July 14, 2005

Sen. Clinton Seeks ‘Grand Theft’ Sex Scene Probe

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Clinton pressed on Thursday for a government investigation into how simulated sex cropped up in a modified version of the blockbuster criminal adventure video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

Clinton asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate the origins of a downloadable modification that allows simulated sex in the personal computer version of one of the most popular and controversial video games in history.

"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 in a letter to the head of the Federal Trade Commission.

Saying the problem of explicit video games was "spiraling out of control," Clinton also said she was introducing legislation that would crack down on the sale of violent and sex-laden games to minors.

The legislation would impose a $5,000 penalty on retailers who sell adult-rated video games to underage children.

Clinton asked the FTC to look into whether Grand Theft Auto's rating of "M" (Mature 17+) should be changed to the rare "AO" (Adult Only), which would threaten to crimp sales at large retail outlets.

She requested the agency to study whether retailers' enforcement policies were adequate to keep adult-rated video games out of the hands of minors.

An FTC spokeswoman said the agency had received Clinton's letter and was reviewing it.

Clinton's comments were the latest in a chorus of criticism that has intensified since the revelation about sex scenes in the modified Grand Theft Auto. The game series has drawn numerous detractors because of its sexual and violent content.

Players who download a modification, known as "hot coffee," from the Internet can make a male character engage in various sex acts with a virtual "girlfriend." Sex is suggested in the official version of the game, but does not happen on screen.

The game's manufacturer, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. called Rockstar Games, has said hackers are responsible for the modification.

In a statement released on Thursday, Rockstar said it supported the video game rating system and efforts to keep adult-rated games away from children.

But without referring to Clinton, the company said it was "disappointed by comments that misrepresent Grand Theft Auto, detracting from the innovative and artistic merits of the game."

"Unfortunately, the recent confusion only serves to suggest that games do not deserve the same treatment as other forms of creative expression," Rockstar said in its statement.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board last week launched a probe into whether the sexual minigame content was deliberately hidden in the game code and unlocked by the "hot coffee" modification, or if it was solely the result of the modification.

The "hot coffee" modification, which violates the game's software user agreement, is the result of hackers disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game's source code, Rockstar said.

The PlayStation2 version of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" was the No. 1 game of 2004, selling just over 5 million copies, according to industry researcher NPD Funworld.