Grand Theft Auto 6 has a chance to fix the franchise’s terrible record on LGBTQ+ representation
Rockstar’s release of the trailer for GTA 6 on Tuesday (5 December) has sparked a wave of excitement for the latest instalment in the hit gaming series – but will Grand Theft Auto‘s LGBTQ+ fans finally get the inclusion they deserve?
Set for release in 2025, Grand Theft Auto 6 will arrive 12 years after 2013’s GTV V and will introduce a playable female protagonist – Lucia – for the first time since 1997’s original Grand Theft Auto.
The GTA series has become a staple within gaming culture, with its testosterone-fuelled violence tempered by shrewd and often witty cultural commentary, and while many will welcome the addition of a female playable character, many too will be hoping that the franchise has moved with the times hen it comes to queer people, too.
Grand Theft Auto‘s historic lack of inclusivity for the LGBTQ community has long been a source of controversy, with past games marred by serious and offensive missteps which Rockstar will need to work hard to make up for with GTA 6 if they hope to regain the trust of the LGBTQ community.
Since 1997, the games have been infamous for their use of violent and criminal themes, busty strippers, and fast and furious driving. Created by David Jones and Mike Dailly, the series named after the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle has become one of the highest-selling games sold worldwide.
Since then, the series has grown to encompass seven main titles and nine side games, all featuring plenty of gang warfare, crime, violence, drugs and corruption. From 2004’s GTA: San Andreas to the current offering of GTA Online, the highly political game has often provided sharp social commentary and incisive looks at problems of race, culture and wealth: often in the form of radio bulletins that play while you’re cheerfully mowing down pedestrians.
But despite that, the game series has suffered from a damning lack of queer inclusivity and preponderance of offensive LGBTQ+ stereotypes, leaving the franchise’s legions of LGBTQ+ fans out in the cold.
2009’s Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony delivered outdated LGBTQ+ strereotypes
One of the biggest missteps is 2009’s GTA IV expansion pack GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony.
Telling the story of Luis Fernando Lopez, a Dominican former drug dealer-turned-bodyguard and best friend of Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince, a nightclub magnate and high-status socialite in Liberty City, the instalment followed Luis’s efforts to help Tony overcome various problems, including drugs, debts, disputes with Mafia crime families, and attempts on both of their lives.
Despite the game’s title and the fact it received positive reviews from critics – even topping Complex‘s ranked list of ‘The Coolest LGBT Video Game Characters Ever’ – GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony provided an outdated and pretty much non-existent representation of the queer community – with blog sites even describing the expansion as “the straightest Grand Theft Auto ever“. Yikes.
Heavily based on American entrepreneur and co-owner of the New York disco Studio 54 Steve Rubell, Gay Tony runs the gay nightclub Hercules in the game. Matching Rubell’s real-life characteristics of being a party animal, having a cocaine addiction and being paranoid and stressed about running a club, his business antics are the central focus in the plot.
Whilst it was clear that he was obviously not closeted (with a name like Gay Tony), the character’s sexuality was never explored, with many players feeling like the game’s title was just a way to imply that his raunchy lifestyle of running a nightclub was “gay” and in some way taboo.
The game was in all other respects thoroughly heterosexual, focusing on Luis Lopez being a ladies’ man with missions involving booty calls as well as the use the of sex workers – all of whom are female.
GTA V’s exploration of Trevor’s sexuality was problematic
In GTA V, one of the three playable characters, Trevor, was depicted as bisexual, with explicit references made to sexual encounters with men. But as the most violently psychopathic and unstable of the game’s protagonists, these references often appeared to be used more for shock factor than as a fully realised part of his identity.
Grand Theft Auto’s depiction of trans people has been deeply offensive
Then we get onto another, even more offensive and appallingly misguided character: The Psycho.
This trans non-playable character (NPC) from 2002’s GTA: Vice City was almost entirely constructed from hurtful and offensive stereotypes aimed at entertainment purposes.
The Psycho’s storyline mainly featured the character being obsessed with the game’s band ‘Love Fist’; the mission was to protect the band from The Psycho by killing her. This caused major and understandable controversy between Rockstar Games and the trans community, given the appallingly high homicide rates the latter face.
Unfortuntely, this absolutely rock-bottom portrayal of trans people in GTA isn’t limited to just one character.
From Vice City to GTA V, the most visible transgender people in the games are the sex workers who are often located outside bars and clubs, and who are constantly misgendered and objectified. For instance, in GTA V, whenever a player approaches one of the sex workers on the street or outside the bar, your character would say: “Hello, sir. I mean, madam. I mean, whatever”.
You can find another example of this sort of portrayal in both GTA V and its online addition in the form of the character Peach; who is a stripper at the Vanilla Unicorn. She is voiced by a male actor and is the only stripper in the club who cannot be taken home by another playable character to have sex with.
In short, there’s no doubt that the GTA contains LGBTQ+ representation, but to date it has been almost entirely unwelcome and offensive.
Let’s hope that when GTA 6 finally arrives in 2025, it gives its LGBTQ players the representation they deserve.
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