In recent years, the press and LGBTQ+ groups have been putting pressure on Rockstar Games to remove or change content they see as “transphobic” in Grand Theft Auto V. Now, players have noted a few such changes to transgender representation in the “expanded and enhanced” upgrades to the game recently released for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.
Reddit user JayProspero was among the first to notice a change to the action figures lining the wall of the office in the in-game arcade. A hot-pink-clad “Captain Spacetoy” figure, in a box highlighting “interchangeable genitalia,” has been removed in the new console versions of the game; an alternative figure with a more reserved outfit and “posable vomit direction” remains on the wall.
In new-gen GTAV/GTAO, Rockstar appear to have disabled the trans caricatures or “drag queens” from spawning outside Cockatoos. This could be following a plea from OutMakingGames last year. I hope this provides comfort to anyone who felt these NPCs depicted harmful stereotypes 🏳️⚧️
— Kirsty Cloud (@kirstycloud) April 8, 2022
Kirsty Cloud, who helps run fan community GTAnet, has also highlighted that over-the-top trans woman character models, apparently referred to as “drag queen” in the game’s files, no longer spawn outside Cockatoos, an in-game nightclub. While those character models can still be accessed in the game’s sandbox-style Director Mode, dialogue options that make explicit reference to their gender and sexuality have been removed.
A successful pressure campaign?
Rockstar hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the apparent changes. But the move comes months after content like this was labeled “transphobic” by Out Making Games, a self-described “group of hundreds of LGBTQ+ games professionals working in the UK games industry.” In an open letter written in September, the group cited coverage from Kotaku’s Carolyn Petit that called out problems with trans representation in the original 2013 release.
“Unlike other random NPCs, the way Rockstar designed GTA V‘s trans people actively plays into the hateful stereotypes harbored by many transphobic players,” Petit wrote. “The trans sex workers you can encounter, with their garish makeup and prominent penis bulges, seem calculated to be ridiculous and repulsive to players who bring their pre-existing transphobia to the game with them. It’s as if they’re designed specifically so that some players could relish hurting and killing them because they are trans.”
Some critics have been noting GTA V‘s reductive and derogatory treatment of trans characters since the game’s original release. And back in 2020, Engadget’s Jessica Conditt expressed concern that the then-upcoming remasters wouldn’t reflect how “the conversation around transgender rights, visibility and violence has changed significantly in the past seven years.”
“I think there’s a huge responsibility on all games, all types of media, to not rely on lazy stereotypes,” Birmingham City University lecturer Dr. Ben Colliver told Conditt in 2020. “In the Grand Theft Auto series, a lot of the stereotypes to me seem to be there just for comedic effect. They’re just there so that trans people and LGBT people more broadly are a joke.”
The new console remasters are “a great opportunity to remove transphobic elements from the game and have a positive impact on the new generation of players who will pick up a copy,” Out Making Games wrote in its open letter. “Given the cultural impact GTA V has around the world, Rockstar has a social responsibility to your players (many of whom may be LGBTQ+), to your staff and to the world at large to not promote violence against trans and gender diverse people.”
This isn’t the first time questionable content has been edited out of GTA games over time. The Confederate flag was removed from certain locations in Grand Theft Auto V and from a character’s shirt in the remastered GTA Trilogy. And Rockstar had to reissue a new version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas after modders unlocked an otherwise inaccessible “Hot Coffee” sex mini-game included on the disc, leading to a ratings change from the ESRB.