The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the industry watchdog in the U.S. that rates video games, is investigating whether the blockbuster “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” has some code embedded in it that allows players to make the characters engage in simulated explicit sex acts after downloading a modification.
The game has a M (mature 17 +) rating from the board and if the board decides to change it, it may get AO (adult only), which will mean major limitations in sales.
The serial games makers, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. subsidiary Rockstar Games, admitted that the investigation is on and said it is cooperating. The games, one among the best selling, has also drawn rebuke for encouraging wanton violence.
The board’s president Patricia Vance said the board has “opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification for (the game) … to determine if there has been a violation of ESRB Rules and Regulations requiring full disclosure of pertinent content.”
‘Hot Coffee’ is a freely downloadable modification, which when installed on a PC with San Andreas on it, can generate several minigames in which the game’s hero can be made to engage in x-rated sexual acts.
The board will find out whether the modification will indeed unlock a code pre-existing in the game, or whether it is a creation of an outsider providing the modification.
Vance said, “If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate action.”
Rockstar maintained that the work of the mod community is beyond the scope of either publishers or the board.
The board’s initiative is on the basis of criticism by a California lawmaker, Leland Yee (Democrat, San Francisco). Yee, a child psychologist, says the game is capable of creating explicit material on the computer screen and wants its rating to be modified to AO.
Yee implied in his outbursts that the board, which was set up by the Entertainment Software Association in 1994, is reluctant on giving AO ratings.
The board has so far assigned 1,036 ratings in 2004, and less than 1 per cent is AO.
“Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” is about a character who seeks vengeance against gangs in streets, using automatic weapons and indulging in bloody violence. He steals cars for fun and picks up women along the way. The game allows users to download and install modifications from several freely available sites and one of the modifications, say enthusiasts, facilitate creation of girls in nude and simulation of explicit sex acts.
The video games of today allow the system of modification — mods — by which the look and feel and even content can be modified by software writers. Many games have tools embedded in them to make the modification process easier. The game vendors encourage mods because it can increase sales, while users will have the flexibility to add and reduce the content to fit their imaginations. And many of the mod creators offer their patches for free.
The author of this particular mod, Patrick Wildenborg of Deventer, Netherlands, however, says the code he has created just unlocks previously present content in the game. He has challenged Rockstar to prove that its code is free of these graphics. “They’re lying and I will be able to prove that.”
Wildenborg says the explicit material can be viewed only on the version of the game meant for desktop PCs and it would require his ‘Hot Coffee’ mod. It is like setting a censor flag as he calls it. When the flag is set, the explicit scenes are blocked. So, when the hero visits his girlfriend’s house for a cup of coffee, in the version of the game where the flag is set, one can hear only suggestive sounds. But, once the flag is removed, using the mod, all the explicit scenes are part of the normal game.
There are several critics for “Grand Theft Auto” mainly objecting to its beastly brutality. There is legislation in place against the game in Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. intended to limit its reach among minors.