A Dominican Protagonist Recites "The Ballad of Gay Tony"

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This week Take 2 Interactive/Rockstar Games, creator of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, will release their second downloadable content pack for Grand Theft Auto IV, titled The Ballad of Gay Tony, for the Xbox 360. The game will also be released as a separate disc, Grand Theft Auto 4: Episodes from Liberty City. The lead protagonist in the game is Luis Lopez, a Dominican-American from the northern Algonquin (Manhattan) neighborhood of Northwood (Inwood/Washington Heights.) And while some may use this opportunity to claim misrepresentation of Latinos in video games, I believe it is a landmark achievement for Dominican-Americans and Latino peoples as a whole.

The Grand Theft Auto franchise, often a magnet of criticism for its portrayal of racial groups, now runs the risk of locals in northern Manhattan, and perhaps other groups, attacking the game for its portrayal of Dominicans. But any criticism it receives will likely not recognize the game and its characters for what they are. In fact, the choice of a Dominican protagonist marks a breakthrough for Latinos, who are entirely unrepresented in video game narratives. 

As the name implies, GTA is crime-driven. Every character acting as a protagonist in the GTA franchise has been involved with violence, drug dealing and other criminal activity, regardless of the protagonist's race, ethnicity, or geographical origin. The fact remains Rockstar Games is first at using a fictional Latino character as a lead in a blockbuster gaming franchise. So while this game is targeted at adult consumers, there is nothing stopping other game developers from choosing to use Latinos as protagonists. It just so happens that the biggest game to do it yet is Grand Theft Auto

Luis Lopez works for Tony Prince, a proprietor of "gay and straight [night]clubs" whom the game is named after. If past installments of GTA are an indicator "Gay Tony" will likely have Lopez involved in a wide range of missions involving murder, theft, boats, helicopters and super cars. Previews of the game also hint on Luis Lopez's uptown life, where he is a member of the "Northwood Dominican Drug Dealers" gang. 

Yes. That's the name of the gang.

In March 2007 it was revealed that Grand Theft Auto IV would be set in Liberty City, an alter ego of New York City. In response, the Bloomberg camp was quick to state that they did not support "any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers." While that may have been true, the statement made it clear that whoever wrote it had a fundamental misperception of what Grand Theft Auto is. There are no "points" in the game for cop killing. And if you do choose to kill cops the game becomes increasingly difficult as your "wanted level" rises, often leading to your death. Which means that a player may avoid killing police... or even bumping in to them, for fear of a car chase or manhunt lead against you. 

Other statements made by Bloomberg target the game's influence on young children, and display additional ignorance, as GTA is a game designed, and rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, for gamers age 17 and above. Additionally it should be noted that the average video game player is a depressed, fat, 35 year old. Not an impressionable and eagerly excited little kid.

While there is no George Washington Bridge in Grand Theft Auto IV, the neighborhood does slightly resemble northern Manhattan, and Northwood is Lopez's original stomping ground (note the Washington Bridge in the picture on the left.) Though it seems he has now gained a reputation outside of the neighborhood, in the Algonquin night club scene. 

For those unfamiliar with GTA, the games exist in a satirical version of different U.S. cities. Vice City is Miami; Liberty City is New York; Los Santos is Los Angeles, etc. The cities, their inhabitants, the in-game branding, and stories all serve to create a satirical view of what these places are like.

The games are not meant to be taken too seriously. The characters in the games seem to often be trained in piloting airplanes and helicopters, skydiving, have excellent marksmanship, and incredible athletic skills. Not your average street-level drug dealer/car thief. 

In all its incarnations it has obscene violence and a slew of overtly sexual references accompanied by a colorful cast of characters. But before anyone cries discrimination and misrepresentation remember what GTA is. The game brings you into a living world that, while focused on crime, gives players many non-criminal activities to focus on. Keep all these factors in mind before grabbing your pitchforks and torches. 

The writing and endless array of gameplay options have made previous versions of the franchise brilliant, and this standard will be in full effect in The Ballad of Gay Tony. One of the new features in this version is a golf mini-game (in addition to the existing darts, bowling, pool, cards and arm wrestling mini-games). 

Players will be controlling a non-baseball-playing Latino in a major game franchise for the first time in their lives as a video game player. Even if Luis Lopez does occasionally beat people to death with a baseball bat, it doesn't really count as baseball unless you're hitting an actual baseball. And plenty of real life Dominicans in video games have that covered already. And Luis Lopez's choice to take up golf? Well, let's see how bloody that five iron gets.  

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