Explicit sex scenes have been found hiding in the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that may have pushed the game from it’s M for Mature rating to AO for Adults Only.
The sex scenes, which display nudity, oral sex, simulated intercourse, and S & M content, have been donned the Hot Coffee mod. It has been confirmed in research done by Game Politics that the modifications to the game can be found in the release edition of Rockstar’s GTA:SA.
If this is the case, the question remains: who is at fault? It seems that Rockstar placed this content in the game, but should the ESRB watch more closely for this type of content in games?
Some are arguing that the trusted ratings board is at fault for not finding the content before the game was released and others are directing their dismay at Rockstar for having the content in the game.
The news is not good for the already controversial game. Much of the outcry toward violent video games has been directed to the explicit violent and sexual themes found in the Grand Theft Auto series.
GP reports that neither the game’s developer nor its publisher deny the graphic videos were included in the disc. The ESRB is investigating the matter at this time but will not discuss further details.
The plot twists more when the ESRB was asked how it receives its funding. Public Relations Director Eliot Mizrachi told GP, "As a non-profit, self-regulatory organization, ESRB is primarily funded through fees paid by companies to rate their products. " Hmm...so the ESRB is supposed to be monitoring the gaming industry, but the gaming industry is supposed to be paying the ESRB to continue operation?
Why is this so interesting? An AO rating on GTA:SA would have been marketing suicide for Take 2 Interactive, parent company of Rockstar Games. Stores like Wal-Mart do not carry AO games and they are less accessible to many video game players.
When a video game is taken to the ESRB to be reviewed for a rating, the publishers must fill out a questionnaire to disclose any content of the game.
"The questionnaire is comprehensive and legally binds a publisher to fully disclose all pertinent content. This includes, but is not limited to content containing violence, language, sex and sexuality, gambling, alcohol, tobacco and drug references, etc. The content rated by ESRB includes any elements found in the gameplay itself, including all characters, dialogue, lyrics, props, backgrounds, full-motion videos, starting and ending sequences, advertisements, product placements, as well as bonus materials and hidden elements such as Easter eggs, cheat codes, and locked levels. It is important to emphasize that the questionnaire is only one component of submission materials, which also requires a videotape of all pertinent content disclosed in the written questionnaire, and can also include soundtracks, scripts, lyrics sheets, game builds, etc. All of these submission materials are reviewed by ESRB for completeness," explained Mizrachi when talking to GP.
What could happen to Take 2 Interactive if they are found guilty of knowingly releasing the game with the Hot Coffee mod? It depends. Mizrachi was quoted, "There are various means by which ESRB can hold publishers accountable. These include monetary fines, penalties, and/or corrective actions, such as re-stickering, and even a full product recall, if deemed necessary."
The ESRB did state that they have taken action in the past for publishers that have violated terms of the ratings submissions systems.
In conclusion, I don’t know where to place the blame-Rockstar, the ESRB, or maybe even game modders. But in the future, shouldn’t we be blaming ourselves? The only solution to this problem seems to be public outcry that the ESRB is critiquing the hand that feeds them. If public figures such as Hilary Clinton, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, and Washington DC councilman Adrian Fenty are so opposed to video game content, shouldn’t they be lobbying for a ratings board that can actually rate unbiasedly, without it’s paychecks coming from companies such as Rockstar? And as responsible video gamers who want to keep mature content in our games and in our adult hands, shouldn’t we also be advocating proper ratings in order to keep public scrutiny low?