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Hot Coffee Controversy


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Rockstar vs. ESRBIn light of the recent developments involving the “Hot Coffee mod” making waves like a tsunami around the world, and the subsequent ‘call-to-action' by Senator Clinton (D-NY), I have to add my rant on the issue to the mix.

The current issue has to do with a modification that can be made to a game that has sold well over 12 million units since it first arrived in October last year. Supporters of the (M)ature-rated game—as determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)—claim that since the content must be unlocked by entering secret codes, not published by people responsible for the game, there has been no wrong-doing. Furthermore, because the resulting content that is unlocked contains a sexual mini-game with a fully-clothed central character, claims that the game is “pornographic may seem extreme to some.” [Source]

I believe those points are irrelevant, and only serve to skirt around the real problem.

Game developers include program code that must be unlocked with secret 'cheat' codes all the time. Doing so does not put that content into a different category than other content shipped with it on the game CD or DVD. Devices have existed on the market for years that are able to unlock that content for consumers. Game developers and publishers know this.

The ESRB is a games industry organization that exists to self-regulate and police the content that the industry publishes as a public service to the publishers, the retailers, and the consumers (includes parents). It can do its job and provide its services only when there is full disclosure of the nature of the content that is being shipped to consumers. Furthermore, consumers and parents can know what they are buying only when the ESRB is effective in rating the industry's content appropriately.

Without full disclosure, the ESRB risks damaging its credibility by rating products improperly. That is precisely the precarious position that Rockstar has put the ESRB in by withholding disclosure of the "hot coffee mod" from the board during its evaluation of the game. The US now awaits the ESRB's response.

What I would like to know is: Why aren't more games receiving an Adults Only rating?

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.

Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

While only 1 year of age separates the two very similar classifications, the fact is the board does not rate games as AO because those titles don't make the kind of money that M titles do. Statistics published by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) confirm this. In terms of computer and video game units sold in all of 2004, 16% were rated Mature while Adults Only titles accounted for less than 1% of sales. According to Dan Hewitt, Manager of Media Relations, Entertainment Software Association, "Major retailers don't sell AO-rated games. The market is extremely small and most are sold only online, which nobody has tracking data for."

The single most important problem about adult oriented content in video games is that the games continue to get into the hands of minors, according to the FTC in a report to congress last year:

  • As part of an undercover survey of teens shopping for games, the FTC found that 69 percent of unaccompanied shoppers under 17 were able to buy an M-rated game at a retail outlet.
  • The FTC also found that ads for M-rated games continue to appear in game enthusiast magazines popular with teens.
[Source]

The controversial game mod is not an issue in the UK because the Brits have already given GTA: San Andreas a rating equivalent to that of an AO rating here.

The truth of the matter is, the current US ratings system is ineffective in keeping these violent and sexual games out of the hands of minors. Senator Clinton hopes to "put some teeth into video game ratings". This, of course, would be unnecessary if the ESRB were allowed to do its job.

I believe that the ESRB must act firmly against Rockstar for the offense, and voluntarily become more strict with their ratings, in general, if their self-regulating system is to mean anything in the future.

The blame is squarely with Rockstar and companies like them who continue to push the envelope of acceptable content while marketing and delivering it to an impressionable audience. The ESRB is also to blame for not handing out more Adults Only ratings to software that is clearly designed for adults.

CNN has also published an article today discussing this angle of the issue.

Raising awareness of violent and sexual material in games is one way to get the information to the parents, the ones who should be policing what their children are playing. Unfortunately, leaving it entirely up to the parents doesn't work either since there seem to be many parents out there that just don't care what their kids play. A more concerted effort across the board is obviously needed to help regulate the advertising and sale of these games. Senator Clinton's federal crime bill could eventually raise the stakes at the local retail store, as well as with the publishers who continuously produce these types of games.

In addition to the proposed legislation, more research is also needed into the long-term effects that violent and sexual material has on children. While a recent study at Indiana University School of Medicine shows that “playing violent video games triggers unusual brain activity among aggressive adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders,” it behooves us all to find and document the potentially damaging impact that these types of games have.

44 Comments

"Unfortunately, leaving it entirely up to the parents doesnít work either since there seems to be many parents out there that just donít care what their kids play"

Isn't that the REAL problem here? If Rockstar didn't give any access to the content, and its only accessable through third party means how is it Rockstar's fault? Sort of like blaming contractor if someone jumps off a roof. Parents should think twice before allowing their kids to play a game called Grand Theft Auto.

If I make a mod where are the demons in Doom3 are replaced with nude women, is id responsible? Similar argument. id makes Doom moddable, so in essence they gave the tools to me to make this 'horrid' mod. They should be responsible!

Frankly I think this Rockstar fiasco is overblown, overhyped and distracting. I think people should be focused on some real problems.

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That's only *part* of the real problem here, Ariel, and you seem to have missed the point of my rant.

By the way, the controversial game content was not a "mod" made by just anyone, it was created by Rockstar themselves and shipped with every game sold. Quite a bit different than your argument.

And I agree that the Rockstar issue is distracting. The real issue is the current ratings system, which apparently is ineffective as it promotes intense violence and sexual content in games marketed towards our youth of today.

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Thanks for the comment on this. Its nice to see a gamer who thinks that kids shouldn't have access to the blood, guts, T & A. Hard to find sometimes.

BTW -- Your blog is great. Thanks for the great work! I play the games you post all the time.

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"Unfortunately, leaving it entirely up to the parents doesnít work either since there seems to be many parents out there that just donít care what their kids play"

Is this really a problem?

Look, I hate to play devils advocate, but I honestly don't feel comfortable with the idea that it's any of my business what other people's children view or don't view.

Equipping parents - the only people qualified and entitled to make those decisions for their children - is not merely admirable, it's necessary. But FORCING them to do so is another matter. The PS2 and Xbox, at least, have functions to disable playing content that is either unrated or rated at a level above a threshold - for instance, any movies or games rated at or above M or R. This kind of ability is essential.

But consider the 15 year old child of a parent who is NOT neglectful, but believes that his child is mature enough to purchase and use any games he likes. The current scenario requires a parent (theoretically) to purchase the game, in person, for that child, which is at the very least inconvenient, difficult and costly to enforce, and apparently, largely ineffective.

Whereas, the parent of the 15 year old child who is NOT permitted to view such material, can go to the console itself and lock that content. The market place is free, and parents are not FORCED to participate in the restriction of their children, but are fully able to if they wish.

"Its nice to see a gamer who thinks that kids shouldn't have access to the blood, guts, T & A."

Kids SHOULD have access to that material; Parents should have the ability to revoke it, not to grant it.

Off to my politically incorrect bunker for the fallout,
Jarod

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Jay, I have been visiting your site for a couple of months, and have always appreciated your comments and evaluation of the games you feature here. This has become my favorite site for online games. It's nice that you are using your site/service to share your thoughtful perspective on this important issue.
BTW: What was your verdict on "The Half-Blood Prince"?

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Corruptor July 19, 2005 4:37 PM

i'm really sitting on the fence on this issue. The biggest problem I see is that places will sell games to people under age X. If the game was properly labeled (example GTA labeled R, or 18+) then all the game store needs to do is not sell it to people under the appropriate age, and then it will be clearly and soley the fault of the parent(or game provider) if they have a problem with it.

My thirteen year old sister could go out and buy GTA:SA and this is exactly the problem. If she does, and my parents have a problem with it, then it's not her fault, it's the game companies.

I love games, however, game distributors need to take some responsibility for where their games end up. The ratings system was designed for a reason, and even imperfect it is a mostly ignored attempt to avoid exactly this sort of fiasco.

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"Look, I hate to play devils advocate, but I honestly don't feel comfortable with the idea that it's any of my business what other people's children view or don't view."

if this was true, we'ed all be doing drugs at age 9.

No one cares anymore, and if they do, it's hard to find people like that. Heck, i'm 14, and i'm restricted from seeing some pg-13 movies.
but who's one to blame a parent? the rating system is falling and slipping due to no one caring. or trying to bend the rules a little.

while i'm not entirly sure of the rockstar ordeal, it appears that they are trying to make excuses for their games. And, as this continues, the ratings will collaps altogether, and GTA and such will be in the hands of 6 year olds. --which it may be now, sad to say.

and if i'd missed the point of this rant, well, at least my opinion on a somehow related topic has been housed.

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Jarod - thanks for your take on the issue. While I agree with the basis of your argument: that it should be up to the parents to police what their children are playing, games with questionable content continue to be marketed towards an impressionable audience making it extremely difficult for parents to control.

And regarding the 15 year old whose parents feel he/she is mature enough to play, how can those parents possibly reach such a qualified assessment if questionable content continues to surface many months after a game is given a rating and released into the market?

Brandon - you didn't miss the point at all. Your response was spot on, so thanks for that. =)

And thank you Rick, Umm Hamza, and Corruptor, I appreciate your input as well.

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I'm not really going to voice an opinion about this, I'm simply going to tell of something that I saw earlier today.

I was in a local game retail store at my local mall and was amazed to see a seven year old boy walk up to the cashier to buy a game of the said Rockstar product in question. I stood back and watched the transaction occur - with the child's parents standing behind him and backing him up. The cashier told of all the things in the video game and even of the recent controversy, but the parents - honoring the cashier's advice - still allowed the transaction. The cashier was almost as shocked as I was. This clearly shows how the parents do have control over the access by minors to certain titles.

Now my opinions on the matter:
1) I don't think video games can insight violence, or other such emotions and actions.
2) I don't think that a video game manufacturer, publisher, etc. should be held accountable for the actions of an individual who claims "they told me to do it"
3)Video games are for entertainment. A reason why they created the "*Entertainment* Software Ratings Board" was to inform consumers - and parents of said consumers - of what sort of content the software contains. Games should not be taken seriously as sources of insighting violence. Companies even state in many video games that they do not condone acts of violence or other such crimes. An individual should be accountable for their own actions.
4) I'll be upset when the day comes around that strictly "ENTERTAINMENT" software retailers are required to put on their doors: "We ID"
5) But I know that day will come if people continue with their grievances.
6) I believe that there is a thing in this country called the "free market system." If you regulate it too much, there could be serious reprecussions.
7) I strongly feel it is the parent's responsibility to monitor what is out there, and for retailers to provide information of certain games, just as the one did in my experience. The parents made their decision...and who's to say they're wrong?

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Jacob - I certainly wouldn't make that judgement call.

However, there surely must be something wrong with a seven year-old playing a game that Patricia Vance, a representative of the ESRB, has described as: "a game that the ESRB has made as clear as it can that it was not intended for anyone under the age of 17."

How can anyone be so certain that adult situations do not adversely affect a child? Being sexually abused as a child certainly took its toll on my growing up.

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BlinkOk July 19, 2005 7:17 PM

withholding information from the public (via the ratings board) is wrong. simple as that.

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BoxTree July 19, 2005 7:24 PM

All quotes by Jacob.

"Now my opinions on the matter:
1) I don't think video games can insight violence, or other such emotions and actions."

On what are you basing your opinion? There is plenty of legitimate documentation that confirms that violence in video games contributes, in part, to violence in society.

"4) I'll be upset when the day comes around that strictly "ENTERTAINMENT" software retailers are required to put on their doors: "We ID""

Playboy Magazine is strictly "Entertainment for Men." Are you upset that magazine retailers ask for ID prior to selling this type of entertainment?

"6) I believe that there is a thing in this country called the "free market system." If you regulate it too much, there could be serious reprecussions."

The United States does not have a true "free market system." And the video game industry in the United States has never been a truly free market system.

Kudos on your site, Jay.

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I think there's some confusion as to what Hot Coffee is. While the mod unlocks code that is in the game, the fact of the matter is that there is NO WAY to access this code without modifying the game in some way. It impossible to access on the PS2, and enormously difficult (if even possible) on the Xbox. Only the PC version makes it accessable, and you have to have knowledge of how mods work before you can get to it. Rockstar cut out all reference to the code in the game as sold, either to get an M rating or because the minigame is creepy and stupid.

According to the ESRB website (might want to confirm this), only 17 games have been given the AO rating. The reason for this is that, like with the NC-17 rating, it's a kiss of death from a marketing perspective and there's no real reason to both getting it reviewed by the ESRB at all if you're going to get an AO rating. That's why no games have it. However, if any game could break that taboo, Grand Theft Auto can, but it would have a cost, which is probably why they haven't done it. It's possible that GTA becoming AO rated would do more to destroy the ratings system than letting it go. GTA caused WalMart to slack off their policy of not seling M rated games, and the envelope is pushable.

I am of the opinion that the ratings system is stupid and worthless, but a system "with teeth" would be obnoxious, which is even worse. Some people are getting appalled that children can buy GTA, but it has yet to be established that there are negative consequences. Obviously, the parents of the children mentioned in these comments didn't think the game would be harmful, and ratings enforcement wouldn't change a thing. Any child over the age of 5 can attend an R-rated movie with an adult. They just need an adult.

I suppose so long as nothing happens which affects me, a gamer over the age of 21, I really don't care. I like my games to have the freedom to contain any content they like, and I'll be very angry if my games start getting dumbed down to "protect the children."

I also think this is a manufactured controversy that will have no long term consequences. In the gaming world, Rockstar has celebrity status and people will buy their games, no matter what. I think this issue is a blown up version of every video game violence controversy in the past, and those have all essentially blown over. If these things truly had impact, Mortal Kombat would be a ghost. If outrage over GTA were as widespread as it appears, parents would not be buying it for their kids because, well, they'd be outraged. Nothing can come of this except perhaps a half hearted ID check system exactly like that found in movie theaters: a pain to enforce and extremely easy to circumvent. So long as games are uncensored, things won't change much, and it's how they should be.

Additionally, as a lifelong Democrat, Hilary Clinton is annoying the hell out of me right now and if she thinks this kind of garbage is going to help her in a Presidential run, she's going to have a nasty shock in 2008. She needs to quit wasting everyone's time with this nonsense.

This is a very rambling post and I apologize for that (and blame the small comments field). My main point is that Hot Coffee is very explicitly not something Rockstar intended for people to play and is difficult to access, that most parents obviously don't care enough about this issue to not buy the game, making the whole thing overblown and that nothing will really change.

Sorry if this is a mess.

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Hello everybody. Here's my take on the issue here:

1) Rockstar should not make sexual material available on their games without letting the ratings board know that it is possible to access this material.

2) Video games most certainly have the ability to corrupt. Let's say both your parents smoke. Does seeing smokers every day not make you think smoking is more "normal" and "okay"? Yes, it does. Same with games: you and all your friends play games about sex and drugs and car stealing, it seems more normal. Then when the drug dealer asks you if you want to buy some crack, it seems like a sort of normal thing to do, because you play a game about it every day.

3) The ratings board should not simply assign ratings saying "this is only for people over age X" "this is okay for everyone" etc. Go to www.kids-in-mind.com. It's a movie ratings system that, IMHO, is excellent. They assign scores for Sex and Nudity, Violence and Gore and Profanity. They then go into great detail about exactly what happens in the movie and allow the parents to make up their mind whether they want their kid seeing this sort of movie. For example, I am 13. My parents do not mind me seeing a movie with quite a bit of profanity, as I am quite clean-mouthed and know not to repeat what I hear. However, they don't like me seeing very violent movies. With their rating system, it allows parents to make decisions themselves. Parents have different opinions. Catholic parents, for example, are very touchy about scenes with sex and nudity. My parents are touchy about violence. It shouldn't be a blanket rating. I suggest the ESRB thingy should adopt a similar system. However, I think we need to impose regulations about making sure kids' parents *see* the ratings and pay attention to them before the kid buys the game in question.

That's my opinion, comments are welcome. I'm up for discussion.

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well it is possible to access both versions mod with game shark or direct replay, but the ESRB is totally out of whack i mean when a game like halo gets the same rating as a game like the guy game it pretty much shows the nerve of the ESRB! When they have a rating for AO why not use it? If you were 15 and wanted a game, you would ask your parents. If they knew a lot about games they would find out the rating if its the same as a game like the Guy Game i think many people would make the assumption that all M games have nudity. Alot of people have been waiting for a change to a movie like rating system. This would in my mind work. When was the last time you picked up a game box and saw "Mild violence" on the back or "Mild Language"? How are they able to say that a game like Hitman 2 and Beyond Good and Evil have the same amount of violence? the only ESRB difference between the 2 games is that Hitman has Blood. They are saying that for some blood you have to be 4 years older to play the game! I mean come on.

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Sorry for the small comment form, ACLS. =)

And what you wrote is a fairly reasonable and realistic perspective, except for one detail: hot coffee can indeed be accessed in the PS2 version. [Source]

However, as you have pointed out, it is still unlikely that the issue will change things much, if at all. Thanks for your thoughts, good stuff.

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Grant0 - in your 2) above, you just compared a real-life situation with that of a video game. It is hoped that the audience playing these games can tell the difference... but maybe that's the point? Are you saying that a more impressionable audience may not make those distinctions as easily?

al - I think you made some good points in there, though you should try to chop up what you write into more managable chunks to digest. You risk losing your audience when sentences and thoughts run together, as it becomes difficult to read. Just some constructive criticism is all. Thanks for your input. =)

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Despite all of the discussion of where responsibility ought to fall with companies, rating boardsm distributors, and others I am still amazed at how little attention many parents pay to what their children do for entertainment.

But hey, living abroad and developing a broader perspective on the world isn't something everyone is able to enjoy. I have never liked GTA. I find it disgusting that a company would attempt to make profit by marketing(more or less) only sex and violence to people of any age.

My experiences have been that ESRB ratings mean nothing to most kids and parents. Kids under 18 seem to care mostly about what their "friends'" tell them is good. I have met way too many people whose parents simply do not monitor their children or what they play.

I am sorry to say this, but I am deeply disturbed by many of the 'cultural'(or lack thereof) aspects of America today(other countries, too but mainly this one). Profits and big business are huge forces behind almost all games that are released(whether they are E or AO).

I apologize if I got off topic. I think you should all visit foreign countries some day so that you can have a greater appreciation of humanity as a whole.

Jay, I have been visiting your site for some months and it is wonderfully orchestrated.

I hope that you all keep thinking for yourselves!

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This has definitely been something interesting to read, it's kept my attention longer than most discussions about this. Poor Jay is probably going to be sick by the time we all put our two cents in ^_^.

I think that the ratings that the ESRB puts out needs to be more publicized. How many people know what the difference between an R rated movie and a PG-13 movie? I'd say almost anyone because they have taken the time to experience both or maybe just one.

I seriously doubt that most people can say the same about video game ratings. Most people probably don't even know what those ratings are. I know that my parents certainly don't. I also agree that maybe another rating system could be used to clarify what the game has. Maybe make the ratings more obvious.

I'm 17 and I've grown up with video games. I don't consider myself a violent person. I've played some of the GTA games and have never felt the urge to do any of the things in the game. Perhaps that is simply because my parents raised me in a situation where I was around video games and was taught that there is a difference between reality and fantasy. I've found that when I'm angry I can mash on a controller and not take out my feelings on others.

I do believe that parents need to be involved with games if they are going to allow their children to be. I don't believe that games should be treated any different from any other material with violence or nudity or anything that might have an effect on the minds of a child. I think that if parents take a role and take the time to look at what they're buying or allowing their children to buy then this would take a large effect on the way people view video games.

I also believe that any part of a video game that is released should be rated. Just because something is not easily accessible, if it is made available by the company it needs to be rated before going on the shelves in any way. Its things like this that give video games a bad reputation when I find its a big stress reliever in my own life.

Thanks for sharing this with us Jay. It gave me some food for thought for my day.

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OK, just my thoughts on this. Why is it that the game in question, was "ok" till the sex issue came into play. Is it ok to show gang dealings, assassinations, murder, theft, drug dealing, and killing police officers, but not show sex?

I think that Rockstar should have told the ratings board about the sexual scene, but the sideshow that has popped up is even worst. Heck they just told kids all over the world about the mod now. If they kept it quiet and took care of it not everyone would know.

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Zengief July 19, 2005 9:35 PM

I agree with Zan. One problem with the current rating system is the complete bias against any sort of sex. Assasinations are fine, but one minigame of consensual sex and the game is adult only.

I am not arguing that there should be more sex allowed in games for minors. I am arguing that the threshold for violence has become too high.

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i agree, i mean i didnt know about it untill all this medai about it and i agree that rockstar is responsible because the mod doesnt put content into the game, the content was already there just unlocked, thats like saying level two isnt in the game because you have to beat level one to unlock it, its still there

yah i dont want to structure that so you get a ramble

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I think the last couple of comments really capture the spirit of this debate. Grand Theft Auto is already chock full of violent, malcontent-driven behavior, and is a smash video game sensation. Yet the revelation that there is a hidden sexually oriented scene suddenly brings up a storm of protest from parents and legislators.

Violence in society has never truly been a troubling issue since the dawn of civilization. Our fascination with violence stems more or less from our base instincts as animals, but we have culled that into a number of cultural mores, including capital punishment, assault weapons, and an obsession with violent media, including video games. For the most part, from playing Cowboys and Indians as kids to glorifying sports such as wrestling and football, America as a nation has embraced this aspect of our humanity with little fanfare. It is rare to see a parent chide their child for showing violent tendencies in their postpubescent years; instead, society tends to thrive on the Darwinistic and survivalist mentality that comes out of brutish life.

At the same time, the puritanical desires to rid our society of its sexual urges and drives has resulted in wars on homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, sexual education programs, and medical research. This is where the heart of this issue truly lies, in our ability to shun sexual deviancy as readily as we accept violent imagery and activity.

Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" fully embodied this dichotomy between our unabashed love of violence and our confused, immature approach to sexual gratification. The obvious successor to that wonderful book, Chuck Pahlahniuk's riveting "Fight Club", gave more credence to the idea that we are a society in love with destruction, so in love with it that we are unaware of its effect on us.

It is not particularly unreasonable to assume that mothers and fathers should be concerned with controlling their children's sexual development and growth. However, what is becoming apparent is that as a society we are against sexual "development and growth", and that our means of authoritarian control of sexual urges's only intent is to deny and shelter our children from sexual maturity. The sheer wishful naivete of such a scenario aside, we have also at the same time allowed our children to thrive within a world of pain, violence, and constant retribution.

Combining a world of sexual insecurity and cluelessness with a tacit approval of violence is what leads to the decline of culture. Enlightened cultures must exist by educating and acclimating their youth to both sex and violence, with all of the positives and negatives that come attached to those ideas. Only then can we say we are fostering a true "culture of life" - one not reveling in death and condemning what the Bible not-so-subtly referred to as Knowledge with a capital K.

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Here's an interesting twist:
How is this different than the nude 'mod' created
for The Sims line of games?
Or that the previous versions of GTA and other games in its genre have always had 'skins' that could be created to make it appear that the character was nude or wearing inappropriate clothing, etc?
If I remember correctly there was a big hurrah of the first Lara Croft nude mod as well... this isn't exactly new, just (as with most news) refreshed to be pertinent and discussable in today's society.

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"My thirteen year old sister could go out and buy GTA:SA and this is exactly the problem. If she does, and my parents have a problem with it, then it's not her fault, it's the game companies."

It's not the game company's fault; it's her fault, for buying something she was not supposed to, and her parents, for not keeping tabs on what she was viewing. We live in a world of media- if you want to restrict your children's viewing, that burden should fall on you, and you alone.

kthejoker- Hurrah. Do you have a website?

Jarod

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Being only 14, i can assure you that things in the media, and thanks to my sheltering, through my friends and not firsthand, i can assure you what you grow up with can and will corrupt you.

Most, well all, of my friends play anything that they desire. ratings have no meaning and violence is the way to go. while I'm not violent, with that comes with cussing.
i never cuss, and never plan too, but when i hear it all the time at school, it gets in your head. when you get frustrated, why not let out a string of obscenities?
You need the right willpower to overcome. but today, people are getting broken down, and no longer caring.
I'd rant more, but i'm pretty sure that you all get my drift now.

but...

let me conclude with the fact that i'm christian. yes, it all makes sense now doesn't it? but with that, i've found that it has helped me with what's right and wrong, and sometimes my parents to make me do/know what's right from wrong. But a shell needs to be opened up into the world, and sooner or later a parent needs to know that. Mine are overprotective by any standards. does that mean i deserve to go grab the next M rated game? of course not. Ratings are ratings, and parents don't always know what's best.

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TornadoTK July 19, 2005 11:30 PM

Read what's going on, and I just gotta toss in my two cents.

It is never, never, NEVER a video game-related problem. It never has been, it isn't right now, and there's a damn good chance it never will be. Parents that can't control their kids from buying OR playing a game aren't parents. Have you ever broken a CD before? Even an 80 year-old grandfather can break a 10 year-old's copy of GTA:SA.

Secondly, yes, Rockstar did make a boo-boo by including the minigame with the main game. Problem is, they didn't intend it to be accessible. Now, you can load up a CD with 300gb of hardcore porn, and then change filenames, corrupt them, password them, scramble their data, and ship 'em off to be sold wherever you want. You didn't intend for people to find it. If they do somehow, they just tore up your game, and that's their bad.

Either way, nobody will ever sell well with an AO rating. GTA:SA isn't even AO. Everything you see happening in that game goes on in real life. Between teenagers. Teenagers do have sex, do get in gangs, do run from the cops, do attempt to live "tough", do steal, do shoot, and do die. Not a wide margin of them, but it happens. Now picture this, your 7 year-old child watches the news and hears about the teen who raped a neighborhood girl of his age, and her dog, and you expect violence and sex to disturb him later on? Everything that has happened in real life has happened in video games, think about it. Manhunt: Snuff films. GTA:SA: Gangs. We have games based on wars, pure bloodshed, sex, and nonstop cursing. Nobody cares.

You play a First Person Shooter. Most of these let you gib dead bodies. That's the abilities to make dead (or living) bodies EXPLODE. Isn't THAT excess violence? AO is a rating that should never exist. Parents should give a tick about things and look at their kids for a few seconds every millenium. Kids should play what they wanna play.

"Hello. I'm a twenty-three year-old male and I play video games."
"OH MY GOD! THIS MAN SAID HE HAS A GUN AND HE'S GOING TO KILL US ALL!!!"

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jay: Thanks for the kind words. I actually discovered the PS2 codes about 20 minutes after I made that comment, but the fact remains that they did not intend the game to be accessable. It is their fault for leaving the code in there though, since there was no reason for it. (Considering the significant mod community for GTA3 and GTA:Vice City, you'd have thought they'd expect people to go over the games with a fine tooth comb, but it's not my place to speculate.)

TornadoTK: 300+ GB CDs? How are things in the future? Also, there are no true snuff films. You have a good point, but you should never exaggerate.

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EvilHayama July 20, 2005 2:30 AM

Nice to see discussion of this topic without shouting.
I'm in the "Rockstar mistake" camp, I'd guess they removed the to get the M rating and forgot to totally remove it from the codebase before release. I can't see what can be done now except recall or re-rate the game, both of which aren't going to be very effective.
If a 13 year old can buy an M-17 game, the fault lies with the rating system and its enforcement. Rockstar had the game rated, the ESRB labelled it and all was good. If some wage slave lets the kid buy it without parental permission -that- is a problem. If the parents are there and let the kid buy the game they're either bad parents or liberal ones, who believe their kid can tell the difference between real life and a story.
Rockstar should take some heat for stuffing up the process by letting hot coffee happen, what form that should be I don't know. Does the ESRB have a policy on re-rating games?

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Wow, you opened a can of worms with this one, Jay.

As a parent and a game developer in the United States, I strongly disagree with the idea of legislating the sale of games, or even allowing the US government to be involved in the ratings. The simple fact is, it MUST be up to parents to protect their own children, just as it is up to us as adults to protect ourselves. Trying to 'help' parents through legislation, only encourages parents to be more oblivious, with the expectation that the government, or someone else like the MPAA or the ESRB or retail sales clerks, will protect their children for them.

In my not so humble opinion, people put way too much value in the letter-grade given ESRB (and the MPAA for films), without investigating the details. The ratings are meant to be suggestions, with the descriptions meant to further assist parents and consumers purchasing for themselves to decide if this game is appropriate or not. I never decide if a game or movie is appropriate for my child based on rating alone. PG means 'PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED', NOT 'OK FOR KIDS'. Furthermore, the ESRB has a much higher tolerance for violence and an arguably lower tolerance for swearing and nudity than I tend to (frankly I am far more concerned about the graphic violence in the M-rated Grand Theft Auto than the bikini-clad women in the M-rated DOA Beach Volleyball), yet YMMV (your mileage may vary). This is why we have the notion of community standards, which should let individuals and individual communities decide what we can and can't watch or play - not multi-national corporations, national ratings boards, or congress.

Sad fact is, since influential national retailers (read: Wal-Mart) simply wont carry SKUs with an AO rating (or NC17 for films), game developers are forced to walk a thin line to get their games under the wire to enable wide distribution. Buyer beware.

Finally, as far as the Hot Coffee MOD goes, much of the contraversy has been driven by fear and ignorance. The Hot Coffee MOD is just that, a MOD, or MODIFICATION of the game, not an 'unlock' code as many have suggested. Should the ESRB rate Half-Life AO, because you could conceivabley write a MOD for it that meets the standards for that rating? Remember, COUNTER STRIKE was not created as a stand-alone game, it was created as a MOD to Half-Life. The Hot Coffee MOD is a poorly implemented, pseduo-sexual hack, that requires the game to be modified, changed, altered, in order to be played. The ESRB should not be asked to rate based on what someone could possibly do to alter a game after it is released, nor does our congress have any business wasting our tax dollars investigating it.

Remember, the ESRB is a VOLUNTARY system intended to ASSIST consumers in making INFORMED purchasing decisions. The ESRB ratings were not intended to be ENFORCED at arbitrary age limits, nor is a game marked T for Teen, necessarily something you should let your 13 year old play without guidance...

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For the last 25 years, scolds have been insisting that killing things in video games makes people want to kill in real life. Has it happened? I must have missed the flood of news stories about kids that were well-behaved until Zelda made them go find a sword and stab the cat.

With every passing year, the shout is, "Well, THOSE video games weren't actually that realistic, but THESE are. Everybody KNOWS that Space Invaders was harmless, but isn't it OBVIOUS that Doom will turn kids into killers?"

Yes, it was obvious. It was also, like a lot of obvious things, not true. What has fundamentally changed since then?

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While I am old enough to play all games, I have never played any version of GTA. So I dont actually know if it is overfilled with violence. Just whenever I read review saying you should drive over people and shoot them to be rewarded, I dont somehow see that "fun" or "entertaining".

The fact how many people want to play it and are willing to pay for it (and I suppose they enjoy it too) just shows what kind of world we live in.

Hundreds of persons work for Rockstar to make GTA games. Sure, they do it for money and they do it well, but they are like drug-dealers to me. I know its illegal to sell drugs in most countries, but even if it were legal, most people would not do it because it is wrong. To create such games there has to be something missing in your soul even when it pays well.

Sorry for not contributing much to the actual issue. To me including sex scene in the game is not a problem. It would not affect the decision to buy game or not. However, I can see that it can be important to parents who want to know if the game is suited for their children. Rockstar should of told the ESRB about possible cheat codes or take whole scene out of the game. Instead, they lie.

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Part of the problem is the ever-present idea that "video games are for kids." That's why there's the furor whipped up over GTA (similar to what happens to mature comic books).
Adolescent boys make up the primary market for video games, and that's a reality for how these games are presented to the public. There are dangers to uncritical exposure to sex and violence, though actual research is pretty conflicted right now with regard to the amount of actual causative effect (despite the impassioned plea of the teens who wrote here, fearing for their tender youth).
We have currently a rating system for games that's deeply flawed, hypocritical, and ineffective. The answer isn't to give this system more teeth, as it's never going to be internally consistent. The answer is less regulation, and here's why: If there is a government agency, or even voluntary board, that puts forth these ratings and that board is going to forever issue ratings that are market-driven and often contradictory (and, for the most part, trying to apply an objective standard to a subjective medium), then parents are going to have a false sense of security. Instead of knowing what GTA is like, they assume that since DOA volleyball got an M, or Haf-Life got an M, they're equivalent, when they're not.
What needs to happen is for the public to realize that games are not solely for children and for parents to actively investigate the games their kids are playing.
I know that's hard. Parents are overworked, overstressed, or plain ignorant. But it's their money that buys PS2s, Xboxes, etc. As they have to take a positive step to have video games in their homes, they're the ones who have to be responsible for that step.
If a parent wants to let their 7-year-old play GTA, that's their choice. I think it's the wrong choice, and would feel no shame about telling them that (in public, no less), but it's their choice.

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jay - in response to your response to my response. Yes, my point is that a young audience may not be able to distinguish playing with guns on a screen and playing with guns in your hands.

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I appreciate everyone's thoughtful contributions to this post. And I have to concur with EvilHayama's observation that it was surprising to me there weren't more flaming replies, though I'm not complaining! =)

As far as violent games are concerned, I feel much the same as Tõnu stated: I generally do not play intensely violent games, they bore me. There is nothing inherently entertaining in causing physical harm to anyone, virtual or otherwise. It is a choice that I am pleased to be able to make.

Furthermore, I wouldn't want to contribute to the production of an intensely violent game either. I wrote a rant about this about a year and a half ago here when Rockstar released Manhunt. In it I touched on the responsibility we all have as game developers to ensure the content we release to the masses is safe and won't harm anyone. If we are unsure whether playing violent or sexual material leaves an indelible scar on a child's psyche, then I choose not to take that chance... and it *is* a choice.

I believe the issue boils down to one of choice, and I will admit that having a choice is better than not having one. However, given the choice it saddens me that a significantly large proportion of people on this planet will choose the violent route, thereby giving companies like Rockstar the financial justification to create games that feed that desire.

Maybe it is due to our base instincts as animals, as kthejoker mentioned. That may even justify our creating virtual worlds in which we can freely explore those fantasies. And yet I am still convinced there will continue to be those who are unable to separate reality from fantasy, especially as virtual worlds become increasingly more 'real'. And at what early age are we as a species able to make that distinction?

Maybe it can be summed up as: You can't save people from themselves.

But one can certainly choose to die trying. =)

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Artephius July 20, 2005 1:12 PM

jay, you are spot on as always.
Thanks for bringing this discussion up.

Two points:
Deregulation- a quick show of hands, who enjoys the constant stream of prescription drug ads on tv? This is a direct result of deregulation. Regulation is as much about keeping the corporate money machine in check as it is about protecting the customer. Think about who will really benefit from the game industry being deregulated.

You can't save people from themselves- and therefore you should not expect the government to do the same. Ratings are not intended as and should not be considered anything but a "word of advice," sometimes by an group of people incapable of giving the best advice.

Keep on gaming, jay.

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scarfist July 20, 2005 6:17 PM

Props to Aaron for posting the most sensibly.

I think most people here are missing the main fact that this is just the newest political soapbox for our "great" world leaders to stand on. This type of controversy has been happening since entertainment began.

Ever since the days of Tipper Gore, there has been a fight against the freedom of expressions that are deemed unfit. It has happened to music, movies, TV, and now Video Games. I mean, there was even a controversy over Fred and Wilma Flintstone only having a single bed, instead of two which was the standard on the TV at the time. Or how about Beavis saying "fire." Some mom freaks out because her kid started a fire and blamed it on a television show. Or how about the Columbine kids who gunned down their class and somebody decided to say that the movies and music they enjoyed caused everything. Sorry, this is mostly going to be a rambling train of crap. The point is that there will always be a scapegoat for the political agendas that be and video games is just the latest one. People who are violent will be violent no matter what they see or hear. Does anybody here think that a Shakespeare play caused the whole Jack the Ripper scenario? I don't think so! And everyone knows that murders happen in some Shakespeare plays. Ok, so now maybe I'm just reaching for straws on a subject I'm not even touching, but somebody has to realize sooner or later that what is available for viewing pleasure does not have anything to do with what people will do. I'm the least violent of my friends and yet I watch horror movies all the time and listen to heavy, violent music. I've been watching and listening to counter culture crap since I was 8, yet I turned out just fine. People have to stop looking for places to lay blame for what happens to them and others. For anyone who has stuck with me this long, I apologize for the random acts of idiocy I've included in my post. Does anything that I've written here make anybody who reads it stupider or smarter, more violent or more at peace, greater or worse as a person? NO!! Yet, I'm sure that someday I will be sued for writing mindlessly and warping some kid from New Hampshire who goes on a killing spree with a spoon, until he finally scoops his own brains out. Sorry to the parents of the New Hampshire kid.

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A lot of people who have never played GTA immediately dismiss the political satire contained within. While Manhunt and State of Emergency were Rockstar's attempt to play on the "thrill kill" part of human personality, they were weak on every other element and thus just gratuitous. GTA however, has always been on a different plane.
They use humour, parody and satire to make a scathing review of our society. From the hypocrisy of the Christian Right to the corruption of politicians. The fact is; it's a crime game in the long lineage of "criminal" entertainment that can be seen as allegory.
The game is not far from "The Godfather" or "Les Miserables," both of which contained portions acceptable to the contemporary society, but were still amazing pieces of entertainment.
My major concern is that people will continue to look at this entertainment, like they did with Lenny Bruce, and demonize it for dick and fart jokes, instead of realizing how important it is to us.

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I am a HUGE Grand Theft Auto fan, and have played every game with no thoughts of "Oh, this is too violent" or things like that.
I am probably the youngest to post on here, being only 11 years old, but I belive I should express my opinion.
My parents are quite aware that I am a fan of the series, and have no problems with me playing them. I, nor any of my friends, would ever consider doing any of the things
in the game. Most kids that play these games regularly would not think, after playing the game, "Oh, that was fun. Now I going to shoot some cops."
The thing that really irked me about the new AO rating was this: If I don't WANT to play the "Hot Coffee" minigame, I won't play it. The mod is not an obligitory part of the game, you don't have to play it. Sure, it's prescence in the game might make some people think twice about playing it, but it's ultamitely your choice.
The other thing that bugged me was that an M rating and an AO rating only have one year between them. Really, what's the point? AO games' ratings suffer quite a bit, just becuase their AO rating makes them only purchacable in certain stores.

The games you purchace, and the cheat codes you choose to use in them, are your decision. This whole thing may have been a bit off-topic from the real issue here, but this is what stood out the most to me.

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I am so sick and tired of people trying to censor everything. I can understand when parents shield their child from the realities of life when they are young, but if you're 15 or 16, you should be allowed a certain amount of respect for that. When I go into gamestop to get a new game, I don't want to be told I can't have it because of the rating.

Another thing is, I've been playing video games all my life, and I am smarter for it. I have the vocabulary of a college student, I can read thick books at a blazing pace, and I have all A's. But now, I want to rest, lets play a game. Wait, can't play that one, its...MATURE. Who do they think I am, Elmo? Fatal Frame 2 was mature, but I bought it. Fortunately they didn't ask me my age. I'm 15, and tired of people that thinks games change people. Games don't change people, people change people, by becoming violent after an experience NOT related to games.

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Violent crimes for persons aged 12 and over, as well as violent crimes for young age groups such as 14-17 has been rapidly and steadily decreasing in the past few years. There appears to be no evidence that violent video games do cause violence, especially when you factor in the idea that cause and effect will, in many cases, be the other way around. And if you really think that kids aren't already exposed to sex and porn by age 17, then I've got to say you're a bit deluded. Sure the line has to be drawn somewhere, but with no real reason for the harshness of our current rules, and the tiny age difference between M and AO, why is there such a fuss about this?

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Justdig - You present a good argument, without citing any sources for specific data, though I am inclined to believe what you've presented as fact.

IMHO, the "fuss" is about raising awareness that: (1) violence and sex exist in video games that are intended to be played by adults only and yet continue to appeal to a younger audience; and (2) violent games are not a preferred form of entertainment.

Furthermore, in a world of continuous one-upmanship, the appearance of and threshold for violence continues to increase. This is a bothersome trend for me personally, as I do not enjoy violent content whatsoever.

And yes, I'm speaking rather selfishly, since I would much rather see talented companies like Rockstar focus their efforts towards making a game that I would find enjoyable to play. =)

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isnt the entire point of GTA Sex, drugs, and violence? Already being rated 'R' (NC-17), do you really think that if that 17 Y/O isnt already mature anough to handle, he wont suddenly be mature at 18, now will he?a person like that may be as old as 28 before he is no long 'immature'.

having the rating 'R' (NC-17) already buts all player, who had purchased it themselves, (assuming there wasent a neglagent cashier; as they are technically federally required to card buyers for adult material INCLUDING video gaming) are already less than a year from being able to make the legal purchase of any asortment of X-rated material.

Will it really make that much of a difference just for them to feel comfortable about this?

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I think kids should be able to restrain themselves. Having "the good stuff" in a videogame doesnt make it good.
There are plently of good games out there that arent gory,"arent too mature", or anything else like listed in the other comments.
Having games with that sort of stuff in it wont nessesaraly make it fun. Now, I could easily download m or whatever rated games.I dont. I only ever play pg rated games.I dont really see the point in playing a game with blood, gore, yadda yadda.
The reason I play games is because of the challenge. Its fun to explore worlds otherwise unacessable in the world we live in, battling monsters, solving puzzels ect. Thats it in a nutshell.
The other games that are rated more than pg are exactly like this- except they are "realistic" (again blood, etc)
I dont like seeing that.Yeah, you could call me a wuss I suppose. I was at a friends house and I started playing one of their games( it was already in the console so I didnt see the rating)it was a fighting game. After a minute or so I didnt want to play because I didnt like the feeling of hacking someone to death. And no, I have been exposed to blood and stuff in movies before-but watching it doesnt mean you like seeing it any more. People should realise that a m+ game isnt nessesarily better than a pg game. There still basically the same things, give or take.I think that violent videogames might (theres not enough evendece to prove this, I think) cause "unnaceptable behaivour" in people- maybe it triggers hormomes or something- Im not sure. How many of you have heard the story of the man who, after playing a car-driving videogame, crashed his car? So what makes kids want to play these sorts of videogames anyway ? Peer pressure? The need to be "cool"? Do kids start out like me, not liking seeing people get mashed to a pulp- then after a while, enjoy it enough to look for unsuitable videogames?I think kids should wake up to themselves. If they cant, then parents should,and take action.

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