The Depiction of Race in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas


April 16, 2013 by omar373

The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series consists of mainly free roaming video games across several platforms that simulate the crime filled streets of several fictitious American cities, which mimic real places. Such is seen in the setting of “GTA: San Andreas”, the fifth original release in the series by developing studios Rockstar Games. The city of San Andreas clearly models Los Angeles, appearing like some of the more downtrodden neighbourhoods such as South Central LA or Compton. One of the most striking aspects of this game is how it depicts the different races that make up the gameplay environment. It allows the gamer to play in an urban jungle, where ethnicities are clearly defined by various characters who are linked to the negative activities that their respective communities are stereotyped for engaging in.  

The developers have created a very interesting environment in this particular game in the series. It can be seen through their depiction of race that they like to engage in caricaturism, portraying races in a way that are far fetched from actuality. In San Andreas, we can see this at work when looking at what happens to characters such as Carl Johnson. “CJ” as he is commonly referred to, is a young African American and a former gang member who has run away from his home city for five years and just recently returned to find many of his family members dead. In the initial cutscene, in the career mode of the game, he is seen coming back to the city of San Andreas. Within one day of his arrival, he is hassled by the police who have him classified as a suspected individual before he has even committed a crime. He has also encountered a drive-by shooting and been classified by other characters as a dangerous gang-linked individual, despite queues given from his dialogue showing his desire to leave such activities behind. This scenario appears to be a slight exaggeration of what life is like as a young, urban, African American youth; However, it is also a possible reality for a number of individuals.

During this same cutscene when the police are giving CJ trouble, these cops seem to be reinforcing several other racial stereotypes. One of the white officers is seen dismissing a taxi driver, muttering the words “get outta here you greaseball…stupid Mexican!”. On one side, there are stereotypes being applied to Hispanics who are seen doing “dirty” low wage jobs, but on the other side there is a White stereotype placed around the apparent racism that this officer exhibits. Race-linked behaviour is also covered by several other characters in this game’s storyline. One such character is Wu Zi Mu, also known as “Woozie”. He is the head of a Vietnamese gang called the Mountain Cloud Boys. He is trying to maintain control within a drug triad, and engages in illegal street racing, all while being blind but of “good fortune”. East Asian stereotypes appear to be prominent in the characterisation of Woozie, and he reflects a caricatured view of what a Vietnamese American would be like in a setting like the violent city of San Andreas.

To say that this game’s depiction of race has been done so out of malicious motive would be quite wrong. It is seemingly not “racist” as some might dub it, but rather a form of media that looks to bring out the exaggerations from every racial group in society and make a game out of them. One way to put it into perspective would be to compare the GTA series to a comedian who makes a large number of race related jokes; the comedian is in good chance not a racist (although this is possible), but rather one who is trying to make his or her audience laugh and turn a subject of tension into a subject of entertainment. Similarly, games can also have this effect. What one experiences throughout gameplay is usually not a form of reinforcement of racial stereotypes, but rather the breaking down of sensitive barriers which allows one to play with them and take them more lightly. In a way, this has the ability to release tension. While such effects may or may not have been the intentions of the developers, it is interesting to analyse the possibilities of that their creation could have on society.


4 thoughts on “The Depiction of Race in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

  1. hjang24 says:

    I totally agree with your statement, more than a means of trying to make a racist remark in the game. I believe that this game is much more of a satire where they make a joke of the gang violence going on. Being the fact that gang violence shouldnt be taken lightly, I felt that the main focus on the game was to make an overall exaggeration and point out the flaws in the stupidity of gangs. I agree with your overall paper and it actually made me realize something very crucial. We find ourselves laughing, goofing off, and making a joke of things in GTA. But in reality we find alot of kids thinking the very things we find stupid and hilarious to be cool. In the end i feel that if this game was headed and directed a bit differently it could have a huge impact on gang influence on younger kids, especially those who play these games.

  2. jenniferashiru says:

    You are so right when you point out that the depiction of racial stereotypes is not just limited to that of minorities, this is such an important idea. Because in society, specifically in urban landscapes, Caucasians are often deemed as oppressors and characteristic of promoting racism, this is reflected in the San Andreas gameworld specifically with Officer Tenpenny’s white partner, Officer Pulaski. There was kind of hierarchy that was presented when Pulaski said “get outta here you greaseball…stupid Mexican!” But at the same time, this quote is supposed to be funny. I like what you said about the comedian who makes racist jokes, but might not be racist, it’s more so shedding light on heavy content and then presenting in a way that can be laughed at. Many shows like South Park and Family Guy make fun of things in society. I watch these shows, and I think of it as them poking fun at society; I do admit that sometimes jokes go too far, I don’t know what the limit it is though. I don’t know, I think there is a duality to this, on the one hand heavy content like racism is presented by depicting negative stereotypes, but it also reflects that society itself can be racist and prejudice.

    Another stereotype that I found interesting was Officer Tenpenny. He would actually be considered an ‘Uncle Tom’ and sellout to the black community in the gameworld of San Andreas because he often oppresses other minority characters. *Side note: I grew up playing this game with my brother, and one character I found hilarious was OG Loc, a wannabe gangster rapper. I liked this character because he sheds light on the fact that people of all kinds are captivated by gangster rap/life. That is partially why this game sells, I feel like OG Loc in a sense represents the consumer buying San Andreas.

    “What one experiences throughout gameplay is usually not a form of reinforcement of racial stereotypes, but rather the breaking down of sensitive barriers which allows one to play with them and take them more lightly”. I completely agree with this statement, specifically because San Andreas provides the player with unique kind of experience that not only lets them traverse the gameworld with a nontraditional hero, but allows the player to delve deeper into the stereotypes and find comedy in the way that society thinks. It’s kind of like “Wow, is this what society really thinks about people because it’s kind of stupid and even funny”.

  3. […] Omar373,. (2013). Film 373. The Depiction of Race in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Retrieved from […]

  4. […] Omar373,. (2013). Film 373. The Depiction of Race in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Retrieved from […]

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