Why doesn't GTA 5 have a female protagonist? A brief explanation from Rockstar's Houser

"Having three protagonists allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes."

Ben's already written a piece about this excellent Guardian feature on GTA 5, but I wanted to single out a remark from Rockstar co-founder and writer Dan Houser about the game's lack of playable female characters. It's just a sentence, but it's the first time I've actually read anything from a GTA 5 developer that's relevant to the debate about the console industry's notorious aversion to female protagonists, which has become increasingly prominent in the past few months.

For context, the game features three playable male characters - up-from-the-ghetto Franklin, burned-out ex-con Michael and the psychopathic Trevor. In a first for the series, you'll be able to switch between them instantly, for different perspectives on the same series of events. "Having three protagonists allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes," Houser explains in the piece. "Rather than seeming like you've got this super-criminal who can do everything effortlessly, they're all good and bad at different things.


"We liked the idea of a protagonist retiring with a family, and how awful that would be," he observed of Michael in particular. "We've never done anything like that and you don't really see it in games - to feed into these concepts of parenting and pseudo-parenting."

GTA 5's script runs to 1,000 pages, and the smaller narratives woven into its colossal west coast setting are the product of fearfully in-depth research. "We spent a minimum of 100 days in Los Angeles on research trips, probably more," Houser commented. "Out and about, all night long with weird people, strange cops showing us around, a lot of first-hand research.

"We spoke to FBI agents that have been undercover, experts in the Mafia, street gangsters who know the slang - we even went to see a proper prison. These poor buggers in the middle of the salt flat desert, miles away. It was eye-openingly depressing."

Given these ambitions and Rockstar's perennial taste for social commentary, the absence of a female lead seems a strange omission - a missed opportunity to contribute to an important discussion. As Houser fleetingly observes elsewhere in the piece, however, "the concept of being masculine was so key to this story". Naturally, it's impossible to judge this remark without playing the game through, but still - what do you think?


Read Jonty's GTA 5 gameplay preview for more on the single player, and step this way for details of the multiplayer. It's not clear whether you can create a female character in multiplayer - this seems probable, however, given that you could create a female multiplayer character in GTA 4.