I have been waiting for a "Grand Theft Auto" game that stars a woman.
I have been waiting for a "GTA" that is as violent and sexual and satirical as all the previous games in the series and puts a lady in the center of it all.
What could Rockstar Games say with a female "GTA" star? What new way could they make people?
What could they say about gender? About America?
When I see developers at Rockstar I drop hints about my desire. They drop no hints back. All I know of "GTA IV" so far is that it appears to star Niko Bellic, leads me to think I need to wait at least until "GTA V."
But last week I did get to play some "GTA IV" as a woman. It was in the game's multiplayer mode. That counts.
The experience was different than I expected.
"GTA IV" is the first console game in the series with full multiplayer modes. They are accessible via Niko's cell phone and allow you to play as an avatar of either gender whose look the gamer can customize. (Could you do this in the PSP games? I never tried.) If you plan to play your "GTA IV" multiplayer mode as a female character, you must first start the game as a man, Mr. Bellic.
A week ago I visited the Rockstar offices in downtown New York City and logged into a multiplayer session through that phone and picked an avatar. I chose a woman with brown hair and a pink barrette. I cycled through face options but kept her Caucasian. I cycled through torsos and was surprised at how conservative my options were. I selected an ensemble of yellow t-shirt and dark cardigan sweater. In most other games I could have expected a bra-and-nothing-else ensemble.
The girls of "GTA IV" don't show that much skin, at least not in the initially unlocked outfits available to me last week.
I asked Rockstar v.p. of product development Jeronimo Barrera, who was playing the multiplayer session with me, why the female avatars weren’t more like typical video game females. You know: sexier.
"She's got to fit into the world," Barrera told me. "She needs to look like she lives in Liberty City, not necessarily just like some bombshell. We make all our characters that way."
My woman was called "Monsters." That name had already been attached to the account on the Xbox 360 I was using. Monsters did ok. I made her snipe at people from the foot of the Statue of Happiness.
Like any other character in "GTA IV" multiplayer, Monsters was able to run through the entire open world of Liberty City. My lady could jack cars, punch cops and fire rocket-propelled grenades at hot dog carts. But because she's not part of the storyline she couldn't engage in whatever relationship activities are in the game (to the extent that there are any -- like dating in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas").
Unlike Princess Peach, Nariko, Lara Croft and most other video game heroines, Monsters didn't exude her gender. The characters in the "GTA" multiplayer modes are all pretty quiet (maybe silent?). So there weren't audio cues to remind me that my she was a she. There were no screams, cackles or wisecracks in soprano. Even visually, the cues were relatively subtle. Monsters did have an ample chest, but not one of standard video game proportions. She wasn't dressed in a way that consistently reminded me of her gender. This first woman I ever played as in a "GTA" blended in with all the violent guys quite easily.
I expected to feel a revolution this first time I played a woman in "Grand Theft Auto" on a console. I didn't. Not so during my initial two-hour attempt.
Still, a girl got to cause some mayhem.