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.
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