Articles on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas controversy


Video game industry feels the heat

July 27, 2005
Calgary Sun
By Mike Engel

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has been caught in a whirlwind of controversy after it was revealed it contains mini sex games. But even a ratings crackdown may not be able to save the video game industry from itself. The brakes have been slammed on the racy Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but that may not be enough to stop a chain reaction within the video game industry.

In the wake of the Grand Theft Auto debacle -- in which hidden sex scenes were found on the PC version, forcing the self-regulating Entertainment Software Rating Board to change GTA from Mature to Adults Only -- the industry, already rivaling Hollywood box office in sales, is on the defensive, saying it can and should police itself.

In the case of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, its producers, Rockstar Games, have said changes are already underway, although they won't escape unscathed -- the sudden switch to an adults-only rating will end up costing them $45 million US.

But many in the industry say the harm to the reputation of the industry was broader than just big bucks.

As Robert Khoo, a business development director at Penny Arcade, a gaming fan site with comics, reviews and online forums, puts it: "Rockstar, you ruined it for the rest of us."

Game makers have long battled efforts to regulate violent video game sales, and U.S. courts have knocked down attempts to regulate the industry, citing free-speech protections.

Other critics, including some parents' groups and legislators, are seeking government intervention.

Not surprisingly ESRB president Patricia Vance says all of this is uncalled for -- pointing out that the downloadable modification to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was already being investigated by her group prior to the controversy.

"This is a fine example of self-regulation working."

Moreover she says Canadians agree with her. "According to a survey conducted by AC Nielsen Canada, 71 per cent of parents in Canada say that the ESRB ratings are effective in providing information about the content of computer and video games."

She adds that more parents in Canada are using both parts of the rating system, which includes the rating symbol on the front of the package and the content descriptors on the back of the game.

"The rating system is far from toothless," Vance says.

Yet don't expect that sort of talk to silence critics. Already under fire? The long-standing practice called "modding," in which fans create their own new story twists and artwork to enhance their favourite games.

Many game makers freely encourage the practice and give away free software tools to help.

But some insiders are now wondering about the ratings implications posed by mods.

After all, it was one such modification that unlocked the concealed sex level in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Video games aren't like the movies that are set in cinematic stone before you see them -- they're made of code and therefore can be altered.

But there are signs too that the industry may be undergoing modifications of its own -- brought about by consumers who have an appetite for more than blood, guts and vixens.

Just look at the success such non-violent role-playing games as The Sims, which has sold more than 54 million units, generating more than $1 billion US in sales since it launched in 2000.

EA estimates more than half of the buyers were women.

And while such M-rated games as Resident Evil 4 may epitomize the industry in the minds of many, there is an increasing number of game developers going where few have gone before.

Namely the Christian game market.

Surprised? Don't be. While one comparison could be made to the Christian music market, ever since last year's Passion of the Christ, the entertainment industry has been actively pursuing the Christian market. After all, the International Game Developers Association estimates 90% of consumers play video games -- and as many of half of them are Christian.


Porn patch forces Grand Theft Auto rewrite

Big box retailers expected to pull popular video game

July 21, 2005
Canadian Press
By Neil Davidson

Retailers across North America have been asked to slap an Adults Only rating on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or remove the video game from shelves until action can be taken to block sexually explicit material buried in the game that can be unlocked via a downloadable patch.

Take-Two Interactive Software, the parent company of San Andreas publisher Rockstar Games, said it would cease production of the game in its current form and create its own patch to prevent modification of the PC version.

The move also forced the company to lower its financial forecasts for net sales in the fiscal third quarter ending July 31 from $205-$215 million US to $160-$170 million.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the U.S.-based industry body that rates video games, revoked the game's Mature (17 and over) rating after an investigation into complaints over game modifications available over the Internet.

In a release, the board said Rockstar Games "will immediately advise retailers to cease all sales of the game until corrective actions, as mandated by the ESRB, can be taken."

That move may not have much teeth since the ESRB is a self-regulatory industry group.

Still, the executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada said she had spoken to the Retail Council of Canada to ask that it encourage its members to stop selling the game in its current form until corrective action suggested by the ESRB is taken.

"It's unprecedented," Danielle LaBossiere said in an interview.

That action includes changing the rating of the existing version to Adults Only (age 18 and over) or exchanging old stock for modified versions that remove the sexual content. Take-Two said it will begin working on a new version — with enhanced security and the original Mature rating — that will be available in its fiscal fourth quarter, which starts Aug. 1.

The video game rating system is voluntary but almost all game publishers comply. Adults Only ratings are rare and are likely not welcome at chains catering to families.

In Canada, 90 per cent of the games sold are through retailers who adhere to the so-called Commitment to Parents initiative launched last October. Those retailers, from EB Games and Future Shop to Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart, require ID for games rated Mature or Adults Only.

B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario also have legislation requiring retailers to only sell those titles to people aged 17 and over depending on the rating.

The highly successful Grand Theft Auto franchise is no stranger to controversy. The free-form game allows players to roam at will, hijacking, stealing, shooting and causing mayhem as they go.

The game's original Mature rating came with warnings for strong sexual content, intense violence, strong language, blood and gore, and use of drugs.

The latest controversy involved a downloadable modification, a so-called "hot coffee mod" — courtesy of a 36-year-old Dutchman — that unlocks content which was apparently already included in the code of the game.

"After a thorough investigation, we have concluded that sexually explicit material exists in a fully rendered, unmodified form on the final discs of all three platform versions of the game (i.e., PC CD-ROM, Xbox and PS2)," ESRB president Patricia Vance said in a statement.

"However, the material was programmed by Rockstar to be inaccessible to the player and they have stated that it was never intended to be made accessible. The material can only be accessed by downloading a software patch, created by an independent third party without Rockstar's permission, which is now freely available on the Internet and through console accessories.

"Considering the existence of the undisclosed and highly pertinent content on the final discs, compounded by the broad distribution of the third-party modification, the credibility and utility of the initial ESRB rating has been seriously undermined."

Game designers often bury features within the game, allowing them to tease gamers with cheats. Usually they do not spark such an outcry, however.

San Andreas has been a huge hit. It returned to the top of the Canadian sales charts in June when it was released for the Xbox and PC. Released last October for the PlayStation 2, it was the bestselling game in Canada last year.

Paul Eibeler, Take-Two's president and CEO, said in a statement that his company has "always worked to keep mature-themed video game content out of the hands of children."

But he also noted issues raised by Wednesday's developments.

"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," he said.

"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," he added.

The company said it is "exploring its legal options as it relates to companies that profited from creating and distributing tools for altering" the game's content.

In addition to sparking headlines, the Grand Theft franchise has also won kudos for revolutionizing game play, by opening up game environments instead of following one route.

The ESRB also said Wednesday it now will require that all game publishers "submit any pertinent content shipped in final product even if is not intended to ever be accessed during game play, or remove it from the final disc."


Confirmed: sex minigame in PS2 San Andreas

Cheat unlocks preexisting code in controversy-rocked Grand Theft Auto game, undermining Rockstar Games' claims of hacker mischief.

July 15, 2005
Gamespot.com
By Tor Thorsen

This week saw a Grand Theft Auto game once again at the center of a nationwide controversy. The point of contention this time was the so-called "Hot Coffee" mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which had everyone from anti-game crusader Jack Thompson to US Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) percolating with outrage and/or calls for federal game regulation.

The Hot Coffee mod first surfaced last month, when the PC version of San Andreas was released. The mod, which is available on numerous Web sites, adds a bonus sex minigame as a reward for the numerous "girlfriend" missions in San Andreas.

Previously, when game hero Carl "CJ" Johnson successfully wined and dined one of several girlfriends a certain number of times, she would ask him into her house for "coffee." After entering, the game shows an external shot of the house with muffled sounds of a couple emitting moans in flagrante delicto. PC versions of San Andreas with the "Hot Coffee" mod installed show what goes on inside the house, treating players to a sexually graphic minigame of CJ fornicating with his girlfriend.

According to its creators, the Hot Coffee mod merely unlocks hidden, preexisting code inside San Andreas. The game's publisher, Rockstar Games, appeared to vehemently--but carefully--deny that charge in a statement earlier this week. "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," the company said. "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."

Rockstar's statement also claimed that the mod was the product of complex technical tampering. "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," read the statement.

However, Rockstar Games' argument has been undermined by an increasing number of reports that claimed the sex minigame is in the PlayStation 2 version of San Andreas. Since the PS2 version comes on an unmoddable DVD, it cannot have any content added to it, although cheat codes--created either by the publisher or third parties--can unlock preexisting code on the disc. While devices such as GameShark and Action Replay Max can tweak preexisting variables in system memory with cheats, they cannot inject new models, animations, and/or code into a game.

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.

After a few seconds, the minigame proceeds to semi-explicit simulated copulation. Although players can change the camera angle with the circle button, as well as cycle though three sexual positions with the square button, no genitalia are ever seen. To win, players must maintain a steady rhythm with the left analog stick to build up an "excitement meter" on the right of the screen. Fill the meter and Denise becomes very excited, telling CJ he is "the man" before the game congratulates you with the words "Nice guys finish last!" Let the meter drop to empty and the game admonishes you with "Failure to satisfy a woman is a CRIME!"

Given that the minigame is about as raunchy as an episode of Sex and the City, cannot be accessed without entering a long string of cheat codes, and takes several hours of effort to access, charges that San Andreas is "pornographic" may seem extreme to some. However, its existence does appear to contradict Rockstar Games' carefully worded statement blaming hacker mischief for the existence of the Hot Coffee mod.


Grand Theft Auto's dirty little secret

July 8, 2005
Star Tribune
By Allie Shah and Patricia Relerford

Think Lara Croft is as sexy as a video game gets?

Think again.

A Minnesota organization issued a nationwide parental alert Friday about the video game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," claiming that it contains hidden pornography. A modification can be downloaded from the Internet that allows players to see female characters naked, and show a male and female character engaged in various graphic sexual positions.

It's the first time the group, the National Institute on Media and the Family, has issued a national warning to parents and retailers about a video game.

Now, the group that rates video games has started an investigation.

"By anyone's reckoning, these scenes qualify as pornography," David Walsh, the institute's founder and president, said at a news conference Friday in Minneapolis.

He said the benefit of alerting parents outweighed the risk of exposing more kids to the changes. "My guess is that very few parents know about this. Kids get this information all the time."

It wasn't clear whether the content originated with the game or with the modification. The game's publisher, Rockstar Games, wouldn't say.

The sex scene in the game is commonly known, was allegedly unleashed by a game enthusiast from the Netherlands who hosts a "modding," or modification, site. The modification, called the Hot Coffee Mod V2.1, has been available on websites related to the game since June 9. The name comes from the minigames in which scantily clad animated women invite the game's heroes to have coffee after dates.

The mod's author -- Patrick Wildenborg of Deventer, Netherlands -- said that his code merely unlocks content that is already in the game.

"If Rockstar Games denies that, then they're lying and I will be able to prove that," Wildenborg, 36, wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "My mod does not introduce anything to the game. All the content that is shown was already present on the DVD."

Game designers have long tucked hidden elements in their work, some meant to be found, others not. Gaming magazines print codes that can be entered during game play that allow players to jump to various levels, get unlimited ammunition or become invincible.

Walsh called on the video- game rating group, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), to increase the game's rating from M, for mature audiences ages 17 and older, to AO, for adults only or those 18 and older.

Walsh also called on Rockstar Games to disclose what measures it is taking to alert the public. "We want to know what role they've had in the production and distribution of these pornographic scenes," he said.

In a statement issued Friday, Rockstar Games said: "We thoroughly support the work of the ESRB and believe that it has an exemplary record of rating games and promoting understanding of video game content. We also feel confident that the investigation will uphold the original rating of the game, as the work of the mod community is beyond the scope of either publishers or the ESRB."

Dawn Bryant, a Best Buy spokeswoman, said that the chain does not carry video games that are rated AO and that it checks the identification of customers who are buying the M-rated games. She didn't know if the chain would pull the game from its shelves.

Walsh said that the institute has long believed that the "Grand Theft Auto" games should be given an AO rating because of "the violence, gore and brutal treatment of women" in the games. But the scenes available through the modification raise this to a new level, he said.

"There are some in the video game industry who keep pushing the envelope," he said, adding that parents need to push back when the industry crosses the line of decency.

This article contains material from the Associated Press.