Now this is why I love the Internet. While I don’t expect that I’ll play Grand Theft Auto IV anytime soon, I am very interested in how well the game’s gay-themed storylines are handled. And now, thanks to these handy video walkthroughs of the game, I can get a better feel for these storylines.
The first gay themed mission, titled “Out of the Closet”, finds the game’s protagonist, mobster Niko Bellic, tasked with assassinating a gay man named “French Tom” who owes money fo Brucie, Niko’s boss (more or less). In order to lure French Tom out, Brucie posts a “men seeking men” personals ad for Niko, which Niko uses to plan a date with French Tom. At the date, Niko kills his target:
Initially I wasn’t so thrilled with the mission. I could see that the game was trying to emphasize that French Tom is an unemployed, egotistical deadbeat and his sexual orientation has nothing to do with his murder, but it’s still annoying to see what a stereotype he is and a part of me wonders if French Tom’s effeminate qualities are supposed to make him more annoying and, therefore, add to the satisfaction of killing him.
But French Tom isn’t the only gay character in the game. Meet him after the break…
A later mission has you seeking Florian Cravic. You’re initially trying to kill him, but he turns out to be an old friend of Niko and Niko trusts Florian when he insists that they’re looking for someone else. Once Niko puts his gun way, Florian explains that he goes by the name Bernie Crane now and that he came to Liberty City looking for a new start and a chance to give himself a “complete change”. Bernie is even more of a stereotype than French Tom: not only is he more effeminate in his mannerisms and speech, he works as a lifestyle coach/aerobics instructor and has a well-decorated apartment (with a Tom of Finland meets Patrick Nagel painting over his bed). Bernie is also having an affair with Bryce Dawkins, Liberty City’s married “family values” deputy mayor. Since Bernie, a character who sticks around through the game, is even more effeminate (and, potentially, annoying) than French Tom was, does this neutralize any negative messages the game might have made with “Out of the Closet”?
The clip below also shows a taste of GTA IV’s social humor with an ad for the “Vindication Angel Curse Buster BC” featuring an irresponsible parent who has “petitioned Congress to outlaw everything that isn’t suitable for children” but who, clearly, doesn’t live the clean life she expects out of the rest of the world.
Later, Bernie asks Niko for help with some “haters” who have been harassing him in the park where he works out. Bernie has a hard time talking about being gay, he uses plenty of euphemisms saying he came to the USA “to be himself” and when Niko asks Bernie why he’s being harassed he pauses before explaining that it’s because he’s “fabulous”. Niko takes Bernie to the park so he can find the hater and while Bernie has trouble saying why he’s being targeted, his attacker throws out anti-gay slurs, making his motivation clear. You get to make sure the guy never attacks Bernie (or any other gay man) again by chasing him down in a bike and gunning him down.
Bernie needs help again as blackmailers threaten to out his lover, a hypocritical, married conservative politician. Bernie looks indestructible in this video as he seems to survive being accidentally shot by Niko several times and being set on fire when the van he was riding blows up.
Bernie makes one more appearance in a mission, though he’s entirely a bystander in this one. Bernie invites Niko to go out boating with him. After talking about their friendship and where their lives are now, their leisurely afternoon is interrupted when they chance upon some mobsters who are trying to kill Niko.
Bernie is even more effeminate in this one, which is interesting since this is a scene where Niko decides to spend time with Bernie without any greater task at hand – there no favors to perform for Bernie, save being a friend to the man. This has me wondering even more if Bernie and his friendship with Niko is supposed to undo any thrill in killing French Tom. It’s not hard to find the homophobic segment of GTA’s audience, so I can easily imagine GTA IV players finding pleasure in French Tom’s death (followed by too-familar cries of “I didn’t enjoy killing him because he was gay, I enjoyed killing him because he was annoying.”) However, GTA IV follows up on French Tom’s murder with an even more flamboyant gay man, one who you have to befriend and protect.
Now, I could complain that Bernie’s stories — saving a gay man from gay bashing and being blackmailed to stay in the closet — are cliches that have become rather tiresome. However, as much as I might be tired of those storylines on TV, they’re new ground in the landscape of videogames. Judging by what I’ve seen in the walkthroughs (which, it should be noted, probably don’t provide a full context) the latest GTA manages to treat the gays of Liberty City with some complexity.
The Gay Girls who Game video blog at AfterEllen recently reviewed GTA IV from a lesbian perspective. Overall, Tracy and Angela’s reaction to the game was that there was a good amount of homophobia and misogyny, but that it was tempered by a lack of admirable characters in general, and that the commercials in the game mocked right wing extremism with a viciousness that turned the game into a positive social commentary.