Why The Grand Theft Auto Rumours Feel Like A Gamergate Throwback

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Some fans weren’t happy to hear that Grand Theft Auto 6 might feature a female protagonist, and the reaction is giving us a real throwback moment to a saga that began back in 2014 known as Gamergate.

There’s rumours that the video game developer behind the Grand Theft Auto franchise is cleaning up its “frat boy” culture, according to sources from the company who weren’t authorised to speak publicly. A Bloomberg profile on the issue mentioned the next instalment would include a female playable protagonist, according to people familiar with the game.

The company, Rockstar Games, hasn’t actually confirmed it yet, but a certain corner of the internet is already up in arms. One twitter user called GTA 6 the “woke edition”, while another user complained that “the fantasy of living rebelliously” will be “devalued” from the new game. 

The situation ultimately begs the question of whether the gaming industry has become more inclusive since the infamous 2014 Gamergate. 

What Was Gamergate?

Gamergate wasn’t just one incident but a series of unfortunate events, mostly online, that built up to a frenzy.

In short, it was the name of a hashtag and online community largely based in the US that claimed it was fighting for ethical game journalism and the way that games were discussed in the media. But what it actually did was hide its true agenda of intense misogyny and hints of white supremacy. 

Gamergate predated Trump being elected and the Jan 6 Capitol riots, both of which The Guardian and Vox believe were inspired by Gamergate’s influence and its relationship with the far right movement. 

The Key Moments That Defined Gamergate

The consensus is that Gamergate kicked off in August 2014 by a particularly salty blog post about game designer Zoe Quinn. But we’ll come back to that.

A few years before that in 2012, there was a ton of backlash against the feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian. 

Sarkeesian had a Youtube channel where she talked about tropes and cliches about women in movies and TV, which branched out into gaming, particularly around the sexualisation of  women in games. And some gamers did not like that at all. 

The backlash Sarkeesian received made international headlines (including in Australia). The critic was subjected to doxxing, death threats, rape threats, and bomb threats because of it. This incident also coincided with a general shift of the gaming industry becoming more inclusive, which again, angered some audiences. 

Gaming news sites like Kotaku and Polygon covered the backlash, and soon Sarkeesian became the poster child for what this subset of gamers apparently feared most — women making changes to the gaming space.  This laid down the groundwork for the blog post that arguably sparked it all. 

Zoe Quinn, an American game developer, released a game in 2013 that got really great reviews on sites like Kotaku. Then in August 2014, her ex-boyfriend wrote a scathing blog post about her, including an allegation of sleeping with a journalist from Kotaku, and how that explained all that positive coverage. And like Sarkeesian, the online abuse that followed was brutal. 

Following these incidents Gamergate gained a ton of online momentum. While the movement claimed to be about media ethics, what it was actually doing was harassing women online — and if journalists called that toxic behaviour out, gamers defended it as just “trolling”. 

What A Female Character Could Mean For The Gaming Community

While the Gamergate hashtag is used here and there on Twitter the movement is largely over, but the undercurrents of misogyny and sexism in gaming were present long before Gamergate and still persist today.

Which brings us to the new GTA. Developers say that the new game will follow a “Bonny and Clyde” narrative and that the character will be Latina. Anonymous employees at the studio say that the company is attempting to transform “a boys’ club… into a real company” by making games that are “better for everyone working on them”. Besides, who wouldn’t want to run around stealing cars and committing felonies as a female in Grand Theft Auto 6. 

Only time will tell if enough GTA fans are on board.