'San Andreas' Rocks the 'Righteous'

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 27, 2005; 8:42 AM

Hot Coffee. Everybody's getting some this summer.

I'm not talking about the beverage, rather the on-screen sex in the videogame "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that has triggered a Federal Trade Commission probe and inflamed the passions of the U.S. Congress.

By now you almost certainly know what I'm talking about, but just in case you don't, here's the recap: The latest entry in the "GTA" videogame series (a franchise that had already embraced graphic violence and sexual content to lure gamers) features a hidden scene in which two characters get busy in the bedroom in a way that's more pornographic than passionate. (I won't link to any video captures. Let's just say you don't need to enter too any creative search terms on Google if you want to find it.)

This graphic content is hidden from most game players, but available to anyone who downloads the right software, a program dubbed "hot coffee."

A Dutch game player who more or less stumbled onto the sex scene shared the software online, and the next thing you know, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) declares war on java, along with the House of Representatives, whose members reacted to the GTA revelations almost as wildly as they did to the sexy saga of Bill and Monica.

The Wall Street Journal explains: "The fallout from hidden sex scenes in one of the most popular videogames continued yesterday as Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. said the Federal Trade Commission is conducting an inquiry into its controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game. ... The commission targets 'unfair or deceptive' advertising practices by companies, and any finding of wrongdoing could result in fines for Take-Two and requirements to change its advertising practices. The FTC's decision to probe Take-Two's advertising claims comes a day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 355-21 to pass a resolution asking the FTC to investigate Take-Two and its Rockstar Games subsidiary, which developed the game. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York previously had asked the FTC to investigate the company."

So -- the justification for this use of our tax dollars is that Take Two misled the public by promising a game featuring enough violence to make Sam Peckinpah blush, but instead sprinkled it with near-hardcore pornography. (I use "near" as there isn't any display of genitalia, at least as far as I could see. And it's a cartoon graphic, not real people...)

Good heavens, citizens! What's going on here? Oh yes, of course, we're getting all bent out of shape over nothing again. I keep forgetting that this is a proud American tradition, on the same display shelf as the controversy over "Darling Nikki" and the fuss over video games in general from the early '80s. I bet some of the folks who thought our children's brains were turning to mush over too much "Centipede" aren't looking at it this way today.

I'm going to echo the refrain that you'd expect from thirtysomethings like me who don't have children to protect: I don't like the sex and violence of the GTA series. As a result, I do what anyone capable of making decisions does: I don't play it.

For parents, GTA joins the ranks of adolescent sex, dope-smoking, underage drinking and a long list of other things that they shouldn't do but try to get away with anyway. And despite the misogynistic nastiness that turns my gut worse than a cup of burnt McDonald's coffee, it should be the bottom item on the list of bugbears threatening the moral values that many of us hold dear in this crazy age.

But Enough About What I Think...

Let's take a look at some of the media coverage, as there are some interesting stories out there.

The Boston Globe reported on Sen. Clinton's suspicion that Take Two tried to smuggle the sex scene past the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to avoid getting the game slapped with an "Adults Only" rating as opposed to a "Mature" -- "The board had given San Andreas its mature rating, meaning the game was appropriate for players age 17 or older. But after a new investigation, the board changed San Andreas' rating to adults only -- suitable for players 18 or older," reporter Hiawatha Bray wrote.

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