Social commentary and, above all else, satire has been a definitive element of the Grand Theft Auto franchise since it began - neither of these need walk hand in hand with insensitive, outdated and hurtful "jokes", which is something Rockstar Games luckily understands. Following an open letter from an advocacy group, some transphobic content has been removed from GTA 5 and Online.
The changes were recently spotted and reported on various online forums, with the first one to be screenshotted and posted being the removal of a Captain Spacetoy figure. Previously seem among a lineup of similar fictional toy figures of the same brand, one particular one was removed - called the 'interstellar transgender', the figure had a bright pink jumpsuit and the packaging advertised 'interchangeable genitalia'.
Currently on the same wall area where these figures are displayed in GTA 5, the other designs were shuffled around with the one described above missing entirely. The changed display area was first reported by u/JayProspero on r/gtaonline, with a comparison image included.
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This isn't where the changes end though, as users have also reported the removal of NPCs the game called "drag queens" from appearing in front of the Cockatoos nightclub. Signal boosted by GTAnet admin Kirsty Cloud, these NPC models are still present in Director Mode, albeit without any dialogue.
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
These changes, while unannounced and pretty much entirely unacknowledged by Rockstar themselves, come after an open letter was published by LGBTQ+ advocacy group Out Making Games a few months ago. The open letter, in turn inspired by a Kotaku article published last year which included a call on Rockstar to "leave the 2013 transphobia behind" noted that the inclusion of these transphobic elements perpetuated harmful stereotypes.
In lieu of any statement on Rockstar's behalf we can only assume the changes were at least in part thanks to the open letter; in any case, Out Making Games has thanked Rockstar for stepping up and taking out these offensive elements from the game.
Rockstar Games was never a company to shy away from controversy, and the GTA games in particular have often been central players in legal battles revolving around the banning of games. Luckily, the developers at the company are well aware that tackling controversial social issues is done by punching upward, and wielding satirical humor as a weapon of commentary is not the same as pointlessly alienating an entire demographic.
Sadly, this is a concept seemingly too complex for many players to grasp, and naturally a particular group - you know the one - has already begun to throw around hollow complaints of "censorship" due to the changes. The game will hardly suffer for this, and can be considered improved now that is isn't dragged down by these unfunny misfires of humor.
These changes present in Expanded and Enhanced affect current versions of the game on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S - though a recent rating from the ESRB implies the updated GTA 5 is hitting PC soon.