipsters. The rampages are typically initiated when some slight is committed against Trevor who, as a way to settle the dispute, brandishes a weapon and unleashes havoc and destruction upon his surroundings.

Also emblematic of Trevor’s lack of self-control and randomness are the numerous scenes presented to players when switching to Trevor. Amongst the most memorable that we encountered are: Trevor throwing a man over an overpass and into oncoming traffic; a bloodied Trevor wearing only a pair of underwear, socks, and boots, waking up on an island, surrounded by four dead members of a criminal motorcycle gang; an enraged Trevor chasing down three cyclists in his truck; and a confused Trevor telling a bodybuilder that the man had, in fact, stolen Trevor’s underwear. No context is given for any of these scenes, which reinforces the apparent randomness of Trevor’s behaviour.

What positions Trevor as an effective character in defining the world of GTA 5 is that such behaviour, thought morally and ethically reprehensible, nonetheless comes as no surprise. The internal consistency of Los Santos puts players in a position where expendable morality and ethics become the norm. In other words, Trevor Phillips is exactly who we would expect to meet in Los Santos. Far from being pathological, Trevor Phillips represents normality, and that is precisely why he is so effective when it comes to satirizing our own world. He is morally repugnant, yet fits in perfectly in Los Santos. He is the perfect biopolitical citizen produced by Los Santos, a citizen that will ensure that Los Santos’ way of life remains vibrant in the future despite our own moral and ethical quandaries with the presentation of events in the game’s world.

If Trevor is an open book when it comes to Los Santos biopolitics, Michael De Santa is a more nuanced character. Contrary to Trevor, Michael is depicted as the rational criminal, albeit one that is down on his luck. At the start of the game, Michael is directly attempting to leave behind the life of crime that has long followed him. Nevertheless, aspects of his past continue to haunt him.

Again, Los Santos’ biopolitics play a role in shaping Michael’s character. However, they act on Michael in a more insidious manner than they act on Trevor. While Trevor is never conflicted about the life he lives – to the point of repeatedly calling it a life choice – Michael is caught in a double bind he never manages to resolve: He wants to escape the life of crime that has led him to where he is today, yet the only way he knows how to do such a thing is by committing even more crime. For Michael, redemption can only come through accepting his role as a biopolitical citizen, his final escape from a world of crime secured through a massive heist that provides him the promise of security that only criminally obtained money can buy.

However, Michael’s trajectory never takes him far from the ideal Los Santos citizen. For example, during an early mission where Michael must rescue his son from thieves speeding away with Michael’s prized yacht, he readily admits to losing control and reacting out of anger. Similarly, Michael’s children repeatedly emphasize Michael’s reliance on anger as the means through which he communicates.

The game narrative’s solution to Michael’s double bind comes in the form of psychiatric therapy, a solution all too common in our own world. According to the psychiatric narrative found in the game, Michael will be able to leave behind his former life of crime and accumulated guilt only if he’s able to let go of the past. During one session, he is told flatly by his therapist that “remorse is good, but not as good as taking control before you act out.”

However, the game remains consistent biopolitically when the therapist keeps reminding Michael that each session becomes increasingly more expensive, that Michael’s insurance has run out, and that special phone-in or walk-in sessions incur extra costs. And these costs must be covered by Michael, whose only recourse is to fully embrace the life of crime he wishes to leave to gather the funds that will allow him to escape the criminal life he despises. Los Santos’ future is secure.

Of the three playable characters of GTA 5, Franklin Clinton probably is the one about which the least is said. One possible reading of Franklin is that of the typically Grand Theft Auto-series anti-hero, and this reading largely stands up especially when contrasted with characters, such as Trevor and Michael. Franklin’s depiction is remarkably honest. Where Trevor is outrageous and Michael ambivalent, Franklin appears to be normal in almost every way. His turn to crime reflects many of the popular assumptions present in mainstream media concerning the lives of urban African-Americans, which makes him appear realistic when compared to his co-stars.

From a biopolitical perspective, Franklin might well be the most interesting character in GTA 5. Where Los Santos thrives on everyday chaos, Franklin searches for stability. In a city where treachery is the norm, Franklin remains doggedly loyal to his friends Lamar and Tonya in the neighbourhood of Strawberry. When the game world asks the ultimate betrayal of him, Franklin says no and sides against institutionalized and corrupt authority.

However, neither is Franklin free from Los Santos’ biopolitics. Los Santos needs crime and criminals to thrive, and that is exactly what Franklin becomes when he steals and kills his way to success. During the course of the game, Franklin expresses the desire to learn as much as he can from the two more experienced thieves and becomes fully complicit in their crimes. At some point of the game, Franklin even undertakes several assassination missions that result in an ally’s manipulation of the stock market. Make no mistake: Franklin is not a “good” character.

However, contrary to Trevor or Michael, Franklin never fully succumbs to the biopolitical influence of Los Santos. Where Trevor embraces and Michael struggles, Franklin cleverly plays the city against itself. Los Santos is the butt of the joke, and Franklin is the clever trickster who manages to exploit the city’s weaknesses and questionable moral character and is quickly rewarded with a large mansion and an escape from the ghetto life he so despises.

Nowhere is this sense of trickery more evident than during Franklin’s switch scenes. During such scenes, Franklin can be seen walking his dog, engaging in light exercise, eating potato chips or even having breakfast in his kitchen. Franklin’s mundane switch scenes contrast heavily with Trevor’s absurd ones and Michael’s depressive ones. It’s as if Franklin looked Los Santos right in its seedy biopolitical eye and said, “I know what you are, and I’ll even play the game. But only up to a point. And I will win.”

Contrary to Trevor or Michael, Franklin never accepts the crimes he must commit as normal. They are necessary, yes, even desirable, but never normal. And biopolitics is all about the production of normality. And this is where we, as players often fall into the trap. When we dismiss the violence and misogyny in games as trivial because “it’s just a game” or because such behaviour is to be expected in a world such as GTA 5, then we too have been enrolled as biopolitical subjects into Los Santos. When violence and misogyny become our norm, then satire and its messages become impossible to understand.

The misogyny and violence are morally reprehensible and may not be necessary to perform the function, but their presence, nonetheless, allows treating GTA 5 as a thick object deserving of a reading as satire. Satire is at its best when it presents us with an inversion of what we would consider normal behaviour coupled with an internally consistent deployment of biopolitics, and there, GTA 5 succeeds brilliantly.

About Gaines Hubbell

Gaines Hubbell is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His dissertation tracks the history of topoi and loci of invention in twentieth-century rhetorical theory, pedagogy, and criticism. His research focuses on the historical and contemporary development of rhetorical theory and its adaptation for newer media environments.
This entry was posted in Criticism, Erik Bigras, Gaines Hubbell and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Nuances of Satire: Falling into GTA V’s Biopolitical Trap

  1. Pingback: A critical bibliography for Grand Theft Auto 5 » Upstreamist

  2. Dave says:

    The misogyny thread was running real thick at the start of this, then it disappeared, and finally popped back in during the last couple sentences.

    Anyway for me this has just been another opportunity to reflect on the shocking influence of Sarkeesian’s project. Discussion of many well-publicized games are getting injected with new questions and facing unprecedented judgments. It’s getting a little intense.

    • Well, after seeing the mis-use of “satire” in a lot of comments and prominent blogs, I thought it was important to clarify that GTA 5’s misogyny does work for the satire (as a genre and reading) but that the satire does not absolve GTA of its misogyny. It’s important for players, journalists, and critics to hold Rockstar’s feet to the fire for its misogyny, not for its satire. There’s a good, if inappropriate, analogy here to satire and racism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

      Sarkeesian’s influence has been great! Although I have nits-to-pick with Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, none of them have to do with the new-found internet culture of expecting games be feminist that Sarkeesian played a tremendous role in kickstarting (pardon my pun). If the men in game design can’t find it in themselves to be feminists (Pretty sure that I didn’t see any feminine names in any of the writing credits for GTA 5, or many at all for that matter…), it’s past time for game studios to hire women. Intense is good; it might mean there’s change afoot.

  3. Nance says:

    A huge majority of GTA V video game fans are teenagers, and to think that they are exposed to these negative themes while playing this game is something that need not be ignored. I’ve even been reading reports where parent say that they’ve started to notice behavioral changes in their kids due to GTA V exposure. So, considering that GTA V is misogynistic, violent, and vulgar, should this game should be subject to ‘parent control’ measures? I think so.

    • GTA V is subject to parental control measures. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates GTA V as “Mature” which is “suitable for ages 17 and up,” and credit is due to video game retailers for maintaining high compliance with the ESRB, higher than any other media retailers. The research is still out on whether or not and how much violent video games affect players.

      I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see research in the near future showing that GTA V/GTA Online contributes to a mean world syndrome, but mean world syndrome has long been supported as an effect from News media. GTA V does, however, give parents the opportunity to “teach the controversy” about misogyny, violence, and foul language. As a teacher, I’m always more interested in using the debate as a teaching moment: What about the American dream is sexist? Why would a young black character, Franklin, in the ghetto turn to crime and loose associations with gangs to find success? What does this game say about the everyday portrayal of women in our society? or Why can’t the middle-aged white male character, Michael, who has “made it” be satisfied with an upper middle class suburban lifestyle? Approaching these questions as teaching moments with children and young adults who are playing the game could lead to very rewarding conversations about institutional racism, ambivalent sexism, and consumer culture.

    • Erik Bigras says:

      I’ve always been conflicted about issues of parental control, partly due to Lawrence Lessig’s arguments in “Free Culture.” On the one hand, I can see how some form of regulation (parental controls are just one form) could help, but on the other, it’s harder to say where exactly it should be targeted given that we’re increasingly living in a society where violence in all its forms is becoming increasingly normalized. Where do you start intervening? I’m not sure we know the answer to that right now. The ESRB does have a classification system for games, but its effectiveness is questionable given that there isn’t really any effective enforcement mechanism in place. But then again, the politics of self-regulation are a beast in themselves that go back, among other things, to the profession of Engineering, but going into that would probably require a post of its own.

      Though I have to admit that I’m always amazed about talks of video game demographics. When I teach about video games, I usually ask my undergraduate classes what they think is the percentage of women gamers, and how hold they think the average gamer is. Invariably, I get answers like “1-2%” and “16-18 years old.” However, if we look at the ESA’s figures, we quickly realize that women compose about 45% of gamers, and the average age of a gamer is around 30 years old. That’s just the ESA’s figures, but I’ve seen multiple studies corroborate that over multiple years. Given these contradictory views, it’s perhaps no surprise that something like GTA V exists and elicits the reactions it does.

      To put this in the language of the post itself, we have one group of of people who have been biopoliticized over multiple years and for whom, very sadly, the representations within GTA V are “normal” and don’t need to be questioned, and we have another group that is undergoing biopoliticization for whom GTA V is part of their education. That doesn’t make GTA V’s existence morally or ethically “right,” but hopefully it pushes the boundaries of the debate beyond the narrow scope it usually encompasses.

    • As an anecdotal experience, my brothers and I grew up playing all the violent games of our time. Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Quake, Carmageddon, Redneck Rampage, Duke Nukem 3D etc, however we’re happy, productive, law-abiding members of society. Heck, we even managed to play Lesiure Suit Larry (and learned a lot of general knowledge trivia to get past the parental restriction trivia) without its misogynistic tendencies rubbing off on us.

      As Gaines points out, more research is needed in this area as it is far from producing any type of scientific consensus. For every study that suggests a link between gaming and violence, there’s another that suggests there’s no link. While I hate generalising as I’m about to do, I do suspect that the ability of a teenager or child to comprehend the violence depicted in violence, TV, movies etc, has as much to do with their respective parenting as it does with the person themselves.

      That being said, and again purely anecdotal, our parents never had to explain to us that behaviours that were normal in gaming weren’t permitted in real life, we just knew that games were made up environments where the rules were completely different to real life.

    • Joe Macejko says:

      The game has a rating. It’s meant for people over the age of 17. Maybe the parents should read about the game before buying their children a game that requires maturity. The game does have a parental control measure, and its called the rating on the cover. The same goes for movies, TV shows, music etc…

  4. davidrq98 says:

    Reblogged this on NewPromise and commented:

  5. segmation says:

    I like family friendly games myself. With family friendly games, no parental control issues!

  6. sonatano1 says:

    I’m pretty torn about the whole GTA thing. I played the top-down view GTA 2 as a kid and the much better (in terms of more expansive gameplay, anyway) GTA 3 and Vice City. I sort of dropped the whole thing after that.

    There’s definitely something wonderful about playing a game in which you can commit terrible crimes, trigger a high-speed police chase, fling yourself off of a bridge into a river and wake up in the hospital less a $500 fee. I always thought the misogyny was pretty unnecessary (women can commit carnage just as much as men can, right?) but at the same time it didn’t bother me too much. GTA always was over-the-top, and if there is satire there, it’s second to the gameplay.

    As for the charges of sexism, I don’t really know what to say. What do people expect from the GTA series? It’s always been like that. We have games now that have females in the lead who aren’t there for their sex appeal, like the Portal series. Hell, Metroid is one of the oldest still-running series around.

  7. Jake Missing says:

    I have covered something similar although not as in depth on my blog regarding legal, ethical and regulatory issues. I found this an interesting read that I can relate to. I was surprised at the small amount of bad press GTA 5 actually got, the media mainly focussed on the positives like sales and popularity. Usually at game release this large of the specified content it is condemned and raises all hell in a passive society needing something to fear and scapegoat.

    As soon as developers are told what can and can’t be done in games, their creativity is being handcuffed. This doesn’t mean it can’t be monitored I fully agree with the age rating systems and think they should be enforced, they are rated so for a reason. However when parents buy these kinds of games for their kids, then complain when they feel it has a negative effect on them, the first thing they turn to blame is the industry and not themselves.

    Players turn to games like GTA 5 to live vicariously through the misogynistic world. If we take Uses and Gratification Theory, this explains that gamers buy and play this game to put themselves in to some category of gratification. In the case of underage audiences, they want gratify themselves with esteem to fit in and be one of the crowd, not necessarily knowing why they want the game other than the fact everyone else has it. Most of them were probably only 1 or 2 at the time of the original release in 1997.

    An excellent post, I find, is one that gets you thinking afterwards, this one has definitely done that.

  8. Reblogged this on anaytea98 and commented:

  9. As far as I can remember GTA has always been violent and misogynistic. And your article makes a great point that games should mellow down on the negatives. And thankfully there are others who share the same views right?

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  11. As some form of base argument here I think that yes GTA V is satirical but I also think it’s impossible to say as a whole whether the satire is completely successful. The misogyny presented in GTA V may have been intended as satire but to me, comes across as nothing but an attempt of intelligence failed.

    I think Jim Sterling said it best when he mentioned how we tend to underestimate Rockstar’s intelligence and assume everything is stupid fun but that it seems Rockstar overestimate their own intelligence. I think that is definitely correct in terms of GTA V. Rockstar’s attempts at intelligence are often over stated and fall flat of what they were supposed to be saying, see the misogyny stuff, while the dumb bits in GTA V that we write off seem to say far more than we originally expect, see ‘By The Books’

  12. Pingback: The ESRB Isn’t There for Us | Higher Level Gamer

  13. Caolan says:

    I think the author pursues an assumption that the kind of satire consciously espoused in GTA is supposed to be contentious. Rather and it may in fact be a cultural misunderstanding, it resembles a Horatian satirical slant from the R* north writers and producers, which typifies a lot of British humour here. In that manner, it is comparable to Twain’s Adventures. The official slogan of the game is of course, “In pursuit of the almighty dollar”, with all the sacredness of that term in American capitalism (and by extension in Global Neo-Liberalism) we can already we can imagine how sardonic the set up is. The epilogue for Ending C containing the not so ambiguous dialogue
    Trevor: Now we can get back to the kind of captitalism we practice
    Franklin: Shit, I don’t think thats much better than Devons
    Michael: Hypocrisy kid, civilizations greatest virtue.

    It is ridiculous that a multibillion dollar company should moralise from a soapbox on modern society when it conforms to all its mainstream nastiness. That is why it precisely does not do so. It mocks and trivialises Neo-liberal economics, pop culture and social norms, but ultimately it embraces it because the truth cannot be covered. GTA has no agenda in campaigning to change our collective failures, merely to present a darkly humorous but humble reflection of our own sad state, the rest is left for us to ponder. For example, how misogony has become a focal point of criticism but relatively nothing said for the stark classism, racism, xenophobia, ablism, violence and wider ignorance that are explicit but no less socially important in the games: A reflection of the hierarchy of identity politics above all else that seems to have taken over the political blogosphere

  14. Caolan says:

    >GTA is supposed to be *contentious

    Apologies, I meant “contemptuous”

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  17. Not Important says:

    What the OP doesn’t realize is that GTA 5 isn’t necessarily misogynist as much as it is a criticism of American culture, LA in particular. The game has misogynist themes because, quite frankly, Hollywood influences it and therefore it is more prevalent in a game based in that setting. You want reasons?
    The American government sends people to jail for mere drug possession charges but as far as gun control goes, anyone in the country can get one and most are legally allowed to own one. This is pretty much the basis for the entire series The rich overpower the poor, (regardless of whatever corrupt things they did to become rich in the first place) and this is another theme the game touches upon in the form of Devin Weston’s character. If you’re country ( the same one I happen to live in and will continue to criticize because, quite frankly, I can) wasn’t susceptible to all of these problems, then the game wouldn’t have been as offensive, and quite frankly probably would have never made it to this point in the first place. Crime influences entertainment like this, and the more you fuck up in controlling that crime, the more you get pieces of work like this that sell like hotcakes and generate extremely positive reviews (not just because the gameplay is great, but also because of how well it satirizes your own culture.) Simply put, the more sensitive you are to hearing about America’s problems, the more sensitive you will be to the theme of GTA 5, which is why so many kids enjoy playing it – because they see through all of your propaganda bullshit broadcast on news channels across the country, that begs people to vote when nothing really significant changes between a democrat and republican, all the while there’s movies and pop music that clearly degrades women the same way this game does, yet it’s a shock whenever Rockstar decide to give their own outlook of this ‘culture.’
    And thirdly, Carolyn Petit is not a good game reviewer, nor is any reviewer on gamespot’s website very good, mostly because they butchered they’re own ratings system, but that’s more of an opinion than a fact. The fact that GS users responded with hate just goes to prove that most everyone on that site is thoroughly uneducated, however. Give me a female review of the game that isn’t from Gamespot and I will gladly read it. The fact that she works for Gamespot is enough for me to disregard it, if she worked for a video game editorial site that actually had a pointed ratings system that WORKED (although those are fairly hard to find anyways so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say that it would’ve been good on a pointed rating scale.) Not necessarily on topic, but I felt like pointing that out anyway.

    Overall, I have to say that I will gladly listen to and agree with sentiments of the game being misogynist FROM A WOMAN WHO IS OFFENDED BY IT, but if you’re a man, please do shut the fuck up already. Nothing’s going to make you look any better by making yourself out to seem like you’re some kind of feminist with testicles, it’s only going to make other gamers more pissed off at you, period. I’ll admit that my own “co-fanboys” (as I like to call them) of the GTA series are ignorant and fucking pathetic for not wanting a female protagonist for the series, but I’m also not going to deny a game praise for having themes that might indeed offend women when it is still a quality game, and I guarantee you most female gamers would feel the same way.

    • Uhm, there’s a lot here to unpack here, so I’ll try to go item by item.
      “The game has misogynist themes because, quite frankly, Hollywood influences it”– I’m happy to point things out as a result of a systemic issue, but that doesn’t absolve Rockstar from choosing to put misogyny in the game. Veldtfalsetto, in the comments above, cites Sterling above to say the same thing.
      “the more sensitive you are to hearing about America’s problems, the more sensitive you will be to the theme of GTA 5”– Uhm, this paragraph was really painting with broad strokes, but that’s fine. What I really want to point out here, as we did in the original post, is that satire only works when there’s that knowing wink, what’s called a stylistic hook, that let’s people know that there’s satire. When GTA V satirizes the American Dream, we get stylistic hooks, like Franklin saying something isn’t “right”. When GTA V does a misogynistic depiction of women, a transphobic depiction of transgendered people, or a homophobic comment, we don’t get a stylistic hook. There’s nothing in the game that nods to the inappropriateness of any of these moves, and that’s when it isn’t a successful satire.
      “Carolyn Petit is not a good game reviewer”– Yes, she is. I’d be very interested to hear your qualifications for “good” when you judge whether someone is or isn’t a good game reviewer.
      “The fact that GS users responded with hate just goes to prove that most everyone on that site is thoroughly uneducated, however.”– If you’d like to use the response of a subset of website users as the marker of quality (especially education), I don’t understand why would comment on this post. In the world of evidence, empirical or otherwise, this is a terrible claim of evidence. I’m getting a sense that you have loyalties to other sites, and that’s fine–You’re not everyone.
      “you’re some kind of feminist with testicles”– I am a feminist. I am a cis-man. Testicles do not make me a cis-man, but whatever, that’s besides the point. There are a lot of feminisms out there–I’m closer to the radical kind–but all the feminisms out there are concerned with equality of some sort. Feminism is not just for women, and as a feminist, I am not speaking for women (people can speak for themselves). Furthermore, I fundamentally don’t understand anti-feminist attitudes like yours unless they come from a lack of education–Equality is an unassailable ideal for me (I can’t understand why it isn’t for you). Go read the wikipedia page on feminism.

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  19. sher says:

    I am writing an essay for school on the satire of gta (grade 9). In my essay I include quotes from GTA 5. Do you know how I would cite these quotes? My teacher isn’t sure either.

    • It depends on the citation style that your teacher wants you to use, but I’d use this information (and order it depending on the citation style):
      Author (The Development Studio, in the case of games): Rockstar North
      Title: Grand Theft Auto V
      Publisher: Rockstar Games
      And include the Console version you’re quoting from (because sometimes the content differs by console, with console exclusive content or what-not).
      And include the release date for the Console version you’re quoting from. You can find the release date, publisher, and development studio on the wikipedia page for the game usually.

      In the text, you should usually mention the character’s name (if they have one) who delivers the quote.
      So, if you were using MLA style, the in-text citation would be something like “Then Franklin says, ‘That’s crazy’ (Rockstar North).” And the Works Cited section has “Rockstar North. Grand Theft Auto V. Xbox 360. New York: Rockstar Games, 17 September 2013. Video game.”

      I hope that helps!

      • sher says:

        Thank you so much! My teacher is a stickler for MLA format, but had no experience with
        video game citation. I really, really appreciate this advice. Also, I loved your article.
        I was able to learn a bit more about biopolitics (which you introduced me to) and applied it
        to a characterization essay I had to write on Fahrenheit 451. It was great to find a really intellectual article about GTA V. Thanks.

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  21. “Let me put this another way. Rockstar could have written a satire of the American dream without using misogyny.”

    It also COULD have written a satire of the American dream without referencing racism, violence, guns, class issues, dollar worship, drugs, religion, corporatism, political hypocrisy, etc., however it would have lessened the satire to ignored any of those or – worse – “subvert expectations” and show the culture being satirised not only doesn’t have that issue, but that issue is turned-around.

    Misogyny, sexism, and rape-culture are endemic facts of existence in the USA. To argue they should not be represented in a game satirising the American culture and LA culture in particular (with the associated TV/movie/model starlet youth-culture obsession) would have disingenuous to say the least.

    Rockstar North, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, did not create LA… but they did a good job showing not only the worst of it, but more importantly the prevailing attitudes to the worst of it.

    • I don’t disagree with this; maybe the post wasn’t very clear. It’s not that misogyny should be left out–it’s that misogyny needs to be satirized. GTA’s stylistic hooks–those parts of satire that point at something and say “deride this, it’s bad”–don’t point to misogyny and sexism. So, while violence, class, guns, celebrity culture, consumerism, etc., get satirized and have stylistic hooks that make that satire clear, misogyny just gets accepted as normal.

      • I think it only gets accepted as normal because you come from a culture where it is normal and has been normalised.

        I’m also interested where misogyny is scripted in Grand Theft Auto. Prostitutes exist, real world and game. Strip clubs exist, real world and game. But in terms of character one is married, another is abusive to his male underling, others date. I’m actually struggling to think of GTA characters that are, from a script perspective, notably and inarguably misogynist – it’s not a game about pimping women (something Saint’s Row missions do).

  22. Oh, and I don’t want to spam the forum but:

    “A useful framework through which this can be understood is that of biopolitics. Coined in the late 1970s by French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault”

    But no, biopolitics is much older than that (not least as the Nazis referenced it). It goes back to the 1920s and Rudolf Kjellén (who also devised “geopolitics”), in the modern era Foucault is prominent in a branch of biopolitics, but there are plenty of other eminent field leaders.

    • Erik Bigras says:

      Indeed, though here we’re mostly talking about the Foucauldian perspective emanating from his notion of biopower, which is probably what should have been used in that particular sentence instead of biopolitics in general.

      Historical specificity is important though. Thanks for adding some!

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