Having already tried to limit sales of M-rated games to minors in general, California assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is now lashing out at one game in particular. Yesterday, the politician and child psychologist fired a verbal broadside at the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) for "failing to appropriately rate" Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with an AO for Adults Only rating.
Yee took particular exception with the PC version of San Andreas, which, like its Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions, is rated M for Mature, meaning no one under the age of 17 should play it without an adult's consent. Yee took note of the apparent discovery of sex minigames hidden in the game's code that can be unlocked by a third-party mod. The game's publisher, Rockstar Games, has yet to even acknowledge the existence of the X-rated minigames, saying only that it has "no comment at this point."
"Once again, ESRB has failed our parents," Yee said in a statement. "Plain and simple, parents cannot trust the ESRB to rate games appropriately or the industry to look out for our children's best interests." The ESRB was created by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the preeminent game-industry lobby and organizers of the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Yee has long advocated local municipalities enact laws and other regulations when it comes to restricting the sale of games deemed to depict graphic sex and violence. The ESRB, on the other hand, encourages retailers to self-regulate and restrict the sale of games based on its ratings.
"Clearly the ESRB has a conflict of interest in rating these games," said Yee, who accused the body of shying away from an AO rating by design. Most major retailers refuse to carry games with an AO rating, making it impossible for games to get the widespread distribution needed for blockbuster-level sales. The PlayStation 2 version of San Andreas was the best-selling game of 2004, selling 5.1 million copies as of last December, according to NPD Funworld.
Yee says he has long advocated that the ESRB rate San Andreas AO, and his ardor was reinvigorated by recent reports of the game's hidden sexual content. "This particular game has been known to include extremely heinous acts of violence, and now it has been uncovered that the game also includes explicit sexual scenes that are inappropriate for our children," Yee said. "I have urged the ESRB on numerous occasions to rate this game AO based on its blatantly graphic nature."
Yee further reminds the public in yesterday's statement that bill A.B. 450, introduced by Yee in February, is still in play. Calling the bill "stalled on the Assembly floor," Yee says he "continues to work with various stakeholders on the bill." A.B. 450 would, in Yee's words, "prohibit the sale and rental of violent games that depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, to persons who are 16 years of age or younger."
The ESRB says it will issue a response to Yee's statement before the close of business today.