Monday, July 25, 2005

Hot Coffee is a Red Herring

The recent controversy over the Hot Coffee mod of Take2 Interactive's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game -- a hacker-created modification unlocks a hidden mini-game involving graphic sexual intercourse -- is completely missing the point. I'll get to that, but first let me address the points that others have been debating.

The first point is the obvious one: is this sort of thing appropriate for a video game? From what I've seen, the content is certainly graphic and I can understand how it might be shocking to people who are not used to seeing such acts depicted in visual media. A movie containing such a scene would no doubt earn an R rating, restricting access to moviegoers age 17 and over. By this measure it seems appropriate that GTA:SA was originally rated M by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), restricting purchase to gamers age 17 and over. Furthermore, the offending content is not even accessible without applying the aforementioned software patch, which is in no way endorsed by Take2.

Which brings me to the second point of debate: who is responsible for Hot Coffee, and for software 'mods' in general? On the face of it, Take2 is in the right. The terms of use forbid the type of modification required to access the Hot Coffee scene. It is common practice for developers to leave unused content on a disc in the interest of avoiding production delays. However, in today's software climate it is unlikely the developers did not anticipate this particular mod. It is more likely the developers intended this as a way to release content without taking responsibility for it.

Unfortunately for Take2, the reaction of the ESRB was swift and unprecedented. Within days they had re-rated the game Adults Only, the video game equivalent of NC-17, and the kiss of death as Wal-Mart and other large chains refuse to carry such titles. No doubt there are some recent Take2 employees now looking for work. Like a recalcitrant child, Take2 has continually pushed the envelope of free speech with its games to see just how much it could get away with. With the Hot Coffee mod and subsequent public outcry -- led by political powers such as Sen. Clinton -- they found out.

The problem here is that the public's moral values -- or at least the ones portrayed by the media -- are completely out of whack. By definition, most of the activities in Grand Theft Auto games are not only destructive and harmful, but patently illegal. Consensual sex is neither. Any way you look at it, there is just no comparison.

Compare the Hot Coffee sex scene with any of these killing scenes from Manhunt, another Take2 game rated M. Which do you feel is potentially more harmful to kids? Personally, I think an emotionally-mature 17 year old can handle both without losing perspective. But the real crux of the matter is this:

A game which glorifies theft and destruction of property, and the killing of police and innocent bystanders with gratuitous violence, finally got pulled from the shelves for a relatively tame depiction of consensual sex.

Does no one else see a problem with this?


"The industry group revoked the game's M rating, which labeled it appropriate for players 17 or older, and re-filed it under AO for "adults only" -- raising the minimum age to 18, the year at which a delicate teen becomes less susceptible to the harmful influence of computer-generated cartoon sex." - Kevin Poulsen, Wired


Anonymous said...

If I spilled Hot Coffee on my lap, could I sue for millions?

I entirely agree with you. I just think no one ever lost an election by bashing Hollywood and porn and video games depicting porn...

Not a lot of it makes a lot of sense. The Godfather, widely heralded as one of the greatest movies of all time, has both gratuitous sex and violence. Now video games have evolved to the point where they're not just for kids, but for mature audiences, like a Godfather movie. I think people are just unsure how to handle it. For sure kids below 17 shouldn't be buying video games with sex scenes, I think we can all agree on that. But please, spare me your shock and outrage Senator Clinton.

Anonymous said...

People only pay attention once sex is involved. And the people who stick their noses in only do so because they're not getting any (read: Hillary).

How many people complained that the sex scene in Ms. PacMan was inappropriate? Nobody. Know why? Because it ended in a stork dropping off a baby. Christians were okay with that. Now if PacMan had simply banged Ms PacMan, fed her a few power pellets...someone would've ended up mad.

By the way, is Ms. Pacman his sister or something?! It's not MRS. Pacman. Why else would they have the same last name?! Are they divorced? I've never completed the game, so I have no idea what happens in the end.

M-Rated games should not be sold to minors. Period. 17+? Absolutely. If minors get to play those games, it should be in the basement on a Friday night, with a copy that someone stole from their older brother. Just like the first porn I ever saw. Although now I'm thinking the first porn I ever saw was the Ms. Pacman sex scene.

Anonymous said...

There's a Ms. Pacman sex scene? That's hot.

Jamey Lawton said...

I think this is a perception problem. I do not think our parent’s generation realizes that video games are not just for kids.
My parents think it is absolutely absurd to have an xbox in the living room.
Maybe if parents would spend more time working on a better family environment at home, the children would have the ability to choose what is right and wrong and stand up for their own actions. The next generation should be called the "Entitlement Generation" or the "No Consequences" generation because that’s how they feel. I am sincerely concerned with what will happen 5 years from now when the 15 year olds have a voice. I believe the prevalence of divorce is what causes the bulletproof feeling my brothers age group has. If parents give up so easy, why should they stick out anything difficult?
I am not preaching as I am far from the model citizen or parent, but if my son stabs a police officer, I will not be on Oprah blaming a programmer for his actions.

Oge said...

Older adults always attack new media they're not familiar with. It happened with movies in the early 1900's, it happened with TV in the 50's and now it's video games. The same people who's parents yelled at them for listening to Led Zeppelin are yelling at their kids for playing GTA. Once again, I'm just waiting for these old fuckos to die so we can inherit the Earth.

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