So GTA gets a lot of shit for being, among practically every other social ill, sexist. And let’s not kid ourselves, it totally is. This is, if you’ll recall, the game where you can fuck sex workers and then kill them to get your money back.
But under that, it also has a lot of really good female characters. (I’m only gonna talk about ones from the III continuity, but IV has some gems as well.) I think sometimes it’s hard to see this because III’s overall tone tends to be outrageous and exaggerated so all of the characters, even moderately serious ones, come off as jokes. But if you look at a Donald Love without the knowledge that he’s a cannibal, you get a different picture and he seems like a ght guy.
That is, there’s almost always some ridiculous implication to each character that takes their portrayal from normal and, I might argue, well-written and into lolwatville.
For instance, one of my favorite characters, Asuka Kasen. Disregarding for a moment that she is a sadomasochist, her character is really very admirable as far as female character portrayals go in videogames. She co-leads the Yakuza with her brother Kenji which, as you can probably guess, is not a common thing in real life. Women typically are not permitted leadership roles in crime organizations. I think it’s interesting too that they have her leading with her brother, but this isn’t a good-cop-bad-cop thing where one is the soft-spoken negotiator and the other is the enforcer, where she’d be played out as either a nurturer who wants to talk it out or the vicious bitch. Their relationship as leaders of the Yakuza is comparable to, if you have played it, the Garrett twins from Fallout: New Vegas, in that both brother and sister are similarly cunning and somewhat ruthless, but with the focus always on business, each handling different aspects of it so as to divide and conquer.
Additionally, when you subtract the sadomasochism from the equation (and even if you still leave it in, I think) Asuka’s lesbianism (or the implication thereof) is written rather reasonably too. It is never explicitly stated that she and Maria Latore are lovers. Their activities are written as perfectly innocuous things women do together (like go shopping or on vacation), but the tone leaves whether or not they are speaking euphemistically to the imagination. Although I think the scene where Asuka tells Claude that Maria “is all tied up at the moment” and then Maria calls out from inside the apartment that she knows she’s been a naughty girl but she really has to be pee to be indicative of Rockstar’s intention. And, I mean, really. Look at Asuka’s haircut. The prosecution rests.
But nothing of their relationship is ever actually played out in view of the player so it’s more of a wink-and-nod thing as opposed to a male-gazey look-at-these-hot-lesbians thing. Asuka is not an overtly sexual character at all. She dresses like a Bond villain and is strictly business with the player, although we are made aware that she has a sex life which makes her a little more dimensional. She has interests outside of her use to the player, or rather Claude’s use to her.
I think too, that it was a good choice on the part of Rockstar that, when you end up having to act against the Yakuza for Donald Love, you have to kill Kenji and not her. Although it suggests that Kenji is the more valuable of the pair and therefore the most necessary to kill, he’s also kind of an asshole anyway. And besides, when the Leone Family turns on Claude, it’s Asuka, not Kenji, who offers him safety within the Yakuza’s employ. To turn around and kill her would have been terribly ungrateful and would have made a point of how disposable a female character, even (or especially) one who took care of the protagonist, ultimately was to the plot.
Unfortunately, Asuka does end up dead by the end of the game, although this is at the hands of another woman, Catalina, who ends up being the primary antagonist of the game (and, in fact, the only female antagonist in the series). Catalina’s portrayal is problematic, I think, and I’m not sure how I feel about her murdering Asuka in relation to it. I will say though that I don’t find Asuka’s death bothersome in the same way that I find, say, Louise Cassidy-Williams‘ to be, because Claude is a mute character and does so little to express any emotion to counteract that that I do not believe that Asuka was killed to upset him.
Claude might be indebted to Asuka, but I don’t pick up on any measure of fondness or attachment to her. While Louise is killed specifically as an action against Vic Vance, Asuka must die as more of a practical measure. When Asuka captures and interrogates Miguel, Catalina’s lover and co-leader of the Colombian Cartel, Catalina kills them both to prevent the information Miguel leaked from getting back to the Yakuza. Louise gets refridgerated; Asuka doesn’t.