San Andreas sex scandal
While we usually try and bring you a selection of the best news stories from the week, we thought we'd change things a little and take a look at the week's most talked about news story. Rockstar have been the centre of attention again, and unfortunately not for the reasons they would want. GTA: San Andreas has been causing more outrage, but not because of its violent content; this time it's over sex, and more specifically a sex mini-game that wasn't accessible in the retail version of the game. It was, however, accessible to hackers, who have made it viewable to almost everyone with the game. The "Hot Coffee" mod will no doubt go down in videogame history.
It all started when California assemblyman, Leland Yee, attacked the game after discovering that the PC version of the game contained the hidden sex games. Yee believed that San Andreas should have been given an Adults Only rating instead of the M rating it received. An Adults Only rating would have resulted in many major retailers in the US being unable to stock the smash hit game and sales would have been severely hampered.
"Once again, the ESRB has failed our parents," Yee enraged. "This particular game has been known to include extremely heinous acts of violence, and now it has been uncovered that the game also includes explicit sexual scenes that are inappropriate for our children."
Yee once again demonstrated that anti-violence videogame campaigners don't understand that these games are not designed for children, hence the Mature rating that the game received in the US and the 18 BBFC rating that the game received in the UK.
"I have urged the ESRB on numerous occasions to rate this game AO based on its blatantly graphic nature," he continued. "Clearly the ESRB has a conflict of interest in rating these games... Parents cannot trust the ESRB to rate games appropriately or the industry to look out for our children's best interests."
Yee had previously tried to pass bills which would restrict the sale of violent videogames in California. These moves were condemned by the games retailer body IEMA, claiming such things were not necessary.
After supposedly seeing the mini-game in action, David Walsh, founder of the Minneapolis-based 'National Institute on the Media and the Family', made his first ever national warning about a videogame to parents, saying. "This is by far the most explicit and most troubling content that we have ever seen."
Rockstar's Rodney Walker then responded, refuting claims that Rockstar are responsible for the mini-game being played.
"It is a modification of the mod community and we don't talk about the work of the mod community," said Walker.
The mod's author, Patrick Wildenborg had told the press that his code adds no new content to the game, but unlocks what is already on the disc.
"If Rockstar Games denies that, then they're lying and I will be able to prove that," Wildenborg wrote. "My mod does not introduce anything to the game. All the content that is shown was already present on the DVD."
Almost inevitably, the ESRB then got involved. While Leland Yee had made similar claims about games in the past, this time the ESRB were listening.
"The integrity of the ESRB rating system is founded on the trust of consumers who increasingly depend on it to provide complete and accurate information about what's in a game," ESRB president Patricia Vance explained.
"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," she concluded.
The scandal then spread down under, with the Australia's Office of Film and Literature launching an investigation into the game. Australia's Sydney Morning Herald claimed that the game could be banned if the sex game claims be proved to be true. With the game facing the possibility of an exceptionally rare Adults Only rating in the US and a possible ban in Australia, things were not looking good for Rockstar.
After only previously releasing a small comment on the sex mini-game scandal, Rockstar finally released a public statement about the issue.
"So far we have learned that the 'hot coffee' modification is the work of a determined group of hackers who have gone to significant trouble to alter scenes in the official version of the game," read the statement. "In violation of the software user agreement, hackers created the 'hot coffee' modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game's source code. Since the 'hot coffee' scenes cannot be created without intentional and significant technical modifications and reverse engineering of the game's source code, we are currently investigating ways that we can increase the security protection of the source code and prevent the game from being altered by the 'hot coffee' modification."
Rockstar were clearly taking the situation very seriously, but stood firm on the fact that the game needs to be significantly altered in order for anyone to play this mini-game. Why the content, in whatever form it was in, was in the retail version of the game at all, is another question.
It wasn't long before a big-gun became involved, and that big-gun came in the shape of Senator Clinton. Senator Clinton hasn't shied away from videogames in the past, with her views on GTA: San Andreas being made quite clear earlier this year, where she said that there is a "silent epidemic of media desensitisation that teaches kids it's okay to diss people because they are a woman, they're a different colour or they're from a different place."
Obviously seeing the sex mini-game scandal as another chance to get her views on the game across, Clinton joined Senator Joseph Lieberman, who together called for action from either the game's maker or the government.
Lieberman has asked Rockstar to have the game submitted for an independent analysis to establish how the pornographic content arrived in the game.
"I am asking you to bring this matter to light and resolve this serious controversy by voluntarily submitting your game to independent concerned and responsible parties for such technical analysis," Lieberman wrote.
Senator Clinton has said she will introduce legislation to stop children getting their hands on videogames containing unsuitable content and has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. The proposed legislation would see retailers fined $5000 for selling violent and sexually explicit videogames to minors.
"The disturbing material in 'Grand Theft Auto' and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children, and it's making the difficult job of being a parent even harder," Clinton said.
Clinton called on the FTC to determine if the current M rating for San Andreas remains suitable, given the game's newly discovered pornographic content, expressing that an Adults Only rating may be more appropriate. Clinton also asked the FTC to examine the retailers' enforcement of videogame ratings, which should be stopping minors from purchasing M rated games.
Bo Andersen, president of the Video Software Dealers Assn., said Clinton had gone too far with her actions brought about because of the game.
"Sen. Clinton is a fine lawyer and undoubtedly knows that her proposal is unconstitutional," said Anderson. "The senator's proposal is politically savvy but will do nothing to help parents make informed choices about the video games their children play. In fact, by turning the voluntary video game ratings system into a cudgel of government censorship, Sen. Clinton's proposal ironically would likely lead to the abandonment of the ratings system."
Late in the week Miami Attorney Jack Thompson thought it was about time for his opinion on the game to be heard, not that anyone really needed to be reminded where he stands on the subject. He specialises in cases where people have been harmed as a result of violent entertainment, including videogames, and gave a statement to Pro-G about the GTA: San Andreas sex mini-game scandal.
"Rockstar is on the fast track to corporate destruction, all because they have decided to play chicken with the federal government," said Mr Thompson.
He went on to say that "Take-Two, Rockstar's parent, had to pay $9 million last month because of fraudulent accounting practices. They are a company that routinely violate rules of decency and common sense."
He concluded by taking one final swing at Rockstar: "Take a good look at Rockstar. They won't be around in three years."
Thompson also wrote an open letter addressed to ESA members where he accused the association of failing to act quickly enough on the "Hot Coffee" mod. The letter was nothing more than an attack on the Entertainment Software Association and its president, Doug Lowenstein. Among other things, Thompson likened Lowenstein to Hitler, writing:
"When Hitler invaded Russia, opening up an Eastern offensive on the eve of winter, Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted that 'Hitler must have been rather loosely educated, not having learned the lesson of Napoleon's autumn advance on Moscow."
Mr Thompson has become quite infamous over the last year due to his quite vocal outrage towards violent videogames, but these latest comments came on the back of a week of anger aimed at Rockstar.
While all hell was breaking loose in the US, here in the UK things weren't heated at all. GTA: San Andreas was released with a BBFC rating of 18 in the UK, which makes it illegal to sell the game to anyone under the age of 18. This adults only 18 rating has meant that the BBFC don't feel that they need to take any action, even if the sex mini-game claims are found to be true. Such content would not require the game to be reclassified as it would in other territories where the game had not received a strict adults only rating. The only other rating available to the BBFC is the R18 rating, and the content of the mini-game is not seen my the BBFC to warrant this.
"We were not aware that the hidden content was in the game when we awarded the 18 rating, and our understanding is that Rockstar did not know the content was in the game," said a representative of the British Board of Film Classification.
"Even if we had been aware of it, we would not have had a problem," continued the rep. "From our point of view the hidden material does not contravene the 18 rating and so the rating stands."
After much deliberation and discussion amongst the Pro-G Editorial team we decided to risk our innocence and take a look at the mini-game. After saying goodbye to our loved ones we huddled round a monitor, prepared to come out the other side as mere shells of our former selves. What happened next wasn't pretty.
In fact, it was pretty ugly. Seeing a rather low-polygon woman bearing her breasts and a fully clothed man performing an act of love on her isn't something that many people should have to see. Thankfully it ended. We took a moment to compose ourselves before moving away from the PC to assess the damage. Rather shockingly, we were all fine. A few of us were giggling and I was still trying to get some of the more disturbing images from Killer 7 out of my head. The actual game that people buy in the shops and can play without hacks is far more shocking than anything seen in the scenes opened up by the mod. There's no doubt that this story will run for many more weeks, but I can't help but feel that it is nothing more than another way for a few protestors to once again get their opinions heard. They have seen this as an opening and are going for it. Let's just hope that they don't get too far with their protests.
This week's new releases
Fans of deranged, artistic videogames are in for a treat this week as Capcom's Killer 7 has finally been released. PlayStation 2 and GameCube owners can experience one of the most bizarre and violent games this generation of consoles has seen. If you always wanted to see how a girl could solve puzzles by slitting her wrists, then your prayers have been answered. Killer 7 isn't for everyone, and it'll probably offend more than it pleases, but it's unlikely you'll play anything like it ever again. Look out for our review early next week.
The main chart hope for next week is Activision's Fantastic Four, which is the latest movie licensed game to be released this summer. We haven't played this yet, but reports from elsewhere aren't all that great. We'll let you know how fantastic it really is when our full review hits the site late next week.
- Fantastic Four (PS2, Cube, Xbox, PC, GBA)
- Hellforces (PC)
- Killer 7 (Cube, PS2)
- Perfect Ace 2: The Championships (PS2, PC)
- Pro Cycling Manager (PC)
- Universal Combat: A World Apart (PC)
- Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament (PS2)