Why GTA 6’s Female Protagonist Is a Small Part of More Important Changes

Games

Gamers were recently rocked by a Bloomberg report that seemingly revealed some of the first substantial GTA 6 details. While the information in that report hasn’t been officially confirmed by Rockstar, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier has historically been an incredibly reliable source when it comes to those kinds of leaks and reports.

According to Schreier, GTA 6 is currently code-named “Project Americas.” It will likely take place in a fictionalized version of the Miami area, though there doesn’t seem to be any word about what time period it is set in. It’s described as an especially detailed game that will likely be expanded over time through various updates. Furthermore, it sounds like the game will co-star a Latina female protagonist who is seemingly part of a criminal couple that was creatively “influenced by the bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde.”

Try not to be surprised, but that last detail has inspired some heated reactions from the gamergate crowd. Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that even the majority of GTA fans are necessarily upset by the possibility of a playable female protagonist. A lot of people seem perfectly fine with it, and most fans are waiting to see how the whole thing plays out. Rockstar has generally done an excellent job of making each GTA protagonist more interesting than the previous one, and they were always going to have a hard time improving upon GTA 5‘s beloved trio of anti-heroes. Given that Trevor, Franklin, and Michael represented the evolution of GTA protagonists up until that point, it makes sense that Rockstar would decide to go in a different direction entirely from a purely creative standpoint.

In any case, I’m not here to talk about those who are having a hard time accepting GTA 6‘s female protagonist. That crowd gets too much attention as it is. I’m also not here to speculate about, or analyze, a character we know next to nothing about. There are some who feel that “woman” is the first and only thing they need to know about that character, but I’m not one of them. We’ll learn plenty more about her as time goes on.

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No, I think the biggest takeaway from these recently revealed details isn’t GTA 6‘s female protagonist but rather what kind of bigger changes to the franchise that new protagonist seems to partially represent.

As noted in that Bloomberg report, there are quite a few changes happening behind the scenes at GTA 6 developer Rockstar Games at the moment. Many of those changes are designed to address the company’s notorious history of crunch culture. According to Schreier, Rockstar is hiring more producers, making sweeping schedule alterations, offering their employees more time off, increasing access to additional health benefits, and converting former contractors into full-time employees. Time (and those who actually work at Rockstar) will tell if those improvements actually have a long-term positive impact on the company, but things certainly seem to be trending in a better direction.

Those aren’t the only ways that Rockstar’s company culture is being changed, though. That report also mentions that Rockstar has made an effort to identify and remove abusive employees and is generally trying to combat what was described as a workplace previously filled with “drinking, brawling and excursions to strip clubs.” One employee noted that the studio was starting to feel like “a boys’ club transformed into a real company.”

With those workplace revisions come creative shifts as well. Early reports indicate that the GTA 6 team is trying to make the game feel more generally more mature than previous GTA games. Specifically, it seems that the GTA 6 team is especially interested in cutting down on instances of jokes designed to “punch down” and target marginalized groups. While the report doesn’t cite any specific marginalized groups the GTA 6 team may be referring to, it’s worth noting that some of the older GTA games featured a notable number of transphobic jokes and characters. I’d imagine those will be the first things to go, and rightfully so.

Interestingly, some employees were very honest about the fact that those changes have forced them to re·learn what it’s like to work at the company. Not only has the reduction in crunch time meant learning to complete tasks during more modest working hours (which has seemingly contributed to GTA 6’s longer development time), but the decision to alter elements of GTA 6‘s creative direction has left some Rockstar employees wondering about the franchise’s very identity. After all, GTA has always been a cynical satire of American culture. As some employees told Schreier, though, it’s kind of hard to satire a version of America that feels more and more like a satire of itself with each passing day.

So while GTA 6‘s female protagonist may be the face of this report for reasons both understandable and unfortunate, the real story here is Rockstar’s realization that it’s time for GTA (and the company itself) to grow, mature, and change.

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Unless something goes terribly, terribly wrong, GTA 6 will likely end up selling about a hundred million copies based on the strength of its name alone. You can say that name is partially built on the kind of immature humor GTA 6 will seemingly cut back on, and you would be right. That’s certainly one of the things that those who are upset by the very idea of GTA changing whatsoever will use to justify their arguments that the game will alienate its fanbase.

There’s a better way to look at this though. Even if GTA 6 could get by with more of the same, that doesn’t mean that it should. If a game that will likely sell just shy of a bajillion copies by virtue of simply existing can’t afford to be bold and different, then what property can? If a multibillion-dollar company that is trying to move past its shaky past can’t try something that feels more representative of where they are where they want to be, what hope do we have of avoiding the late stages of the very capitalist hellscape the GTA games have traditionally portrayed?

Maybe part of the reason we’re stuck in this chicken nugget-fuelled era of arrested development entertainment is that studios are too scared to use their historic success as justification for new ideas. The idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been mixed with the philosophy of “Why bother?” so quickly and so thoroughly that many of us are still trying to figure out when it actually happened. Do you love the way that previous GTA games challenged and poked fun at the status quo? Well, you should at least understand why the next GTA game needs to change a few things in order to challenge the status quo we’re currently stuck with.

I don’t know if GTA 6 will be a great game. It could successfully reboot the franchise into something more mature and interesting like 2018’s God of War did, or it could be a Cyberpunk 2077-level disaster. What I do know is that it will likely be over ten years between the releases of GTA 5 and GTA 6. If you’re no longer able, or willing, to try to change, grow, and improve over a period of 10+ years, then what are you even doing?

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