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ESRB Responds To  Grand Theft Auto  Rating Controversy

ESRB Responds To Grand Theft Auto Rating Controversy

July 8, 2005 | By Simon Carless

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has released an official statement announcing an investigation into Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

This follows yesterday's news of California politician Leland Yee's criticism of a possible 'mod' for the game which unlocks allegedly already-present, unfinished 'dating game' functionality in the title that includes sex mini-games with nude in-game characters.

The full statement from the voluntary game ratings board explains: "The ESRB has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 'Hot Coffee' modification for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game published by Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., to determine if there has been a violation of ESRB Rules and Regulations requiring full disclosure of pertinent content. "

The press release continues: "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. If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate action."

Finally, the statement clarifies the original rating given to the game, explaining: "ESRB assigned Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas a rating of M (Mature 17+) with content descriptors for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content and Use of Drugs."

It's still unclear how ratings for a game would be affected by unlockable gameplay which is not reachable during normal play, and, if actually created by Rockstar, was apparently not intended to be included in the final retail version.

The only possible alternate rating for the game would be an AO (Adults Only) brand, rarely given to any game except imported PC titles, often from Japan, which include extreme content. An AO rating would likely restrict in the extreme the number of stores that would be able to carry the game, but exchanging or remastering the title to remove any trace of the offending data could presumably return GTA: SA to its former rating.

In related news, the National Institute on Media and the Family, a conservative body that is frequently and notably critical of both the ESRB and the Grand Theft Auto series, issued a 'National Parental Warning' on this issue on Friday, with Dr. David Walsh bluntly stating: "We are calling upon Rockstar Games to come clean with the ESRB, the nation's retailers, and especially America's parents. What is your involvement in the production and distribution of pornographic content in your game? What do you know about the "Hot Coffee" scenes, and what are you doing to inform the public?"

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