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Video Game Cases – Grand Theft Auto “Hot Coffee”

The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series is one of the most profitable gaming franchises in America. Well-known for both its innovative play and its extremely violent content, it has won several important awards.

The series is developed by Rockstar and published by Take Two. The latest game in the series is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA: SA). The developer Rockstar describes the game's content as the following:

Five years ago Carl Johnson escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas... a city tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. Where filmstars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers.Now, it's the early 90s. Carl's got to go home. His mother has been murdered, his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster.

On his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.

Liberty City. Vice City. Now San Andreas, a new chapter in the legendary series.

[source: Gamespot]

In July 2005, the Dutch modder Patrick Wildenborg released a hack - Hot Coffee - which activates a previously inaccesible sex mini-game [1]. The original hack did not feature any nudity, but a mod based on Wildenborg's hack, which was released later, replaces game textures with flesh-toned bitmaps [2]. The Hot Coffee affair was widely reported both in gaming as well as mainstream media [3].

Rockstar released a press statment in which they rejected any responsibility for the Hot Coffee mod [4].

Hillary Clinton launched an investigation of the Hot Coffee affair:

A statement distributed by the Senator's office this afternoon sets the scene, stating that "following recent reports revealing that the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has graphic pornographic content which may be unlocked by following instructions on the Internet, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will hold a press conference to discuss legislative solutions to keep inappropriate video game content out of the hands of young people." The statement makes no mention of asking the FTC to step in, but sources tell GameSpot that this request will be the centerpiece of the Senator's plea tomorrow.

[source: Gamespot]

Following Senator Clinton's involvement, Jack Thompson sent an open letter to various politicians and media. His letter is a sharp attack against the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) and their president Doug Lowenstein, as seen in this excerpt from a Gamespot article:

However, it's the current kerfuffle over an M-for-Mature-rated game that spurred Thompson's letter. Addressed to an assortment of developers and publishers ranging from Electronic Arts to id Software, the latter of which Thompson partly blames for the Columbine massacre, the letter blasts "the inept fashion in which ESA has 'managed' the 'Hot Coffee' mod scandal... Doug Lowenstein could have prevented what is going to happen today, but he preferred to shoot the messengers."

Thompson had similarly sharp words on the ESA's defense that the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which says "congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," prohibits game censorship. Said Thompson, "Doug Lowenstein embarrasses each and every one of you when he holds forth about what the 'Founders' intended when they drafted the Bill of Rights [the first 10 amendments to the Constitution]. For Doug, the Founders are GTA's Tommy Vercetti and Carl Johnson. Doug never met a pixilated prostitute he didn't like, and I'm sure James Madison would be impressed."

At one point, Thompson tries to win ESA members over to his side. "If the ESA wants as its president a thug who demonizes critics of your industry's criminal, frauduelnt [sic] excesses, thereby earning their wrath and their determination, then by all means keep Mr. Lowenstein at the helm." Later, he took a blunter approach. "[Lowenstein's] extremism has painted a bullseye on your industry. Doug Lowenstein has the brush and [GTA publisher] Take-Two has provided the blood red paint...get rid of this highly-paid thug and replace him with someone with sense."

[Source: Gamespot]

Under the public pressure by people like Senator Clinton, the ESRB decided to change their rating system, so that all the content of a game disc, even if not accessible, must now be submitted to the ESRB:

There was no misquoting Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB. In a sternly worded statement on the ESRB site, she said "we have concluded that sexually explicit material exists in a fully rendered, unmodified form on the final discs of all three platform versions of the game (i.e., PC CD-ROM, Xbox, and PS2)." She also had harsh words for Take-Two. "Considering the existence of the undisclosed and highly pertinent content on the final discs, compounded by the broad distribution of the third party modification, the credibility and utility of the initial ESRB rating has been seriously undermined," she said. "Going forward, the ESRB will now require all game publishers to submit any pertinent content shipped in final product even if is not intended to ever be accessed during game play, or remove it from the final disc."

[source: Gamespot]
This resulted in a rerating of GTA:SA to AO [5]. Further, the game was banned in Australia [6].

Thompson later claimed that not only GTA:SA contained a sex mini-game, but that similar content can be found in GTA: Vice City too:

But this e-mail [by Thompson], addressed to ESRB President Patricia Vance, is titled "Kiss the ESRB Goodbye, and starts out with the following:

"The video game enthusiasts' web site, www.gamepolitics.com is now reporting, today, that hidden sex scenes are also contained on Take-Two/Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This is the same news site that broke the "Hot Coffee mod" story re San Andreas, so it has proven itself reliable. Read all about it at the above-noted site right this minute...The significance of this is huge..."

[source: Gamepolitcs]

It does not appear that GamePolitics had such a comment on their site, and there is absolutely no evidence of a hidden sex minigame in Vice City [7], [8].

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