‘Grand’ ratings flap

Clinton seeks FTC inquiry of voluntary system

WASHINGTON — The hack that turns the “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” videogame into an adult video is now turning up the political heat on the game industry and its voluntary rating system.

On Thursday, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate the “adequacy” of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board system in general, and the Mature (M) rating assigned to “Grand Theft Auto.”

Clinton also said she would soon introduce legislation to “put some teeth” into game ratings by imposing a $5,000 fine on retailers who fail to enforce the rating restrictions.

“We should all be deeply disturbed that a game which now permits the simulation of lewd sexual acts in an interactive format with highly realistic graphics has fallen into the hands of young people across the country,” Clinton wrote. “I therefore urge you to take immediate action to determine the source of this content and the appropriateness of the M rating in light of its vast accessibility.”

TakeTwo said any investigation should be conducted by ESRB and accused its critics of fanning “fear and mistrust of a new entertainment medium.”

Retail groups also reacted with alarm.

“The senator is understandably upset about software that adds content to or unlocks content in ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ (but) nothing about that episode suggests any deficiencies in retailers’ programs to assist parents in choosing games wisely,” Video Software Dealers Assn. president Bo Andersen said.

Piping Hot Coffee

The controversy first flared earlier this month, when Dutch game enthusiast Patrick Wildenborg released a hack — called a “mod” in game parlance — for “GTA: San Andreas” that allows players to access graphic scenes and “minigames” in which the main character has sex in various positions with his virtual girlfriends.

Wildenborg claims his mod, called Hot Coffee, merely “unlocks” material that was already contained on the “GTA: San Andreas” DVD.

The mod, which works only with the PC version of the game, spread quickly on the Internet and drew the attention of the National Institute on Media and the Family, a Minneapolis-based advocacy group, which called on ESRB to investigate whether the game should have received a rating of AO, for Adults Only, rather than M.

We’re the victim

In a statement issued July 13, however, TakeTwo subsidiary Rockstar Games, the creator of the Grand Theft Auto series, insisted it was the victim of a malicious hack, not a purveyor of pornography.

“So far we have learned that the ‘hot coffee’ modification is the work of a determined group of hackers who have gone to significant trouble to alter scenes in the official version of the game,” the company said.

ESRB said it would investigate further to determine the source of the Hot Coffee material.