GTA IV Protagonist an Unfair Stereotype, Says UK Immigration Advocate

April 28, 2008 -
Niko Bellic, the Eastern European protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, represents a damaging stereotype, according to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, an advocacy group based in the U.K.

MCV UK reports:
The JCWI has told The Times that it disagrees with a Balkan being portrayed as being involved in a criminal underworld – and that the game could even make ‘life hard’ for real-life Eastern European immigrants.

A spokesman said: “The figures show that East European immigrants are not proportionately responsible for any increase in crime. This plays on untrue stereotypes.”

UPDATE: Gamasutra presents an alternate opinion from UK game journalist Simon Parkin.


@IN Kraft

Depends on your definition of stereotype, really. There's the, probably more common, perception that a stereotype is any kind of negative personality or physical trait associated with a specific group of people (such as black people yelling loudly during movies). But I think there's definite room to argue that there are certain stereotypes that are absolutely true, provided one doesn't go to the extremes in them. Most stereotypes have some element of truth to them.

"Rules" because he's a criminal and a murderer. Point understood. Yes, without sarcasm and as a gamer, that is pretty bad ass.

But negative imagery none the less. Negative image for a guy of a certain race of which you're (the JCWI) trying to turn around negative stereotypes for with regards to immigration.

And please please note that the JCWI just "disagrees" with the portrayal.

There are no boycotts
There are no protests
There is no rage or race war.

Just a disagreement, arguably worth discussion.

Tubatic, you actually completely missed the point. He will rule because of the inevitably awesome storyline.
Way to think everyone thinks like you.

This is why we cant have nice things.

The game hasn't come out yet... so how do they really know how this character is going to be portrayed?

Every country has it's criminals, it's an unfortunate fact of life. Just because a character in a story is from a certain country and is a criminal does not mean that the makers of the game are saying that all people from that country are criminals.

It's like the RE5 thing, there's an area in Africa (country with a predominantly black population) where an evil corporation has turned the nearby people into vicious zombies. The racism-sniffers leap to the conclusion that "CAPCOM ARE SAYING ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE VICIOUS ZOMBIES! YOU MUST KILL THEMZ!"

If Niko were a nobel-award winning medical researcher and brain surgeon, I wonder if they would complain that games are portraying all people from the Balkans as such...

From what I have read about the game, the character of Niko shows remorse and is more complex than just a criminal thug, but even after the game comes out and they have a chance to see what they're complaining about, they still won't admit they are wrong.

Games almost always go with a character stereotype, suck it up.


"they are largely ignored by regular Italians because WE DON’T CARE!"

wouldn't an organization concerned prejudices concerning the judicial system as it relates to Italians have a problem with that?


Wouldn't it be cool if they weren't always?

@Tubatic, my point was for every Italian who belongs to the Italian-American Anti-defamation league there are hundreds who don't care. Some of us even celebrate the "Godfather" reputation that Hollywood has given us.

Regarding the courts, who knows?

If you have a problem with the main character's ethnicity, it should have been addressed when GTAIV first showed him rather than a week before release. Not that they will, nor should, have to do anything about it.

I mean let's be fair and say that the GTA series sort of uses stereotypes for entertainment. Its characters are so stereotypical be they italian east european black or whatever the guy from vice city was supposed to be (Cuban? I know it was a harkening to scarface) that they become parodies of the stereotypes themselves. So while alone a given GTA character may seem terrible when put into context it's probably far more progressive than this individual is giving credit for. They aren't stereotypes so much as references to the culture that fosters stereotypes, such as San Andreas referencing Blaxploitation films.


If they want to make any real change or have any effect on what's in there, yes, I totally agree.

I think alot of groups, not necessarily the JCWI, miss that fact. When outrage is expressed.


Ah ok. I get where you're coming from.

I'm offended by all these whiney-asses getting offended.

I slightly understand the point of this at the moment - Big Boris is set to take London, and that rag which I won't mention is still stirring shit about Eastern Europeans.

Sorry, I missed the Balkan crime lord stereotype. The Eastern European stereotype I have is a bunch of whiney white guys who all speak different versions of essentially the same language and all belong to different versions of essentially the same religion, yet still insist that every little town be it's own independent country. Did they fit that one into GTA?

"From what I have read about the game, the character of Niko shows remorse and is more complex than just a criminal thug" Exactly.

making a broad generalization about a group of people based on a character from a game is stereotyping.

next gta the balkan guy can have a job loading supermarket lorries instead aye?

Hmmm, I thought the plot sounded pretty ripped off of the movie Lord of War. Didn't hear much complaining about that one.

...And if it had been a "true" stereotype, there would be even more complaints. Everyone concerned for a particular ethnic group is going to take offense at the roots of a questionable character, no matter what.

Well I think this is my favorite GTA character ever. As for stereotypes, what about depictions of Italian mobsters? Or black gangsters? Good lord, just calm down with the racist shit!

Well, I'm black, myself. When I thought back the the whole GTA San Andreas thing...It didn't really bother me. I loved the idea of actually having a black protagonist for once... Even if it was more on the crime side. I think Rockstar pulled it off. Besides, the game took place in the 90's right? I think it was a good idea to use a black character anyway...

@ JustChris

Your pie has offended my cake sir ;)

I suppose I was expecting this. You use or don't use a minority in your game and all of a sudden the people sensitive about race pop their heads up.

People complain about Resident Evil 5 using African people as the enemies and they complain about the use of women and African Americans in games. There's so many white males saving the day and hardly any other types of heroes and all the female heroines have bodies that are out of proportion for realisitic women. Does this matter? Why should it matter? It's not like games are explicitly saying "people of colour are your enemies".

Can it not be fair to say that SOME Eastern European immigrants are involved in crime? Since when does having a couple of characters of 1 race playing into category (such as "involved with organised crime") create a stereotype?

About the only stereotype I have that was created by the media is that most people who are in the mafia are Italian American or Italian. (That does NOT mean I think every Italian person is in the mafia... if the mafia still exists.) But I know that's just a stereotype and probably untrue.

As an Eastern European immigrant, I have to say that I see absolutely no problem with a game about criminals from that part of the world.

Every society has criminals and saying that it racist to point it out about a specific one IS RACIST...

Obviously it isn't a depiction of real life, in real life, the Russian mafia mostly deals with pot and tax evasion, as the director of the FBI once said, compared to the other mafias, the Russian one is not very violent...

Still I love a game about a person from my part of the world... (eastern Europe and NYC)


Are you including just the mafia proper or are you including all organized crime?

How do they know he is Balkin, I heard that a running gag in the game was that no one knew where he was from so a much of people used a number of different racial epithets when talking to or about him.

Again, I must say that if this is so bad, why is Niko my favorite GTA character already? There are criminals everywhere damnit! To say it's okay to portray one breed but not another is pretty fucked.

1st comment even on GP, and I would like to express my appreciation for such a well maintained website.

I haven't had time to review all the comments on this, but i would like to pose this to the community:

GTA in its progression from story to story, has been depicting humanity as a a species without any real bounds brought by Racism, at best it is a flavor to each individual in the GTA universe.
GTAIII: White guy, who works for anyone willing to pay him, Mafia, Yardies, Liberty Heights, Yakuza, etc...

San Andreas was a black guy, now we have a European, whose next?

The characters and missions, let alone the feel of the game is supplied by its flavor, which though using stereotypes, that is how people are represented in all medias today.

So in a bizzar way, doesn't that make the universe of the game, very un-racist?

I could probably word this much better, but i hope i have gotten my view across.

You know what I think is funny?

This one ethnicity is miffed that one person (that may or may not be of their race) may give them all a bad name.

Has nobody thought to bring up the point that it could be argued that the United States' larger cities are filled to the brim with crooked cops, hookers, and gang members. Do we see any cities of the States complaining? No. Is it because we can take a joke? Maybe. Or is it because the representation in GTAIV is a bit close to home? Also maybe. >_>

Wait a minute this game is about an eastern european immigrating into a parody of New York City and the game is made in sweden.

Why the hell does the UK get to have any osrt of say in this?

Oh and not to mention that the game comes out TOMORROW.

Surely they would realise how unreasonable it would be for rockstar to change one huge aspect of the game (or any aspect for that matter) in less then 24 hours especially when most stores all ready have their copies sitting and waiting.

I mean Rockstar could delay the game but then again we've known he would be eastern european for how long?

Saw this coming a mile off. As Billy Connolly put it single white men are the only group of people you can make fun of without having a protest turn up at your door the next morning. -_-


Maybe in GTA V the main character will be a woman, that would piss people off.

That would actually be really interesting. If they pulled it off well, it would be a potentially huge change to the game without changing it's nature, such as the basic gameplay. And while there are plenty of ethnicities they haven't done yet, they've done several now, so that would add far more variety in a sense. I'd love to see it.

Lets play a game my GP friends! You must find ONE thing that someone CAN NOT be offended by. Not a single person can be offended by the object you hold.

If I want to be politicaly correct I wouldn't speak.



Oh, now it's IMMIGRATION, now is it? First violence, then sex, then racism, and now immigration. These people don't stop!

@ KillianD and MonkeyPeaches
Yeah. a woman would be cool. Im not saying in the potentially tasteless sense that many people see GTA as a representation of, but in the ever constant balance of the sexes, they are all part of the world in these games, so why not get the chance to be the main character?
Spot on guys.

A women protagonist in GTA?

Does that mean we finally get to kill male prostitutes or does it mean we get treated to lesbian scenes when we pick up a women prostitute?

Or better yet maybe we can be a whore.

Although really I doubt that women get very far in the criminal underworld.

I'm going to chime in with another "This is silly" vote.

If we're truly trying to abolish stereotypes, then it needs to be accepted fact that any person of any race can fall anywhere in the moral spectrum. The Grand Theft Auto Series has, to date, featured White, Black, Latino, Asian, and Russian villians to name but a few. All of a sudden making the protagonist easter european is unacceptable? What?

This is just like the time when speech-impaired advocacy groups were upset about Claude representing a damaging stereotype of mute people in GTA III.

Ok, to spin this a little different. I just went to my local video store (blockbuster) and saw that they now had the movie Eastern Promises for rent. I didn't rent it, although the story looks promising - and the main character is played by Viggo Mortensen, a Danish actor (or at least half Danish anyway, but since we donøt have that much going for us internationally we take what we can get ;) ).

Now, am I now led to believe that all Danish are involved in Eastern European criminal gang activities. Of course not. Or am I led to believe, by watching this movie on DVD that all Russians are crime lords or work for them. Of course not.

By playing the GTA IV game, the same applies. The protagonist Niko Bellic is os Eastern European origen as he comes from the Balkans. As I understand the game's story, Niko Bellic, is really trying to clean up Liberty City a little bit. He just uses -ehm- violence to do it.

I didn't know Rockstar was based in Sweden, but let me say this then: In GTA V I think that the protagonist or main character should be a nordic looking man (or woman) trying to make it in Liberty City. Let me also say this: There's a Swedish crime series called 'Beck'. In one of the episodes *the man with the icons' I think it was called?, the main villain was

Let's say I made a game (or proposed a game) in which the Chinese Triads were the bad guys. Do this mean that I think that every Chinese is a Triad or that every Chinese is a criminal. Of course not. Just as I don't think that every person from the Balkans is a criminal just because the GTA IV game has Eastern European main character - that is an immigrant? from the Balkans.

As for the figures the JCWI tell us about: This may be true in the UK, but both Sweden as well as Danmark have experienced a great influx of Eastern European criminal gangs that often sadly :( uses children to steal for them. Even if prostitution is legal (sort of) in Denmark, the police still can raid brothels, if they suspect there's been a trading of women. Sadly, I think, many times (or most of the time) the police find out that the people behind all this are people from either Russia or Eastern Europe, and maybe some times, even someone from the Balkans. I don't think any Dane would blame all Russians or all Balkans for being in cahoots with these (shady) types. The same goes for the GTA IV character, Niko Bellic.
He is representing a person from the Balkans. Yes, but that's all he is. And in the end, it is really up to you, the player, to control Niko's actions.
If you don't want Niko to do criminal things, then don't.

calm down it's only a game and most poeple probably do commit a crime at least once it doesn't label anyone race as criminals just one man who did what he had to do

You can't produce anything in the entertainment industry without some minority group complaining about unfair stereotypes.
"Why doesn't everyone just make nice games about kittens and knitting?"
Rockstar will continue to make these games if they sell 6 million copies its first week (predicted) - Don't blame them for giving us what we want!

“The figures show that East European immigrants are not proportionately responsible for any increase in crime. This plays on untrue stereotypes.”

Yeah, absolutely! They should have gone with a black guy, like in the last game. Everybody knows the stereotypes about violent black people are totally true.

Come on, seriously? Wouldn't they just be saying this exact same sort of thing about another race/nationality/culture if he had been someone else besides an Eastern European?


No, Kajex, the problem is the over-representation of a particular type or representing a traditionally mis-stated fact.

If you were a blond, blue-eyed actress, and 19 of every 20 breakdowns you got asked for a blond, blue-eyed bimbo, you might get it.

If you were an actor from a place somewhere between north Africa and eastern India, and 19/20 breakdowns you got were for a "Islamic/terrorist", you might get it (and yes, there are plenty people from that area that are neither"),

If you were a Black male actor and 19/20 of breakdowns you got were for a gangmember/drug dealer/crackhead/car thief, you might get it.

Representation in media is a more powerful thing than most of us give credit to.

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Mattsworknameargue that it's wrong, but then please admit it's wrong on ALL Fronts07/29/2015 - 2:06am
MattsworknameTechnoGeek: It's actually NOT, but it is a method used all across the specturm. See Rush limbaugh, MSNBC, Shawn hannity, etc etc, how many compagns have been brought up to try and shut them down by going after there advertisers. It's fine if you wanna07/29/2015 - 2:05am
Mattsworknamediscussed, while not what I liked and not the methods I wanted to see used, were , in a sense, the effort of thsoe game consuming masses to hold what they felt was supposed to be there press accountable for what many of them felt was Betrayal07/29/2015 - 2:03am
MattsworknameAs we say, the gamers are dead article set of a firestorm among the game consuming populace, who, ideally, were the intended audiance for sites like Kotaku, Polygon, Et all. As such, the turn about on them and the attacking of them, via the metods07/29/2015 - 2:03am
MattsworknameAndrew: Thats kind fo the issue at hand, Accountable is a matter of context. For a media group, it means accountable to its reader. to a goverment, to it's voters and tax payer, to a company, to it's share holders.07/29/2015 - 2:02am
Andrew EisenAnd again, you keep saying "accountable." What exactly does that mean? How is Gamasutra not accounting for the editorial it published?07/28/2015 - 11:47pm
Andrew EisenMatt - I disagree with your 9:12 and 9:16 comment. There are myriad ways to address content you don't like. And they're far easier to execute in the online space.07/28/2015 - 11:47pm
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DanJAlexander's editorial was and continues to be grossly misrepresented by her opponents. And if you don't like a site, you stop reading it - same as not watching a tv show. They get your first click, but not your second.07/28/2015 - 11:40pm
TechnogeekYes, because actively trying to convince advertisers to influence the editorial content of media is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, especially for a movement that's ostensibly about journalistic ethics.07/28/2015 - 11:02pm
Mattsworknameanother07/28/2015 - 9:16pm
Mattsworknameyou HAVE TO click on it. So they get the click revenue weather you like what it says or not. as such, the targeting of advertisers most likely seemed like a good course of action to those who wanted to hold those media groups accountable for one reason07/28/2015 - 9:16pm
MattsworknameBut, when you look at online media, it's completely different, with far more options, but far few ways to address issues that the consumers may have. In tv, you don't like what they show, you don't watch. But in order to see if you like something online07/28/2015 - 9:12pm
MattsworknameIn tv, and radio, ratings are how it works. your ratings determine how well you do and how much money you an charge.07/28/2015 - 9:02pm
Mattsworknameexpect to do so without someone wanting to hold you to task for it07/28/2015 - 9:00pm
MattsworknameMecha: I don't think anyone was asking for Editoral changes, what they wanted was to show those media groups that if they were gonna bash there own audiance, the audiance was not gonna take it sitting down. you can write what you want, but you can't07/28/2015 - 8:56pm
MattsworknameAndrew, Im asking as a practical question, Have gamers, as a group, ever asked for a game, or other item, to be banned. Im trying to see if theres any cases anyone else remembers cause I cant find or remember any.07/28/2015 - 8:55pm
Andrew EisenAs mentioned, Gamasutra isn't a gaming site, it's a game industry site. I don't feel it's changed its focus at all. Also, I don't get the sense that the majority of the people who took issue with that one opinion piece were regular readers anyway.07/28/2015 - 8:43pm
MattsworknameDitto kotaku, Gawker, VOX, Polygon, ETC07/28/2015 - 8:41pm
MechaTama31So, between pulling a game from one chain of stores, and forcing editorial changes to a media source, only one of them strikes you as being on the edge of censorship, and it's the game one?07/28/2015 - 8:41pm

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