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.


Timmay, unfortunately as long as there are sites like GP to give them a voice, they'l keep complaining

People are far too anal nowadays. A Black man plays a villain in a movie, some black-rights group is going to whine. A movie based on the battle of Thermopylae with Persians as the opposing force, and Middle Eastern people get pissed, even though it's historically true that they got their asses whipped in combat.

This is why we can't have nice things.

hmmm... so we have to make our villians totally vanilla so they dont offend anyone, make all the violent parts non interactive so we dont train killers, and we must censor sex....


Has anyone ever seen behind enemy lines? Yeah, the sniper guy chasing him down? The one wearing running gear the whole damn time?

He and Niko could damn near be twins. Seriously it's creepy.

@ Kajex

Middle Eastern people got pissed because Persians were not portrayed correctly. Yeah 300 was waaay off...but hell, nobody else cared anyway.

I have never heard of a black rights advocacy group complaining about black villans ....ever.

@ everyone else

Hollywood and unfortunatly the gamer industy will quite often place lesser minorities in stereotypical roles. We had to deal with it....and not pour salt on the wound by publically criticiizng the groups that don't match our own religion or ethnicity) that have a right to complain about how.

I had hoped this was coming. It's official: no matter what you do, you're stereotyping.

@ Arion

You're forgetting about Resident Evil 5. Yeah, they're not the true villains, but the moment they become targets, somebody stands up and claims racism.

Besides, I can't take Middle Eastern people seriously if they can have a TV show with a Mickey-Mouse look-alike character telling children to sacrifice themselves by killing Americans. You don't hear US trying to tell people how to portray our nation- we leave it to ourselves to tell us how to portray other "subgroups".


Obviously I wasn't referring to Saruman or Wormtongue, I was talking about the Easterlings and the Haradrim (you know, the guys wearing mascara and riding giant elephants). But I don't want to turn the discussion away from what matters, so let's put an end to that discussion.


that's not true! pie is very offensive! i mean, look at all those comedians and actors that have had pie thrown in their faces! how do you think they feel?
/jk :P

Did anyone even stop to think that 90% of the people after playing the game are going to think "Balkans rule!" because he is the PROTAGONIST AND NOT THE ANTAGONIST?
Honestly this isn't a big deal. I am pretty sure I wasn't pissed off/raged about any of the other characters I played in the other games.

I'm an eastern european criminal, so I'm really getting a kick out of these replie...

Hi Mech!

Well yeah, its Rockstar, there'll be a great storyline. And yes, he is the protagonist, being the main character and all.

But its GTA. He's a criminal and a murderer, right? Whether his intent is noble or evil, that's what he's doing.

And that's ok. Its completely fine (by definition) to have a protagonist that isn't a "good guy".

And I don't think everyone thinks like me. Sorry if I came off that way, and I'm surprised that I did.

@Tubatic: vacuously by definition :p

How about every cirme series involves the mafia, huh? What about that? And there is only one group of Italians who care (the anti-defamation league) and they are largely ignored by regular Italians because WE DON'T CARE!

We know we aren't all Sopranos, Corleons, etc. I guess Italians are just used to it, so its ok in that case....but don't accuse any other ethnicity of crime and they get all flustered about it. Grow up and get thicker skin!

Like I said,you don't hear too many,if any at all,Libertarians bitching about this kind of stuff.

never hear of the Russian Mob?

I agree with everyone here that it's just makes no sense to assume that because the main character is eastern european, that others will assume all eastern europeans are criminals. That is rediculous and completely oversimplifies the complex relationship between a cultural product and the audience of that product.

At the same time, if you think games like Grand Theft Auto aren't problematic, you're kidding yourself. GTA (at least since it's third iteration) has always been in dialog with popular cultural understandings of crime and morality. The game's makers are very upfront about the fact that they use popular movies and television shows as inspiration for their characters and story lines. These entertainment forms have constructed a very warped and distorted view of crime in the mids of the public. Games like GTA engage in similar presentations and, in doing so, reinforce this conception of crime.

I do not mean to condemn GTA. The games represent a great form of interactive entertainment and deserve praise for the creative vision and technical skill they embody. However we cannot ignore the fact that these products do shape our view of the world around us. We know games and other forms of entertainment are just that. However we also often see games and other forms of entertainment as exaggerated versions of real life and this is where it becomes problematic.

Someone earlier made the sarcastic comment that it would only be acceptable to have white people killing other white people. I get the sarcasam and it was a funny comment. But it also is a great example of the distorted view of crime we have. If we wanted a game with a realistic portrayl of violent crime it would primairly be disadvantaged minorities committing crimes against other disadvantaged minorities. The reality of that forces us to examine the structural forces that make poor minorities vastly more likely to be victimized by violent crime. Yet popular conceptions of crime often picture middle class white victims being victimized by poor black men. Games like GTA are both created and help to reaffirm these images.

In conclusion, it is not fair to single out GTA as being responsible for the creation of negative images of certain races or ethnicities. We must understand this process as resulting from a complex interaction of many media forms, structural factors, and audiences. However, we cannot ignore the role that games such as GTA play in this process. If the game industry is to mature and be taken seriously, these are questions that will have to be addressed.

@ Pominator
there arnt that many gangs in detroit (i live there) except the ones dealing in drugs. in cali its mostly still like the 90s gangs just killing for the hell of it.

Kajex Says:
"Cake is better. You can’t go wrong with cake."

Unless that cake is a lie!

Okay, for the next game we'l have only white people shooting white people, no etchnic varieties whatsoever

oh wait, that's racist too, damnit

Someone's got to be annoyed about something, no matter how small or unlikely.
If that didn't happen then, who knows; something like Heaven might dawn.

What I'm seeing with most of these little outcries is are small special interest groups that get upset anything anyone does something they don't like. Just a bunch of whining babies.

[...] wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptNiko 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. [...]

I agree with Kajex. What is wrong with people? I am pretty sure people are the leading cause of all the world's problems. If only there was a was to be rid of them....

what.... so then what they are saying is Eastern Europeans never ever in any instance of recorded history have commited a crime?

or is it something in their dna that makes them explode if they try to commit a crime making it impossible?

oh no wait.... they are human beings... and human beings CAN commit crimes. just like every other human being wether they be spanish, american, british , french whatever. You get some good apples and some bad.

So i really wish they would shut up saying stupid statements like this. The game doesnt try and say ANYWHERE that the protagonist represents ALL EASTERN EUROPEAN people on the planet. THEY HAVE SAID THAT. so who is the racist?

I can equally say about EVERY race on the planet that SOME commit crie and SOME wont commit crime. so that leaves Rockstart with the option of making the protagonist Extra terrestrial in origin just so nobody gets offended.

Oh no wait then theyl complain it is racist toward other life. We cant have characters in games anymore guys. Guess we will just have to have inanimate raceless genderless ageless companion cubes as the protagonist in every story.

oh n on a sidenote...
*Cough* the godfather *COUGH*
*Cough* Scarface *COUGH*
*Cough* Goodfellas *COUGH*
*Cough* Mario *COUGH*
*Cough* Luigi *COUGH*
*Cough* James bond*COUGH*
*Cough* Homer Simpson*COUGH*

sorry didnt mean to it just came out. Guess all those will have to be banned too.

Remember people we cant be individuals any more its wrong.

WE have to act in a preconceived stereotype because individuals dont exist. Whatever we do represents all of our race equally. Wow.. way to go at creating racial problems.

This statement is as stupid as saying hitler was right with his preconception of all jewish people. (hitler being one of the most evil men in history) because the notion of the individual not representing the whole race is now allegedly entirely impossible. .. oh on that note its the same as saying Hitler was german therefore everyone german is of the same mindframe. Which is a completely outrageous thing to say.

Its wierd how the only people who find the game racist are the ones being racist when looking at it.

For crying out loud, JCWI, what are you talking about, 'make life real-hard' for Eastern European immigrants? Immigrants (and when I say immigrants, I mean people who have migrated here from another country and become first-generation Americans... we're all immigrants) already have it hard, and it's only made harder with our society's current state of terrorism fanaticism and rampant-immigrant discrimination. Demonizing a video game to score a cheap point while it's the "in-thing" is detrimental to both your own cause, and to the video game itself. Nobody is winning here.

Once again, the entire complaint against the game seems to stem from a general inability to distinguish between video games and reality. There are two groups of people: people who believe everything they are told, and people who will only believe something once they learn the truth for themselves. Sadly, the first group probably makes the up the bulk of the population, but luckily, since they're so easy to incense, you can make far more progress by informing the population about positive effects that the Eastern European population has on our society then by moaning about how a video game is doing a better job of that then your own organization devoted to that goal is. Maybe that's an indication of the sad state of our affairs our society is in, but as Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

So when a game plays off of ethnic stereotypes it gets criticized, but when it doesn't it...............gets criticized too?

My head hurts...

Maybe we're just not considering the history behind it?
Help us N'Gai! tell us what to think!


In regards to having never heard of a black rights advocacy group complaining about a black villain...

...I don't think you've been looking close enough. I have many Black acquaintances and friends who I occasionally hear bemoan the over-representation of Africans in villainous, or otherwise non-heroic roles. Or, to give a less unsubstantiated example, look at the Blackface phenomenon, or the portrayals of almost all cannibals in all forms of media... the only Human villains shown in The Lord of the Rings film are clearly of African and Carribean descent.

@ Arion


so in the original GTA a white male is a lesser minority in a stereotypica role?

so in GTA LONDON a white british male is a lesser minority in a stereotypical role?

GTA3 werent you just another non specific white guy? .. so a lesser minority in a stereotypical role.

fair enough
GTA San = black guy
GTA Vice = italian
GTA IV = middle eastern

but considering they actually went for the non stereotypical non minority groups first, how can you criticise?

The game would be stale and boring with the same character and culture over and over.

They surely cant be picking on certain minority groups if they have gone through such a wide range during their games. its just they seem to have done the others already and its something new and fresh. I think its racist how people instantly see it as victimization and that its supposed to represent all people of that origin. its not


@ Andrew Brown

was that sarcasm...

lol .. seriously Saruman and Whatshisface Wormtongue were African?

wow i must have missed that. Oh yeah because im not a racist and dont look for things like that to selectively take out of context.

lol i think that was sarcasm it must have been

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

Actually, that's a lie.
The recent Police study over here showed that they WERE responsible.

Let's play a game. Think of something that will not offend anyone.

Did you think of something yet?

There's one correct answer. It is PIE!

Actually NovaBlack he was refering to the Humans who aided Sauron.
Which were played by Hispanic actors, indians and black actors.
Because the lands nearest Sauron were South Eastern. It's all in the book anyway.

Not a surprising statement, and I see where they're coming from.

When a minority group sees a stereotype portrayed in a negative way, its concerning. Because of the HUGE release that that GTAIV is, this is going to be the first, or maybe even most significant, exposure to Balkan people and culture that many people will have. Its concerning because people are informed by stereotypes and media portrayal. Humans are visual and you're going to form an opinion for generalization based on what you see.

It is, of course, the responsibility of rational people to realize this and not be swayed by stereotypes. However, depending on your cynicism of the world, it could be believed that a large number of people are not going to take that active role of processing the imagery and situations in a healthy way.

However, nobody should change anything. I feel that the work is what it is, and should (and will) stand as its own statement. Whether it pays any amount of sensitivity to that culture or not. That's the developer houses's own choice, and they should be willing to consciously defend their work, or at the least acknowledge their throwing their final product unapologetically to the wolves. A response, from the developer, would be appropriate.

I think this is a great topic for discussion, and certainly should not be suppressed as a topic of discussion: on the macro leve (national news) or the micro level (shutting down your own mind to the possibility that there is a topic worth discussing rationally).

I'm hoping at least some rational discussion happens beyond what I've read so far, which has been the same copy-paste reaction that the RE5 Trailer topic received. At least on a site called, there should be room for and engagement in some learning conversation about what the issue is.

@ SeanB

No, white killing white is fine, NOBODY ever thinks that racist. We're just getting what we deserve for generations of suffering that people we may have not even been related to ,or had anything to do with, caused on others. That feels fair to me.

@ colonel fin

no worries :)

''Which were played by Hispanic actors, indians and black actors.
Because the lands nearest Sauron were South Eastern. I''

lol the funny thing is that that can be viewed as racist yets its completely not, it would just be to better represent the facts in the book.

Its like saying in the Muhammed Ali film its racist to have will smith in it. It should have been a white guy. No.. its just accurate having a black guy play a famous (and amazing) black boxer.

Someone needs to ask this group "What in your opinion should the main character be, his race and nationality, such that it would not confer an unfair stereotype upon any group?" The answer? None, because it's a goddamn videogame, not a social commentary.

Now onto a less knee-jerk recation from a previous post onto the matter at hand...

I don't believe that a game, same as a movie, will just turn everyone away from common sense and make them into those few people that would have ALREADY had the belief that anyone of a different color, religion, sex, whatever is a bad person and will only lead to them being hurt, etc. We call those people rednecks here (not sure what the name would be in other areas, but people get that description pretty easily). I've watched all of the trailers and videos that they have put out for the game, and never once thought that because this one person and his unique situation that everyone from that area MUST be the same. I don't think everyone from Cuba is a drug dealer because of Scarface, or that all Italians are in the mob because of the Godfather / Sopranos (or plumbers with Mario and Luigi). It's a bit of a rant, but I hate when people jump to things like this because they group and fear everyone else different from them as being "out to get them" and use every excuse or bit of information to try and push that agenda onto others. It's getting to the point that I'm suprised that Tetris isn't getting pissed on because the blocks are in color on everything but the old Gameboy..and that can remind colorblind people about their problem, or that destroying all of those blocks is just some made up metaphor for genocide. I'm just tired of it and want to go play some that used to be such simple fun.

@ Jon Kanders

Great argument. I would LOVE to hear their answer since in their argument...ANY answer would be wrong.

Kinda makes me think of "Die hard with a vengeance"

"You know what your problem is?! YOU are racist!" - Willis
"What the hell do you mean?" - Samuel L M F Jackson
"What? only the white guys can be racist? you can't have a racist black guy?" -Willis

So yeah, these people seem to think you can't have racists who aren't white/ all racists are white, funny really when you think of the discrimination between african-american gangs and Latino gangs in places like Detroit and LA... of course there is some loophole somewhere that apparently says that [i]isn't[/i] racist, makes me wonder, how come no one said that Claude was an inaccurate portrayal of white people with speaking difficulties when GTA III was released?

@ Justcris

Pie offends people. Especially if it's cow pie.

Cake is better. You can't go wrong with cake. :3

Blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah.


That's my statement.

"You don’t hear US trying to tell people how to portray our nation"

@Kajex: Since we control the vast majority of the popular media in the world, we actually do tell the world how our nation should be displayed, just not in so many words.

I think this is worth noting from the very short article:

"The JCWI is an independent national voluntary organisation that says it ‘campaigns for justice and combating racism in immigration and asylum law and policy’."

I can't say I know the exact motives or methods of the JCWI, but I can see where this particular portrayal can be troubling for them. Aside from being, as I've read, an illegal immigrant (granted to America, but immigration still), Niko is also displayed as someone that has (note past tense) "sold people, smuggled people, killed people". This image of a Balkan, again, being a large release and something that will be significant to alot of people in terms of their Blakan interaction, potentially works counter to the work that they do. At least from a public face standpoint, its important for them to register a public response/opinion.

Video games are having a greater place and impact on society. With this huge piece of media entering the public consciousness, it could potentially make their efforts just slightly more difficult, because of the potential prejudice (read as prior to immediate situation judgement) that this can bring to their community and to the immigration lawmakers (of today and tomorrow)

One could argue that the JCWI should just step up their visiibility and make greater, active, efforts to combat or counterweight these stereo types. But at the very least, its a good move to point out that the portrayal, as an example, is not inline with the efforts of their group. Good both for the visibility (a few more people know they exist) and for opening a discussion (however effective or productive that discussion will prove to be.

If this were a movie, or a movie in general that follows the same plotline I doubt it would incur the same controversy. Stupid.

"... untrue stereotypes."

Kind of redundant, no?

"So yeah, these people seem to think you can’t have racists who aren’t white/ all racists are white . . ."

When did the the JCWI say anything like this? I don't understand where you're getting that.

How about the Amish? Can we have Amish criminals in GTA? It's not like they'll ever find out.

Can a videogame REALLY make people anti-balkan immigrant? Seriously. I don't remember mass lynchings of black youths after San Andreas.
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