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Dan Houser’s latest interview with The Guardian has raised a couple of eyebrows, particularly in lieu of his comments on player gender. (GTAV features no female protagonists, though the multiplayer options remain unclear.) Emphasis ours:
The 39-year-old Londoner has been surveying every last, dusty corner of Los Angeles since 2004’s GTA: San Andreas and has become something of an expert on the city’s psychogeography in the process. "LA is this embodiment of 20th-century American desires: the houses, the gardens, the tans, all slightly fake. It’s the end of the western world – the suns sets and then it’s tomorrow. But the industry is movies or, equally phoney, real estate. It’s people trying to escape their pasts and reinvent themselves. If GTA IV was a classic New York story, this is the endpoint of the American dream.”
Houser is a flurry of words and feverish gum-chewing. He’s considered and articulate, yet sometimes seemingly on fast-forward, extended pauses followed by an explosion of thoughts and ideas (“I am scattergun to the nth degree,” he laughs). We talk for an hour but the transcript runs to more than 10,000 words.
Despite Rockstar’s sometimes secretive aura, Houser is very direct and has strong views on GTAV’s relationship with the movies (“We don’t need to hark back to film when technology allows us to produce our own response to real places”), on the lack of playable female characters (“The concept of being masculine was so key to this story”) and on game conferences like E3 and Gamescom, which he no longer attends (“You don’t play a videogame in a room with 20,000 people doing the same thing unless you’re a lunatic”).
So, GTA is a satirization of the cruel, manufactured American Dream and its anti-authoritarian, rebellious outliers. Playing as a woman would undermine that. Somehow.
Mr. Houser is missing one of the key points of satire: subversion. You can’t break down an existing concept solely by imitating it - you have to look at what it’s saying, and take it in a new direction. What if there were a woman on the crew? How would she fit in among these grizzled tough-guys? What unique challenges would she face in a criminal society that seems designed to exclude her? Perhaps that would be an avenue worth exploring.
(Oh, and keep in mind - one of the first trailers for GTAV featured a blow-by-blow recreation of the initial heist from Michael Mann’s Heat. Of course, Rockstar doesn’t need to hark back to film, do they?)
"Grand Theft Auto V: meet Dan Houser, architect of a gaming phenomenon" (Matt Hill, The Guardian)