Gamers are debating whether or not the GTA games are being “censored” after Kotaku and others noticed that Phil Cassidy no longer wears a shirt with the Confederate flag on it in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition‘s remastered version of GTA: Vice City.
Before we dive into the heart of this topic, there are a few things you should probably know about the context of this change.
First off, Cassidy appears in a few GTA games, and Vice City is the only one in which he’s seen wearing a Confederate flag shirt. Given that Rockstar changed that element of the character’s appearance in subsequent releases, that would seem to suggest that they may have simply changed their mind regarding this design decision years ago.
For that matter, this isn’t the first time that Rockstar has removed references to the Confederate flag in a GTA game. For instance, they recently removed a Confederate flag prominently featured in one of GTA 5‘s trailer parks, though some fans noticed that other appearances of that design remained in the game at that time for reasons that were seemingly never made entirely clear.
On that topic, I should mention that it’s entirely possible that this removal has as much to do with platform restrictions as it does with Rockstar’s preferences. For instance, we know Apple has gone back and forth over banning gaming apps that feature the Confederate flag, and Twitch implemented a Confederate flag ban (in certain contexts) last year.
We should also point out that Phil Cassidy is, to put it mildly, a dangerous idiot whose worldviews and actions are often representative of his dangerous idiocy. As such, some are arguing that the use of the Confederate flag in this instance is meant to mock the flag and its association with dangerous idiots such as Cassidy rather than somehow endorse the imagery or the acts of terrorism and racism the flag is associated with. On that note, I highly recommend reading these articles from The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, and National Geographic if you’re looking for additional information regarding why the Confederate flag is such a controversial symbol.
With all that out of the way, I have to say that I have absolutely no problem with this change.
I don’t think that the GTA: Vice City intended to glorify the Confederate flag. For that matter, I tend to agree with those who say that the flag was probably used to mock the character that was wearing it and was likely seen as more of a symbol of his stupidity than anything else.
Still, if we’re talking about intentions, then we have to acknowledge the possibility that Rockstar took this remaster as a chance to reexamine their original intentions. Maybe they meant to use the Confederate flag as a joke in 2002, but in the nearly 19 years since Vice City‘s release, we’ve seen more and more creators come to the conclusion that featuring the Confederate flag in any prominent way can elevate, normalize, and perhaps even glorify it in unintentional ways. I’m not sure why, exactly, Rockstar decided to alter this image (they haven’t officially commented on the matter at the time of this writing), but there are many good reasons why they may have decided to make this change.
We’ll wait to see if Rockstar decides to shed a little more light on this specific decision, but what I’m a little more curious about at this time is whether or not Rockstar will elect to change some of the other things about the original GTA games that have aged…questionably since those games were released.
It would take quite a while to list every questionable piece of content in GTA III, GTA: Vice City, and GTA: San Andreas, but from controversial portrayals of ethnic groups and the names of certain vehicles/products to the ability to hire and murder prostitutes, there are quite a few elements of those games that bothered people at the time and are, at the very least, just as controversial today.
My guess is that whatever content changes Rockstar decides to make to these games will be relatively minor (such as the t-shirt swap). However, I do find it fascinating that so many of the other controversial pieces of content featured in those games were arguably originally implemented in the name of satire and Rockstar’s attempts to mock the absurdity of American culture at large. Since you could argue that is also what they were trying to do with this t-shirt, I think there’s a fascinating discussion to be had regarding how GTA‘s brand of satire has aged over the years.
Ultimately, I think it’s generally going to be very interesting to see how these older GTA games are viewed by new players as well as those who are properly revisiting them for the first time in years. Does the more outlandish style of those three games still hold up, or are there, perhaps, aspects of them that we’ll at least talk about a little differently?