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Grand Theft Auto V: A Gender Review

Grand Theft Auto V: A Gender Review

BMCC undergraduate Veron Ng shares a perspective on how the popular video game GTA V has misappropriated gender and sexualisation.

Has video games evolved over the years? Traditionally, characters that appear in video games are usually men as women do not have a prominent presence in video games and are less likely to be the primary character or character that is playable by the game player, according to Wohn (2011). Female characters that do appear in video games are usually of less importance and are sometimes just passive and unplayable characters. However of late, with the sophistication of modern technology, physical appearance and sexualisation in video games have reared a different head clearly illustrating how society has evolved into becoming a little more complex. Let’s take a look at what has changed and what hasn’t.

The most obvious representation of gender in video games would be the physical appearance of the character as it is the first thing that an individual would see or notice about a character. Male characters tend to be represented with masculinity. The characters would be tall and big sized, with noticeable muscles such as large biceps or six pack abs. They would frequently have visible tattoos as well. Besides that, most male characters are also shown equipped with weapons ranging from brass knuckles to machine guns and rocket launchers. These appearances are focused on portraying the character as tough, and sometimes nasty and unpleasant. Trevor Phillips, a character from GTA V has almost the exact representations of the mentioned appearances, from having tattoos to possessing several weapons. Earles et al. (2002) children and adolescent who frequently view violence are desensitised to it and often accept it as a natural fact of life. Hence, repeated images of these male portrayals can greatly influence them, and they might begin to think that weapons are cool and want to own them. This could be dangerous and even illegal in certain countries to own weapons such as guns. CNN (2013) reported of an eight-year-old intentionally shooting his elderly caregiver after playing a violent video game. This further proves that representations in video games do have an impact on society especially on the younger generation.

Female characters on the other hand, are presented as small sized with slim figures and big breasts that appear to be out of proportion with their body size. While sexualisation of female characters is nothing new, however the disproportion of the female anatomy has been a lot more skewered leaving room for psychological concerns.

Female characters would often be dressed in tight fitting or heavily revealing clothing. In GTA V, most female characters seen walking on the street are rather busty and usually in revealing attire. These representations can sometimes be deemed as illogical because in reality, small and slim females are not physically intended to be busty. It also distorts the expectations of beauty in reality. Harrison (2003) suggested that the modern ideal for feminine beauty is what she calls “curvaceously thin”, which could lead to individuals’ ignorance of their diet in order to achieve the ideal beauty.

Other than physical appearances, certain gender roles are also displayed in video games. Gender roles are mainly created by society on what type of activities and behaviour each gender should be presenting. Representation of gender roles in video games can greatly affect the society’s idea of both males and females, and expecting them to possess certain characteristics and traits.

Male characters are often defined as the hero of the game, although sometimes they are the villain, whichever way it may be, they are still considered the main character in many games as suggested by Dickerman, Christensen and Kerl-McClain (2008). The characters’ behaviour typically includes being rough and aggressive. They are frequently portrayed as highly egoistic and having great confidence in themselves. They would also show violent behaviour from time to time.

However, in GTA V, the main characters are considered as the bad guys and they are set out to be doing crimes and breaking the law. All three main characters can be described as aggressive and even possess threatening behaviour, another disturbing fact-distorting phenomenon. These misrepresentations are especially persuasive to rebellious adolescents as they might think that being boisterous and antagonistic is acceptable. They might be encouraged to act in this particular manner which could be detrimental to them in their future years.

Female characters however, are still represented in the total opposite direction. They are shown as weak and helpless, always in need of a hero to save them, fitting into the role of damsel in distress perfectly. Besides that, female characters are more than often sexually objectified and used mainly for sexual pleasures in a game. Several games even allow the player to control their characters and perform minor sexual acts on other female characters. Female characters in GTA V are heavily used as sex objects. There is a club included in the game whereby players can watch female characters pole dancing and even be taken into a private room where nudity of the female character is shown. Besides that, several scenes of explicit content also appears in the game. Haninger and Thompson (2004) also mentioned that some female characters might indulge in sexually suggestive behaviour. These representations however, might not be positively reviewed in society as females would not want to define themselves as weak and helpless, neither do they like to be depicted as sexual objects.


Dickerman, C., Christensen, J. and Kerl-McClain, S. (2008) Big Breasts and Bad Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, Vol 3(1). [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 5th December 2014]

Earles, K., Alexander, R., Johnson, M., Liverpool, J. and McGhee, M. (2002) Media Influences on Children and Adolescents: Violence and Sex. J Natl Med Assoc, 94(9), pp.797–801.

Grand Theft Auto V. (2013) New York: Rockstar Games.

Haninger, K., & Thompson, K. M. (2004). Content and ratings of teen-rated video games. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291, 856–865.

Harrison, K. (2003) Television viewers’ ideal body proportions: The case of the curvaceously thin woman. Sex Roles, 48, 255–264.

Russell, L. (2013) Police: 8-year-old shoots, kills elderly caregiver after playing video game. CNN. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Jan. 2015]

Wohn, D. (2011) Gender and Race Representation in Casual Games. Sex Roles. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 5th December 2014]

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