A trailer for the latest installment in the video game franchise prompted engagement-bait claims that the series has gone ‘woke’
Grand Theft Auto VI won’t be released until 2025, much to the dismay of gamers intent on revisiting Vice City. But that hasn’t stopped a handful of observers from attempting to astroturf a transphobic outrage over the gender identity of the main character, Lucia. It’s a clumsy campaign to place yet another brand at the center of a culture war that has previously stoked scorn for the likes of Bud Light, Target, Hershey’s, and Nike.
Because it’s been a decade since GTA V, and studio Rockstar Games has sought to hone the subversive comedy of the franchise so that it doesn’t “punch down” on marginalized groups, rumors have swirled that this latest installment will be “woke,” or lacking in the casual sexism and racism of past games. (Rockstar last year reportedly removed transphobic content from the GTA V remaster.) Now, with the debut of an official trailer GTA VI, reactionaries are pushing that line further with unfounded speculation about the game’s Latina protagonist, the first female lead in the series, being transgender.
This theory is based on nothing more than vibes: the trailer reveals nothing about Lucia other than that she has spent time in prison and robs convenience stores with a male accomplice when she’s not behind bars. We don’t even know who voices the character. But on a rancid platform like Elon Musk‘s X (formerly Twitter), engagement at any cost is the name of the game. Indeed, while some GTA fans were distraught at the idea of roleplaying as a trans woman, others — including right-wing podcaster Tim Pool — seemed to revel in the possible divisiveness of such a narrative choice.
Several of these posts, particularly the one from @DramaAlert — a brand of controversial YouTuber Daniel Keem, or “Keemstar” — have already come in for ridicule as obvious rage bait. Meanwhile, more than a few gamers, some transgender themselves, have voiced their enthusiasm at the prospect of a playable trans character in GTA (even while subtly acknowledging there is no evidence to confirm such news). These tweets also tended to mock “transvestigators,” a term for openly transphobic people who become obsessed with proving that anyone and everyone is secretly transgender.
In any case, it would take quite the backlash to hurt sales of GTA VI, which is on course to be among the biggest game launches of all time, like the preceding chapters of the best-selling series. “Woke” or not — and who even knows how people will be defining the term a year hence — a virtual world where you can steal police cars, deal drugs and party with bikini-clad women on the beach is guaranteed to find plenty of customers.