July 17, 2005

More GTA "Hot Coffee" Mod

In addition to the ESRB investigation into the unlockable "Hot Coffee" mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, now some Senators, including Joseph Lieberman and Hilary Clinton, are now lobbying the FCC to look into the matter as well. What they're actually asking for, I don't know, but what I do know is that the reaction from the internet nerds is, as ever, woefully off the reservation in terms of the issues presented. Here, I'll quote a popular argument people are making:

Let's take it slow, so you can understand this. The way this game is meant to be played goes as follows: you have a console (let's say PS2). And a controller (let's say the PS2 controller). These are the only factors Rockstar is working with.

With input from the PS2 controller, there is no possible way to unlock this content. The only thing that's "part of the game" is stuff that can be unlocked using the controller. If Rockstar had put in a "code" for you to unlock this stuff, then I could understand what the problem would be. But, they didn't want anyone to see it.

They took it out of the game as a form of self censorship. And they left the content on the disc to avoid bugs. It's that simple. If you've ever heard of Occam's Razor, you'd know that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. This is the simplest solution. There is no massive conspiracy by Rockstar to corrupt our nation's youth.

And, as a side note, I fucking hate the Grand Theft Auto games anyway, and I would be overjoyed if they never sold another copy of them ever again.

Let me put it this way: let's say you're presenting a powerpoint presentation in your class. At one point, you decide to toss in a picture of a boob. However, later on, you decide against this, and take the picture of the boob out, but you still have it on your harddrive.

Is that picture of the boob still considered part of your powerpoint presentation because it's still on your harddrive? Should people get angry at you because there's a picture of a boob on your harddrive that no one should access? Now, I know this isn't completely analagous, but you get the idea.

Though not specifically relating to that post, here's my latest take on it:

Most of the arguments people are giving in support of Rockstar strike me as ethical or moral arguments. While I have sympathy to those arguments, and indeed I don't think there's anything wrong per se with content that's on a disc and not part of the game from an ethical/moral standpoint, this isn't one of the two issues here.

Issue 1: Rockstar's contract with the ESRB. This is a simple matter of looking at the contract the two of them signed and parsing the disclosure requirements. While none of us know for sure what the contract says, I think it's entirely likely that the contract required full disclosure of everything shipped on the disc, whether an integral part of the game or locked content. The actions of the ESRB seem to me to indicate that *they* think the content should have been disclosed.

A sub issue here is also whether the sex scene would have affected the rating, and though many of us, myself included, think the ratings system is crazy in how it deals with sexual content as opposed to violent content, based on what we've seen from the ESRB in the past the scene very well might have had an impact on the score.

Issue 2: The political issue. We live in a society where currently it is popular to bash video games as the source of all types of evils. GTA was hardly out of the political spotlight before this happened and all kinds of similar hearings and denouncements had happened about any number of things that you are able to do in the game. Given this political climate, Rockstar released a game, already controversial for the brutal carnage you can partake in, with an unlockable sex minigame. Now, maybe this was on purpose. It's possible that they knew this would get found and also knew that as one of the most popular and profitable franchises in recent years that their game was in a unique position to include this content and make an issue out of it. As has been pointed out, the ESRB is very intertwined with the industry and it's very unlikely that they'll give an AO rating to a game this popular, regardless of the content, so maybe Rockstar is just trying to push the boundaries on acceptable levels of sexual content.

I don't know what they're trying/intending to do, and nobody else does outside the company. What we do know is that this is just one more thing to jump on if you're a person that thinks there's something wrong with video games today, and if this wasn't some intentional move by Rockstar then it was a huge damn mistake. Whether they intended it or not or whether it's an integral part of the game or some locked minigame, however, does not matter to the politicians. The content is there, in millions of children's homes across the country, and the debate is whether it *should* be there, regardless of how it's accessed, and also whether parents should be made aware of this content before they bring it into their homes.

I understand the frustration with the political process, but this happens every time there's some new artistic expression. It happened to Rock n' Roll, it's still happening to Rap, and it's going to continue to happen with video games until the kids that grew up on GTA are in thier 50s and are deeply involved in politics.
What are your thoughts? Should the ESRB change the rating? Should the government be involved? Have any questions about the situation that I haven't done a very good job of making clear? Post in the comments!

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