Hot Coffee, anyone?
The controversy surrounding Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the so-called "Hot Coffee" sex animations, and the Entertainment Software Rating Board has moved from the blogosphere to the mainstream media. The first print coverage, but certainly not the last, began yesterday when California Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) issued a press release criticizing the ESRB for failing to tag GTA:SA with an "AO" (adults only) rating.
"The ESRB and the video game industry cannot police themselves and this is yet another example of why we need legislation to limit these types of games to children," said Yee. His comments received widespread media coverage.
The AP picked up the story after a "national parental alert" was issued by the National Institute for Media and the Family. GamePolitics was interviewed by the AP's Ron Harris for the article. Perhaps the most notable item in Harris' piece is a lengthy quote he obtained from Dutch gamer Patrick Wildenborg of Deventer, Netherlands (we knew him simply as PatrickW). Wildenborg affirmed to Harris what he had previously told GamePolitics - that his mod simply unlocks content included on the GTA:SA disc.
"If Rockstar Games denies that, then they're lying and I will be able to prove that. My mod does not introduce anything to the game. All the content that is shown was already present on the DVD," Wildenborg told the AP.
Like GamePolitics, the AP couldn't pry loose a comment from Rockstar as to whether the company placed the content on the DVD.
On the web, GameDAILY BIZ was likewise unable to obtain a comment from Rockstar, but did cover the ESRB's response to Assemblyman Yee. ESRB President Patricia Vance characterized Yee's comments as purely political.
"Assemblyman Yee has been on a crusade for years to undermine the integrity of the ESRB, and in so doing, generate support for his legislative agenda," Vance told GameDAILY Biz. She did confirm what GamePolitics reported several days ago - that the ESRB has opened an investigation into the Hot Coffee mod and how it came about.
"The integrity of the ESRB rating system is founded on the trust of consumers who increasingly depend on it to provide complete and accurate information about what's in a game," Vance said.
A GameSpot report added a new tidbit - a denial from Rockstar, although it is not attributed to anyone in particular.
It's safe to say that we haven't heard the last of this one. Since GamePolitics has already had quite a bit to say on the Hot Coffee topic (too much, some readers have opined), for the time being we will let others report on developments. It's a story which, in the words of GameSpot Editor Curt Feldman, shows "...signs of turning into a very real scandal."
Saturday, July 9th: Hiawatha Bray covers the Hot Coffee issue in a lengthy piece for the Boston Globe. Bray wraps up with a quote from ESRB head Patricia Vance: "I think it certainly raises issues about what's considered playable content," said Vance. And should there be complete disclosure of nonplayable content? Good question. No doubt Vance will sit down with some 'Hot Coffee' and think it over."
Saturday, July 9th: They're not exactly "mainstream," but Stein at GTA Central has weighed in on the breaking story with his take on California Assemblyman Leland Yee and the ESRB's role in the Hot Coffee controversy.
Saturday, July 9th: The Hot Coffee story now belongs to the world. It is being reported as far away as the Kashar News in Pakistan.
Monday, July 11th: The New York Times picks up the story. Reporter Steve Lohr calls it "an intriguing mystery...in which politics, business and simulated sex feature prominently..."
Monday, July 11th: The Register checks in on the subject from Great Britain. Most notably, ESRB President Patricia Vance is quoted as conceding that, "I think it certainly raises issues about what's considered playable content."
Monday, July 11th: ABC's World News Tonight covered Hot Coffee this evening. Interviewed were California Assemblyman Leland Yee and Dr. Walsh from the NIMF. ABC also showed portions of the Hot Coffee video, albeit with the juicy bits pixelated. The report noted that Patrick Wildenborg, who created the mod, declined an on-camera interview, and that Rockstar now denies even placing the animations on the disc.
Monday, July 11th: Stephen Totilo of MTV News adds further information with this report. Modder Patrick Wildenborg tells Totilo "the mod came about when 'some fellow modder discovered the animation sequences somewhere on the PS2 disc while browsing through its data files.' That revelation means that the code would have been buried in 2004's PlayStation 2 version. 'At first we thought these were just the regular leftovers from old gameplay ideas that had not been finished. But after further investigation with home-brewed tooling, I slowly discovered what emerged as a complete mini-game. But it was very carefully removed from the normal gameplay - to the best of my knowledge, all this stuff is under no circumstance playable on an original installation of the game. We were, however, able to craft a software-key that unlocks this content."
According to Totilo, Rockstar's position now is as follows:
"The scenes depicted in the 'Hot Coffee' modification are not represented or playable in the final version of the game available at any retail outlets. The 'Hot Coffee' scenes cannot be created without intentional and significant technical modifications to the PC version of the game's source code."
July 11th: EDITOR'S NOTE: We're re-dating this article to keep it up top as the Hot Coffee mod story is en fuego right now. Original publication date was July 8th.
July 12th: Gamasutra has just reported that the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), the government-run equivalent of the ESRB, has launched an official investigation into Hot Coffee. Director Des Clark commented, "Developments such as this are indicative of the increasingly complex technological world of entertainment in which we live. Our investigations show the National Classification Scheme at work and the Classification Board will take action, if required, when all the facts are established."
July 13th: We forgot to Tivo it, but Hot Coffee was served on The Early Show on CBS this morning. Guests were Dr. David Walsh and author Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You). Johnson made some good points, including, "Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon, was influenced by 'Catcher in the Rye.' The Manson family was influenced by listening to the Beatles. Borderline crazy people will be influenced by the media. The question is: Is there a long-term, larger trend in society towards more violence or less violence, based on these video games? We all know the trend in society over the last 10 years is towards much less violence than there was before." By the way, is it just us, or does the still photo on The Early Show website make Johnson look like he just stepped out of GTA: Vice City?