The GTA franchise has rarely had a major misstep ever since it blew up in the early 2000s with Grand Theft Auto III. A lot has changed since then, but several things remain the same, some of which need improvement and innovation.
For the longest time, players have been handed the reigns to the game, albeit in a limited capacity. Unlike an RPG, players are made to control a pre-defined character whose personality and decisions are never in the player's hands.
The question of a lack of female protagonists in the GTA series has often been a major complaint of the community. A customizable, player-created character might help solve many GTA's problems and perhaps even take the series in a bold, new direction.
5 reasons why GTA 6 should have a customizable protagonist
1) Player investment
While a fully fleshed-out protagonist certainly helps with characterization, each character comes with their own personal backstory and personality quirks. At the same time, it also takes away from the player's ability to be then invested in the game world as an active participant, relegated to feeling like a spectator.
While players have little trouble investing in previous GTA games, with characters like Franklin and Trevor, user-created characters make it far easier. Simply on a subconscious level, the player is far more invested in the game should they feel like their character is only a proxy for them in the game world, which is different from another character entirely.
2) Increased immersion and agency
In tandem with the previous point, player-created characters are often more conducive to a far more immersive experience. They allow the player to believe that they are, in fact, interacting with the game world and experiencing the story themselves rather than an audience.
Oftentimes, characters will make decisions and choices the player might agree with, which takes them out of the experience in a major way. The solution, then, could be to allow players to make choices and important decisions.
Many open-world games attempting immersion have adopted a solution in recent years, with varying degrees of success.
3) Better roleplaying
RPGs have historically always elected to go down the player-created character route as it is usually the best way to bring players into the game world. The GTA franchise has never been an RPG, but it has always included RPG elements to make a more authentic game world.
For instance, GTA San Andreas and GTA 5 include character stats and abilities to rank up throughout the game organically. A player-created character would essentially ramp up the roleplaying factor of GTA, something that Rockstar might be interested in, especially with the way GTA RP has taken off.
4) Storytelling opportunities
As a creative choice, player-created and customizable protagonists are extremely tricky and bring their own set of problems. For one, the protagonist would essentially be robbed of any personality that the players themselves have no control over.
This means taking away a fleshed-out origin and backstory, as well as any unique personality identifiers. However, RPGs like Mass Effect have chosen to let players pick a backstory/origin and build on their personality with character dialog choices and decisions.
This would very much fall in line with increased roleplaying, but the trick would be to balance the RPG elements with the GTA franchise's traditional action-adventure origins.
5) Creative freedom
While it has its own set of challenges, it also frees up developers' creative capacity. By allowing players a wide variety of decisions and options, any inconsistency in personality or character is brought forth by the player, not due to the story going in a different direction.
The result is often a narrative experience that feels very intimate to the player. This allows developers to experiment with interesting situations that they can put players in.