Lifestyle

Video gaming: A virtual coming out?

Newest title in Grand Theft Auto series challenges homophobic gamer culture.

Video-game developer Rockstar Games has in the past earned the ire of MADD, police forces, city governments and even Thailand, which banned its hit Grand Theft Auto IV. The Ballad of Gay Tony, an expansion volume for GTA IV, will likely generate more controversy when it arrives Oct. 29. In it, the player works for a gay club impresario; one mission involves taking out some people who are planning to gay-bash another friend’s boyfriend. In a gaming culture where homophobia is common, it’s a bold—but possibly risky—creative and marketing move.

Certainly nothing Rockstar has done to date has put a dent in either its industry-leading sales, which currently sit at about 13 million copies for GTA IV, or its dominant contribution to publisher Take-Two Interactive’s bottom line: GTA IV accounted for US$710 million of its US$1.5-billion total revenue in 2008.

Co-founder and editor-in-chief of GayGamer.net, Flynn De Marco, has previewed the game and says he’s pleased. “With minor exceptions, their treatment of gay characters has been great,” says De Marco. “It’s out there, which is more than a lot of other games can say.”

Analysts doubt sales will suffer. “Narrow-minded individuals may avoid it,” says Mike Hickey, research analyst at Janco Partners, but ultimately he expects another hit.