In the summer of 2020, after a police officer killed George Floyd, Rockstar Games quietly shelved a mode of play it had planned to release for its Grand Theft Auto Online game.
Called Cops ‘n’ Crooks, the mode was a twist on the children’s game where players organize into teams of good guys and bad guys, but seemed especially tone-deaf during the global reckoning over police violence. Senior executives at the company, concerned about how the narrative might be interpreted during a time of heightened skepticism and mistrust of American police, put it aside. They still haven’t made plans to bring it back, according to people familiar with development.
This was one of several politically sensitive actions Rockstar, a division of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., has taken in recent years. The company removed transphobic jokes from the most recent console release of Grand Theft Auto V and significantly narrowed its gender pay gap. Rockstar’s next game, Grand Theft Auto VI, will include a playable female protagonist for the first time, according to people familiar with the game. The woman, who is Latina, will be one of a pair of leading characters in a story influenced by the bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, the people said. Developers are also being cautious not to “punch down” by making jokes about marginalized groups, the people said, in contrast to previous games.
Moves like these once seemed unthinkable for a company whose best-selling franchise is a satirical depiction of America that involves playing gangsters who kill civilians and where women are mostly depicted as sex objects. Grand Theft Auto V was a nihilistic parody that threw insults at everything, from right-wing radio hosts to liberal politicians. Inside the company, the tone wasn’t much different. Rockstar employees described a workplace culture full of drinking, brawling and excursions to strip clubs. The company was an early symbol of an industry-wide problem of long hours at the office, known as crunch, in which staff were expected to be at their desks many nights and weekends in order to keep a game on schedule.