Online Experience May Vary

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.

Al’s male avatar.

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.

Courtney, the female avatar we used in GTA.

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.

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6 Comments Add yours

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  2. Twi says:

    to anyone claiming that this article is “garbage”, and that he was being targeted for using a low-level avatar rather than because of gender representation, I would like to remind you that he blatantly stated that the ENTIRE time he was playing with a male avatar (from low-level on up) he did not have the same experience. sure, he couldn’t account for control of every factor. so it’s not a perfect experiment. but it is still enough impirical evidence to know that there is something fishy going on that should really be looked at more closely. to just shrug it off as paranoia and ignore it is a huge injustice!

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  3. yaoyaoyiffy says:

    It’s certainly possible that people did target you because of the appearance of your character, but I disagree with your conclusions.

    Admittedly I haven’t played GTA5, but I’m familiar with the earlier games of the series: all other things being equal, the primary way of interacting with the world in a GTA game is violence. You don’t talk to people on the street, you mug or kill them. You don’t ask police officers for directions, you flee from or kill them. You don’t yield to oncoming traffic, you crash into it or shoot them. Other drivers on the road are just moving obstacles while you’re driving or vehicle delivery (via car-jacking). Is it any wonder that another player’s choice of interaction with an avatar that caught their attention was violence?

    You say that that fact that people are allowed to act this way somehow leads to such actions being perpetrated in the real world, but the evidence simply doesn’t support that claim. Gender-based violence existed LONG before video games. If there was truly a connection between the simulated violence in GTA and real-world acts than surely we should see an increase in such crimes?

    And yet, as a society we are the most tolerant and socially-conscious culture in history. Gamers in their 20s-30s are FAR more supportive of feminist values and gender-rights than any previous generation, and these are the same gamers playing games like GTA.

    As a counter to your arguments: video games have become incredibly popular in recent years. Gaming is no longer a past-time of “nerds”, and more and more people are playing and enjoying games. When I started gaming the narrative was that normal people didn’t play games. Today, EVERYONE is a “gamer”.

    This explosion in the gaming population has come because people who previously did not play games are playing them now. Many of these people playing games are bringing their preformed expectations and social conditioning with them.

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    1. Al Such says:

      Thanks for taking your time to discuss this with me. I appreciate the comments you made.

      While I agree that playing a violent video game does not make someone violent, I pointed out in the beginning of my article that Rockstar is not the cause of my experiences in game, but rather the players. Although the game did not make players sexist, their attitudes are brought to the game through the way they play and interact. This is no fault of the game, but instead the fault of the people perpetrating any attacks.

      Additionally, I agree that much of a player’s interaction in game is through means of violence, but the types of aggression carried out were different, as I stated, between both avatars. While attacks on my male avatar occurred, they were much less calculated and a lot less frequent. Playing as Courtney led to me being stalked and harassed in a way that is not typical for a male avatar in game.

      I’m not sure how clear I made this in my article, but in no way do I blame GTA V for gender-based violence. Instead I used GTA V as a vehicle to see how differently I would be treated with a female avatar. Although people who participate in gender-based violence in game may not be reaching for a machete in real life, their attitudes and mindsets that allowed them to act this way in a video game do imply that they treat women differently to men in the real world.

      As stated, the actions of the other players were their own, and not in any way influenced by GTA. Instead, I aimed to show that a person’s poisonous mindset in real life was brought to a different level through the vehicle of gaming. Of course it’s not a game’s fault that someone acts poorly toward another person. It’s that person’s fault. The fact that it’s accepted in real life or in game, though, is the issue.

      EDIT:
      I also understand that the maturing gamer is becoming more accepting, but while most gamers may choose to hang out in their groups of fellow mature players, ten minutes with a microphone on in GTA Online would show you that the game isn’t being played by its target demographic solely. As many as half of GTA’s players are minors that may lack the maturity a seasoned player may have.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Matt says:

    This is insane. You weren’t targeted based on gender. The character “Courtney” is a level 2. She was targeted because you are a new user, no experience and therefore other players will take advantage or stalk you or kill you. You know how many times I’ve been run over by a car while at the ATM? Oh yeah, you can enable passive mode to prevent against that… This has nothing to do with your girlfriend’s real life gender. If she doesn’t feel that the game suits her, take the game out and stop playing, she has that choice.

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  5. Cry Me A River says:

    This article is garbage.

    Like

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