For anyone who hasn’t heard already, the background for this story is that someone allegedly created a mod called “Hot Coffee” that adds a sexual mini-game to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As a result, Rockstar Games, which was suspected at one point of hiding the mini-game in GTA, has been embroiled in controversy over whether the ratings system for games works. The latest to weigh in is Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Now, I haven’t played San Andreas, but I have played Vice City, and it’s fun. (Then again, my favorite games are role-playing games that have my characters slaughtering hundreds of opponents before the end of the game, so I’m thinking the step from there to street criminal is not so long.) I would never let my child pay it. And, as it turns out, it suggests that very same thing, right there on the box, where San Andreas is rated M, meaning not recommended for anyone under 17.

What amazes me, though, is that in a game where you play a criminal who can beat random people on the street until blood spatters the sidewalk, rob them of their money, and then steal a car — and that’s the regular start to your day — the controversy now is about sex? Sex is what makes the difference between the ratings M (Mature) and AO (Adults Only)? Not the murder and mayhem, just the sex. Right.

BTW, the difference between M and AO is that the first one recommends you be 17 or older when you buy the game, while the other recommends you be 18 or older. I have a feeling that year doesn’t make much of a difference, since most parents buying the game for their ten-year-olds will be over 18 anyway. 😐

One of the questions in the current controversy is whether stores should be required to check for actual proof of age when someone is buying a game. I’m all for that. In any state where movie theaters are required to check ages, stores should be as well. It’s just not that burdensome.

However, another question is whether “parents do not have good enough information to protect their children.” Somehow I don’t buy that one. While it may be a good political move to pretend that kids are playing these games because parents are overwhelmed by the evil influences of the outside world and simply don’t have enough information, the ratings system is pretty clear and transparent. Perhaps a good start would be to check games before buying them? Nah, that would make too much sense. (I know, one response could be that the child could buy the game on their own. Given prices of $49 for a new game, that’s a great indication of how much the world has changed since I was a kid.)

Update: GTA: San Andreas has been re-rated as AO (Adult Only). As a result, retailers are pulling the game until they can get a cleaner version, where you can only beat up and kill people, not have sex with them.

BTW, earlier comments aside, it seems obvious that the code was already in the game, and merely was unlocked by the mod. Rockstar’s got some explaining to do.

In the meantime, I hope this doesn’t convince other software authors to lock down their code from any modifications. Mods have become an integral part of gaming. So, Secret content that you don’t show to the Ratings Board = Bad, The ability to make a mod = Good.