Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The GTA Character That Aged Poorly

At its core, the "Grand Theft Auto" series is all about satire. Since the 2001 breakout hit "Grand Theft Auto 3," this Rockstar Games property has gleefully poked fun at concepts of pop culture and human behavior — both contemporary and retro — in provocative and risky ways. And although "Grand Theft Auto 4" boasted a story that was more serious and grounded in tone when compared to the games that came before it, it also tackled a lot of these taboo topics. In fact, some fans and critics have argued that the relative realism of the storyline occasionally butts up against the more outlandish elements and the chaotic gameplay (per Games Radar). There's one way in which the game might have taken things a bit too far, resulting in a character that people don't look upon so fondly in modern day.

Before "Grand Theft Auto 5" offered players the opportunity to play as three interchangeable protagonists and widened the scope of its story even further, Rockstar Games flirted with this concept with "Grand Theft Auto 4." In addition to a base single-player campaign revolving around Niko Bellic's disillusionment with the concept of the "American Dream," it also featured two DLC expansions — "The Lost and Damned" and "The Ballad of Gay Tony" — both of which revolved around other notable characters in Liberty City. And despite generally being considered one of the best DLC add-ons of all time, "The Ballad of Gay Tony" features a character at the center of its storyline that might not have aged well over the subsequent years.

The character of Gay Tony has been considered offensive

In a retrospective article about sketchy nightclub owner Anthony "Gay Tony" Prince, one of the central figures in "The Ballad of Gay Tony," Shakeena Johnson of Pink News argues that the character is homophobic and embodies harmful LGBTQ+ stereotypes. "'Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony' provided an outdated and pretty much non-existent representation view of the queer community – with blog sites even describing the expansion as "the straightest 'Grand Theft Auto ever,'" Johnson wrote regarding Gay Tony's character. "Whilst it was clear that he was obviously not closeted (with a name like Gay Tony), the character's sexuality was never explored."

Johnson also argued that Gay Tony and his characterizations are among a litany of transgressions against the LBGTQ+ community from Rockstar's "GTA" series, also pointing out "The Psycho" — a dangerously obsessed Love Fist fan in "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" — as another example. Johnson is equally critical of the portrayal of trans people in "GTA 5," pointing out that they are often misgendered and are almost exclusively shown to be sex workers in the game.

Johnson isn't alone in this frustration. Multiple threads on social media and fan forums have lamented the characterization of Gay Tony, while outlets like TheGamer have frequently cited the character as one of the most offensive in the series' history. For its own part, Rockstar would eventually address some of these concerns as they were seen in "Grand Theft Auto 5." Following years of outcry from fans who wished Rockstar would move forward from some of the antiquated and offensive stereotypes in its games. Rockstar removed content that was seen as transphobic from the game's next-gen remaster. However, "GTA 4" remains the same after all these years.

Some still support Gay Tony

As it turns out, there is a large subsection of the fandom who would not change "Grand Theft Auto 4" — or Gay Tony — for the world. 

Though not without criticism, Gay Tony's character initially garnered support from gamers and media figures after his debut in 2008. Hip-hop centric website Complex ranked Gay Tony number one in a list of "The Coolest LGBT Characters Ever" in 2013 in the leadup to the release of "Grand Theft Auto 5." Metro Weekly also had positive remarks about the character, saying that he "confronted homophobia" within the gaming community. Hornet gave Gay Tony praise in 2021 by including him as part of "The 20 Greatest Queer Video Game Characters of All Time," demonstrating a truly wide difference of opinion throughout the gaming community.

Of course, inclusion is always going to be a hot-button issue within the gaming industry, and with that inclusion, it's also imperative that developers and story writers fairly portray these characters without resorting to harmful stereotypes. The case of Gay Tony is a complex one; some feel offended by his portrayal, while others seem to think his inclusion is a benchmark when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in gaming. And like most thing "Grand Theft Auto," the debate is sure to continue for quite some time.