House backs federal investigation of Rockstar Games

[UPDATE] Hot Coffee scandal intensifies as legislators vote 355-21 to support a Federal Trade Commission probe seeking answers from the Take-Two subsidiary.

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Just when you thought the Hot Coffee scandal couldn't get any hotter, the heat is getting turned way up--by the federal government, no less.

Just after 7:00pm on Capitol Hill today, the House of Representatives voted 355 to 21 to support a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The purpose of the probe will be to determine if Take-Two Interactive and its publishing subsidiary Rockstar Games deceived the voluntary Entertainment Software Ratings Board when it submitted Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Today's vote advanced House Resolution 376, introduced by Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI). In Upton's words, he is "leading the congressional effort to determine if a best-selling video game maker intentionally deceived the industry's ratings board to avoid an 'Adults-Only' rating."

In a statement, Upton recently said he was "outraged by the brazenness of Rockstar Games in their effort to do an end-run around the ratings system... Rockstar Games' deceit has severely undermined the integrity of the ratings system."

The game initially received a rating of M for Mature but has since been slapped with a rating of AO for Adults Only, becoming one of only a handful of games to bear the retailer-scorned label. Rockstar is in the process of manufacturing new game discs that have the hidden sex minigame removed. Those versions of the game will be rated M.

The vote, coming on the eve of a five-week recess in Congress, means that Rockstar could now come under scrutiny by the federal government. It also raises the possibility that there could be a penalty imposed if an investigation finds that the publisher committed fraud in obtaining the M rating for San Andreas.

[UPDATE] According to attorney Jack Thompson, an outspoken critic of Rockstar Games, the resolution does not have the binding effect of law; it simply expresses the overwhelming sentiment of the House of Representatives that the Federal Trade Commission should investigate the matter fully.

As for where the House resolution might lead, Thompson told GameSpot that from his perspective, additional action inside the beltway was likely: "I have spoken with leaders on the Hill on all this, and you can look for Congressional hearings on this in the fall."

GameSpot will have more details on the investigation as further information is made available.

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