In Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, gamers can play basketball, play pool, dance, grab some fast food, buy clothes, work out at the gym, base jump, have girlfriends, and race remote-controlled cars--all completely legal activities in the real world. However, the game's main character can also shoot innocent bystanders, stomp the heads of prostitutes into a bloody pulp, and launch rocket-propelled grenades at police helicopters--all decidedly illegal outside the realm of gaming.
But it's a new downloadable modification that can unlock sexually explicit minigames that The National Institute on Media and the Family says has pushed the game "over the edge."
The Minneapolis-based watchdog group, founded by Dr. David Walsh, previously decried the game for its glorification of cop-killing with an online petition. Now the group is issuing a National Parental Warning for the game, giving concerned mothers and fathers a heads-up that their children could be playing with their joysticks in an inappropriate way.
The National Institute on Media and the Family joins an already active debate on the game, its content, and the appropriateness of its current M rating.
Rumors of the boot-knockin' romps first surfaced when a modder discovered unused code in the PlayStation 2 version while snooping around a hacked version of the game. PlayStation 2s aren't very hacker-friendly, so the minigames remained largely a part of lore among the game's fans.
PCs, on the other hand, are very susceptible to hacking, and within a week of San Andreas' release on the platform, a mod that went by the moniker "Hot Coffee" was released on the Internet. Now widely reported in the Associated Press and other outlets, the mod was authored by 36-year-old Patrick Wildenborg, a Dutch gamer and a member of the modder community, those computer users who alter a game's programming for creative purposes, often adding new character "skins," altering weapons, or adding new items as aspiring game developers.
The retail release of the game does allow for the game's protagonist, CJ, to indulge in blatantly sexual activity with his girlfriends--any in-game activity of that sort takes place behind closed doors and is merely accompanied by suggestive sounds. The Hot Coffee mod lets gamers into the bedroom to watch CJ get in flagrante delicto with a lady and even have control over the participants' actions.
Wildenborg insists that the X-rated code is already in the game and that all his patch does is bypass the game's "censor flags." Rockstar has remained largely quiet on the situation, but a representative from the company did tell GameSpot on Friday that the explicit code was not inserted by Rockstar or its agents in the retail discs. Attempts to reach Wildenborg by e-mail for comment were unanswered as of press time.
Meanwhile, Walsh, author of the teenage psychology book Why Do They Act That Way?, is asking Rockstar to fess up. In his organization's National Parental Warning, Walsh pleads, "We are calling upon Rockstar Games to come clean with the ESRB, the nation's retailers, and especially America's parents. What is your involvement in the production and distribution of pornographic content in your game? What do you know about the 'Hot Coffee' scenes, and what are you doing to inform the public?"
Currently, the ESRB is conducting an investigation into the game to determine the origin of the pornographic portions. If Rockstar is found to be guilty of including the content in the game's code, even without its being readily accessible, the product can be slapped with an AO (Adults Only) rating, which could cripple game sales.