I think this is a first. The folks at the Entertainment Software Rating Board have revoked the Mature 17+ rating they originally gave Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and slapped it with the rarely seen Adults Only 18+ thanks to the “Hot Coffee” mod that was released on the Internet. Publishers Take-Two released this press release announcing the change in rating and plans for Rockstar Games to develop a new version that will block the Hot Coffee mod from being used on their software.
“Take-Two and Rockstar Games have always worked to keep mature-themed video game content out of the hands of children and we will continue to work closely with the ESRB and community leaders to improve and better promote a reliable rating system to help consumers make informed choices about which video games are appropriate for each individual,” said Paul Eibeler, Take-Two’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “The ESRB’s decision to re-rate a game based on an unauthorized third party modification presents a new challenge for parents, the interactive entertainment industry and anyone who distributes or consumes digital content. Rockstar Games is pleased that the investigation is now settled and they look forward to returning their focus to making innovative and groundbreaking video games for a mature audience.”
The scenes depicted in the “hot coffee” modification are not playable in the retail version of the game unless the user downloads and/or installs unauthorized software that alters the content of the original retail version of the title, representing a violation of Take-Two and Rockstar’s end user license agreement (EULA) and intellectual property rights. “We are deeply concerned that the publicity surrounding these unauthorized modifications has caused the game to be misrepresented to the public and has detracted from the creative merits of this award winning product,” said Mr. Eibeler. Take-Two is exploring its legal options as it relates to companies that profited from creating and distributing tools for altering the content of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
This is interesting particularly because part of the debate deals with whether the Hot Coffee mod actually added anything to the game or merely unlocked code that was already present in the game, but not utilized. The guys who created the mod claim the sex mini-game was already present and all they did was unlock it whereas Rockstar continues to claim it’s entirely the work of the modders themselves. A claim that seems to be proven false as Gamespot says its in the PS2 version as well.
To prove or disprove rumors that the PS2 San Andreas contains a sexually graphic minigame, GameSpot decided to test the cheat codes circulating around the Web on a sealed, first-edition copy of San Andreas. After acquiring the “Uncensored Hot Coffee” codes from the respected tech-blog Kotaku, we entered them into an easily obtainable Action Replay Max cheat device. After entering the “Enable all Girlfriends” cheat, we began the game and then gave CJ maximum sex appeal, via a cheat from GameFAQs that requires no external code.
After saving, our test editor had Carl visit the house of his nearest girlfriend, Denise in Los Santos. Carl then took Denise on a series of dates to the nearest bar. After a few complications—including being busted for two-timing by another of CJ’s girlfriends—we completed a fourth date with Denise, after which she invited us into her house for “coffee.”
The next screen proved that the PlayStation 2 edition of the game does indeed include a sexually graphic minigame, which plays almost exactly the same as the Hot Coffee mod. It begins inside a bedroom with Denise, wearing only a pink thong and a cutoff T-shirt bearing the Rockstar logo, performing simulated fellatio on CJ, who is fully clothed in jeans and a “wife beater”-style tank top.
Unlike the PC version of the game, the PS2 version is hard coded into a DVD and thusly can’t be added to by modders so if the mini-game is present it had to be part of the original game. So far Rockstar hasn’t commented on the reports about the mini-game showing up in the console version and appear to be continuing to insist it’s all due to the modder’s efforts. GTA has already generated a lot of heat and this controversy has only added fuel to the fire with politicians of all stripes jumping on the video-games-are-evil-and-must-be-regulated bandwagon. Or at least those folks who have aspirations for the White House come 2008 such as Hillary Clinton who has joined the chorus calling for such regulation.
Not stopping there, Clinton said she would soon author a bill to create a federal law that would “put some teeth into video game ratings.” Reminiscent of a California bill introduced by Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and similar measures in several other states, the legislation will “prohibit the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors” and make such action a federal offense. Clinton said the penalty for violating the law would be a mandatory $5,000 fine.
“No wonder these games are falling into the hands of our children and no wonder so many parents feel everyday like they are fighting this battle with their hands tied behind their backs,” Clinton said. “We need to do better. We need to do everything we can to make sure that parents have a line of defense against violent and graphic video games and other content that go against the values they are trying to instill in their children.”
I won’t go into my opinions on how I don’t need the government to do my parenting for me and others shouldn’t either as I’ve made them clear before. I also won’t point out that this will largely be an ineffectual bit of feel-good legislation that’ll do next to nothing in keeping such games out of the hands of teenagers as the majority of kids get said games from their parents. I will say that both parties seem to be short stroking this issue for all its worth without really knowing what the hell they’re talking about.
It’s simply stunning to me that so many politicians are just this side of having their heads explode over the fact that GTA is not only violent, but probably has a sex mini-game locked away in it that you can get to by installing a third-party bit of software when there is another violent game that not only has a sex mini-game in it that you don’t have to do anything special to access and also features frontal nudity. Namely Sony’s own God of War. It also carries a Mature 17+ rating. Granted the nudity is limited to tits and the sex mini-game doesn’t actually show the main character having sex, but rather a vase on a stand next to the bed that ends up being knocked off onto the floor if you succeed in pleasing the ladies, but there’s not a single naked tit in all of GTA:SA and I’ve seen stuff on Skinimax that’s more hardcore than the sex scenes in the Hot Coffee mod.
Now someone please explain to me why it’s OK for a violent game where you play a character who runs around graphically killing loads of mythical beings and creatures while having sex with literally half naked women to get a Mature 17+ rating, but another violent game where the sex mini-game, if it’s actually part of the game in the first place, is locked off and has to be accessed using a hack deserves to have its rating bumped to Adults Only 18+? Not that I want to see God of War have its rating raised, but of the two titles it seems like it would be the more deserving of an AO 18+ rating. The one thing that is clear, as I mentioned previously, is that the idiots in Washington don’t have a clue about video games or the people who play them and are trying to get all the mileage they can out of something they believe to be a hot topic with the general populace at the moment. That’s a bad atmosphere to have legislation develop in.
Think about Clinton’s proposed law: She wants to make it so that selling a mature or higher rated game to a minor is a federal offense with a $5,000 fine. Last I checked it’s not a federal offense to sell a ticket for an R rated movie or sell music that has a parental advisory warning on it to a minor. Books don’t even have a rating system. It’s not even a federal offense to sell alcohol or tobacco to a minor. Here in Michigan selling alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor with a fine of $1,000. Does Clinton really think that GTA: San Andreas is more dangerous than selling alcohol to a minor? Whether she believes it or not doesn’t change the fact that she’s getting a lot of press over her proposal. Who cares if it’s good legislation or makes sense as long as it increases your chances of getting elected?