Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about how Grand Theft Auto IV is racist, or even how it has racist imagery. And you were all ready with your angry comments, weren’t you?
As predicted, the latest installment in the GTA series is already stirring up controversy. Is it too violent? Is it corrupting our kids? Is it horribly sexist? The ability to sleep with prostitutes–and to kill them–is definitely back (though all online video clips have been removed). What I want to talk about isn’t the mind-numbingly overdone sex scandals associated with this wildly talked about game though. My question is simple: what does it mean that our new protagonist is white?
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas raised eyebrows with its black protagonist–in particular, it’s pairing of violence and race. While black characters are hardly unheard of in video games, they’re certainly rarer than their white counterparts. And given the inflammatory nature of GTA itself, the gun-wielding CJ couldn’t help but incite the question, “As a contemporary American, what does it mean to play a black male in a world based around violence?”
With Grand Theft Auto IV, however, the next major series release from Take-Two, we’re facing the opposite question. Instead of an African-American protagonist, we have Niko, a Serbian immigrant. Because of his nationality, he still comes weighted with stereotypes, but he is most certainly white. So what does it mean for us as players–or for the game’s designers–that our avatar has switched races?
Maybe it means nothing (as if anything ever meant nothing). After all, there are still black characters in GTA IV who are also involved in the world of crime. Maybe the race switched occurred just to mix things up, not to make players less racially uncomfortable–or even suspect. Readers who’ve been playing the new game, any thoughts on how it feels to play this time around?