During the final days of finishing our July Issue of CVGames, the Grand Theft Auto San Andreas controversy began spinning out of control. I listened to politicians cry out as this was the reason why games should be policed by the Federal government, parent's screamed because they had unknowingly bought their children "pornographic material," and the ESRB made a historical move to replace the Mature rating of San Andreas with an Adults Only rating. Unfortunately it was too late for us to include any of this information in our last Issue with you. However, this issue is just too important to ignore.
After much thought, debate, and research, I have finally discovered the truth behind this situation, uncovered the mistruths being spread, and have reached a few conclusions as to how the ESRB should have handled this situation.
Before we can get to how I have reached my conclusions, lets go back and examine the whole story. After selling a ton of copies and enjoying a rebirth with releases on the PC and Xbox, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was making Rockstar a lot of money even though it had been out for a while. When all seemed grand, out of nowhere disaster struck. A downloadable patch for the PC version of San Andreas added in a sequence known as Hot Coffee. This gave players the chance to participate in a variety of sexual experiences. At this point the content featured characters doing these acts with clothes on. No nudity was included.
Action groups and politicians begin to 죲y foulnd start pressuring the ESRB and Rockstar to answer for why a game could have a Mature rating with this content on the disk. Rockstar released a statement that they suspected someone had illegally gotten their source code and the 쭯d communityacked this content into the game. This took some heat off Rockstar but that was only for a short while because soon after the sexual content was found to be included on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox disks.
At first, Rockstar remained silent with this new information but with politicians and activist groups demanding federal investigations into this situation, Rockstar came out and revealed that the content known as Hot Coffee was an early idea that they had for San Andreas but the content was never finished, hidden on the game disk, and never meant to be viewed by the public. In their defense, you have to download a patch for the PC version or use a device like a GameShark, for the consoles, to get the content in the game.
The PC Mod Community also began to tweak the Hot Coffee patch and added full nudity in the sequences that made the scenes much more hardcore. Politicians and political activists, uninformed of the differences between what was in the game and what the mod community added, placed further heat on Rockstar and the ESRB to take action. The ESRB stepped up and did something they have never done before. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was changed from a Mature rating to Adults Only. Within hours of this announcement, retailers began pulling San Andreas off their store shelves and refused to sale the game. In fact, the only retail location I could find in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that sold the game was Fry's Electronics. Rockstar was forced to stop pressing new disks, announced a new version of the game without the Hot Coffee mod, and said that this would cost the company at least 50 million dollars in revenue for 2005.
Despite this bold move by the ESRB, politicians on capital hill were not satisfied. The US House of Representatives voted almost unanimously to proceed with a full federal investigation of Rockstar to see if the Hot Coffee content was put in intentionally. Several politicians began appearing on Television and Talk Radio to discuss their stance on the subject. They refused to listen to any points made and didn't see a difference between what the mod community does to a game and what the Publisher included on the disk. They have gone as far to state that a Publisher should be held responsible for how people use their games.
Being a Mature Rated title for players 17 and up, the biggest concern is that kids and players under the age of 17 will get their hands on sexual material. Capital hill believes that they have to take an initiative and place restrictions on Developers because parents are incredibly busy and do not have time to keep up with what their kids are doing. Despite the fact that parents should not allow their kids to play Mature rated games, Rockstar is getting the blame instead of the people that buy these types of games for their kids.
And lets face the facts--Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was already a borderline Mature title. In a game where you can kill cops, pick up hookers, steal vehicles, participate in gang warfare, watch characters use and talk about drugs, listen to dialogue with very vulgar language, cut off people's heads, and use virtually anything as a weapon--including sex toys, why weren't parents and politicians getting upset over San Andreas due to this content?
Little Timmy is in the other room playing GTA SA and his mom comes in there to watch him. She thinks he is so cute playing this game, killing people, and doing all the stuff listed above. However, he applies a patch to the game and all of a sudden there is clothed sex. She cries, screams, and takes the game away from Little Timmy. She thinks it is horrible that there are hidden sexual scenes but doesn't even bat an eye at the other content.
This is the biggest double standard I have ever seen.
While the clothed sexual sequences do push the envelope more than any other game before, Rockstar never intended for players to encounter these sequences. They are hidden and require players to use cheat devices or download patches to make them work. Even worse the PC hackers have made the content even worse by adding nudity. Rockstar is being blamed for something that is not their fault. Even with Hot Coffee enabled--without the illegal nude patches--the content in there is no worse than an R rated movie. Why isn't the same groups that are upset over San Andreas not doing anything to change the ratings for R rated movies like Team America--that contains very graphic puppet sex sequences?
The answer to this is fairly obvious. Capital hill has been trying for years to censor video games. Thus far all attempts have failed. But with a public outcry over things they have not played, do not understand, and have only seen the illegal nude hacks, this may be the first time where the gaming industry could have the Federal Government step in and censor gaming with their own rating systems. They will claim it is for the kids. However, as we have already pointed out, Mature games are rated for kids 17+ years old. What is a kid doing with their hands on that kind of game in the first place?
In order to protect them, I feel the best solution is for the ESRB to change the Mature Rating for all future titles to 18+. As a legal adult in the US, even a mod like Hot Coffee should definitely not be labeled Adults Only. However, Publishers, Developers, and retailers need to do a better job informing parents about kind of content is in a game. But if all of these parents are too busy to keep up with everything, perhaps they shouldn't be parents in the first place?
If you have kids, keep them away from Mature Rated games. This is the absolute safe way to ensure they don't see any content they shouldn't. Don't punish Rockstar--punish the parents.
This article appeared in the August 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.