For all its gangsta glorification (carjackings, drive-by shootings), the popular videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas avoided association with entertainment’s most explosive no-no: graphic depictions of sex. Until now. In June, a Dutch hacker discovered a ”hidden” part of the game — accessible only by entering special codes — showing characters having sex. The result? The biggest uproar over sexual content since Nipplegate.
At first Rockstar Games, publisher of the best-selling GTA series, denied such material existed, but later admitted it was aware of the content. ”We didn’t want it in the final version,” explains company rep Rodney Walker. ”So we followed the industry practice of breaking up the code and hiding it.” Although Rockstar will ship a ”clean” version later this year, the damage is done. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the gaming industry’s MPAA, has slapped GTA with an Adults Only rating (the equivalent of NC-17), resulting in retailers pulling nearly all existing copies. With Rockstar standing to lose up to $50 million in sales, the government has entered the fray. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) promised to introduce legislation setting fines for retailers selling violent or sexually explicit games to minors, and on July 25, Illinois became the first state to criminalize such sales. The same day, the House of Representatives asked the FTC to investigate Rockstar and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive Software. Rockstar, for its part, now seems contrite. ”We want the [current] system to work,” says Walker. ”If it’s weakened, we’re all in trouble.”