The Straight Story of 'Gay Tony'

Illustration for article titled The Straight Story of Gay Tony

Calling it "the straightest Grand Theft Auto ever," largely for effect, PopMatters' G. Christopher Williams says The Ballad of Gay Tony hews to some hetero-driven crime-novel representations of both sexualities, but in the end is about much deeper themes.


Warning, this discussion will contain spoilers of "The Ballad of Gay Tony," released Oct. 29.

"Club life is the central focus of The Ballad of Gay Tony, which brings us back to the sex act as a central concern of this version of GTA," Williams writes. "Gay" Tony Prince, not the player protagonist but certainly the game's "most crucial character," is the proprietor of two clubs, one gay and one straight, but it's the straight venue where the story is largely told.


But despite the game's title, and the dating/booty call mechanic of Luis' encounters with women in the club, where the story ends up is not about sex, homosexual or heterosexual, promiscuous or monogamous. It's in an "Oedipal drama" about two men coming to be a father and son, both men lacking the other family role model in their lives.

The Ballad of Gay Tony is the Straightest Grand Theft Auto Ever [PopMatters, Nov. 11.]

[...] Luis's promiscuity is complicated by his own background, which is as a son whose own father abandoned him. Curiously, this complication also connects him more closely to Tony. At several points over the course of the story, Luis suggests that Tony has been like a father to him, having been the one to get Luis employed and on the straight and narrow (or at least out of prison) after running afoul of the police in his younger days. Tony, too, mentions that Luis is like a son to him. Thus, the game is less than retrograde in presenting a rather daring and progressive version of a father-son story, one in which the "father" is a homosexual.

The Oedipal drama that would normally ensue in such stories is inverted, though, perhaps as a result of Tony's homosexuality. Luis is not especially threatened by his "father's" power as neither one compete with one another over a mother or any woman for that matter. Freud would suggest that such competition is a necessary part of the psychology of becoming an adult. The symbolic act of killing the father becomes foundational for becoming a mature adult capable of taking on the authority of being a father himself. However, when faced with the dilemma of having to literally kill Tony near the climax of the game (which is a result of some mobsters needing the head of one of the two men because a diamond heist has put the two into bed with and in the cross-hairs of several criminal organizations), Luis chooses to save the man (as Tony did the younger Luis) rather than to destroy him and take his place (as the mobsters offer Luis the opportunity to do). Indeed, throughout The Ballad of Gay Tony, Luis spends much of his time caring for this adopted "father" whose addiction is leading to some really bad decision making on the part of the elder of the two men. This curious re-structuring of the Oedipal conflict with a homosexual and a heterosexual father and son removes conflict from their relationship altogether and offers instead a co-operative version of the relationship in which one man brings up and nurtures the other and then the other likewise returns the favor.

Thus, despite Rockstar's frequent employment of stereotyping ethnic and sexual identity for the sake of parody, The Ballad of Gay Tony actually becomes a rather different kind of discourse on the development of human beings and their relationships to one another because of (not in spite of) their differences. Social deviance becomes a means of uniting very different people rather than in dividing them from society. Instead, Tony and Luis manage to form the most fundamental of social units out of deviance, a family.

- G. Christopher Williams

Weekend Reader is Kotaku's look at the critical thinking in, and of video games. It appears Saturdays at noon. Please take the time to read the full article cited before getting involved in the debate here.

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Maybe Rockstar should make the next core GTA game less sprawling, then release more of these smaller stories (to all platforms).