Grand Theft Auto has, until now, been a largely single-player experience. With the advent of GTA Online, players are now able to roam around the fictional city of Los Santos with their friends, participating in all sorts of hijinks together.
Rockstar, as far as I can see, did a pretty decent job at equalizing the gameplay for both male and female characters in the online setting. A character’s outward appearance is the only thing that’s changed. Stats, clothing, tattoos and makeup are all under the player’s control.
The problem, then, lies within the players.
I played GTA Online for three months before I let my girlfriend try. That’s three months to get myself acquainted to the game. I learned what players could be like from the perspective of a person playing a male avatar. Most people were agreeable. I kept my headset out for most of the time, only using it occasionally because there’s hardly anything worthwhile being said over the air. A few times I would walk into a firefight, participate it, and enjoy myself. Every once in a while I’d be randomly killed but I didn’t hear or see anything from the player afterward.
Honestly, the only trouble I had was with bad sports. People would track me down to kill me if I underperformed in a mission, but that didn’t bother me either. Some people are sore losers.
Fast forward to the present:
My girlfriend wanted to try GTA Online. I helped her set up a character under my account. She customized the look, picked a face she was happy with and some comfy, modest clothing. Modesty wasn’t a choice anyone made in particular at the beginning – she just liked those particular clothes.
Stepping into the game was instantly a different experience. Within the first few minutes of playing, characters were following her around. After helping my girlfriend setting a car she liked as her personal vehicle, a mugger was sent after her. My girlfriend was still level 1 at this point. I figured it was strange but pressed on.
More time in-game. More following. After completing a mission she drove to an ATM and somebody mowed her down as she typed in her PIN.
More following. Characters started spawning at her location.
So I decided to experiment.
The next afternoon, I asked my girlfriend if I could borrow her GTA character. I changed her outfit to a closed hoodie, dark jeans and tennis shoes. Driving around I noticed characters were continuing to spawn around her. More violence. At one point I was on a highway and another player spawned on my windshield and flew away.
After only an hour and a half of play I had two party invites and three friend requests from people I didn’t know. During my entire time on GTA as a male, this hasn’t happened to me.
People were targeting me based on the appearance of my avatar.
I don’t understand. People were being outwardly violent and stalked me based solely on the outward appearance of my avatar.
If these players act in this way toward women in the game world, it can only be assumed that a degree of this mindset is transferred to the real world. Based on my observations, only the appearance of my avatar changed the behavior of these people, and this indicates aggressive attitudes toward women as a whole. If people are allowed to act this way candidly, even in a gaming setting, their behaviors will be perpetuated and carry out into the real world.
And yet young men who play games still somehow believe that feminism has no place in the world of gaming.