Los Angeles (CA) – Today’s announcement by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office of having filed a lawsuit last Thursday against Rockstar Games, the makers of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” and Take-Two Entertainment, its publisher, is the latest in a string of events that has kept the game critics would rather be kept under wraps, in the public eye.
A modification to the game called “Hot Coffee,” published by another source, makes assets that were allegedly kept hidden to general players publicly available. This shift of assets changes the plot of the game, so that its central character can be shown having sexual relations with one of its more minor (read: female) characters. A modification to the modification enables the depiction of those relations to be extensively more graphic or, as L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo contended last Thursday, pornographic. More curiously, perhaps, it does not involve either theft or automobiles.
Delgadillo’s objections concern the publisher’s and manufacturer’s lack of disclosure of the existence of the pornographic content, the discovery of which last July prompted the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to reclassify the game as “Adults Only: 18+.” Its rating at release time was “Mature.” Failure to have disclosed the content’s existence, alleges the suit, is a violation of California state law.
“Greed and deception are part of the ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ story – and in that respect its publishers are not much different from the characters in their story,” Delgadillo is quoted as saying. By not disclosing the “AO” content at release time, the statement alleges, Take-Two avoided having to narrow the scope of the game’s release, which is generally undesirable among publishers, whose sales could be restricted as a result. “Businesses have an obligation to truthfully disclose the content of their products,” his statement continues, “whether in the food we eat or the entertainment we consume.”
The lawsuit charges the developer and publisher with violation’s of the city’s civil code, the maximum penalty for which is $2,500. But the statement says the City will also be asking the publishers to “disgorge” some of the profits from the game’s sale, for which there may be little precedent.
The story behind the game is actually a complex tale of mob-driven corruption, urban decay, and social unrest, among which the stealing of cars actually plays a minor role. Central characters involve a variety of thugs on various levels from street vendors to mobsters to media moguls. The player’s interaction with these characters affects the plot to varying degrees, though of whom are all part of a vast and complex backstory. It’s this element that separates the concept of this game from that of a standard shoot-’em-up.
That said, quite a bit of shooting does take place at various points, and weaponry is part of the game’s legal tender. The player may, at opportune times, choose to utilize rocket-launched grenades or high-power automatic weapons, the effects of which are also thoroughly depicted. Since cars are indeed part of the game, vehicular manslaughter is a frequent option. The City Attorney’s objections last week, however, concern a depiction of a sexual encounter with a girl wearing a nurse’s uniform, which apparently may be removed to reveal an artificial 3D pink skin surface, which may be too shocking for the kids.
Controversy over “GTA” has apparently been brewing, if not boiling, within the publisher’s own ranks. The day before the City Attorney’s office announced its lawsuit, as GameSpot reported last week, Take-Two revealed in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that Barbara Kaczynski, who served on the company’s board of directors and governance committee, resigned from the company. Kaczynski’s letter of resignation reportedly gave no explanation, though her lawyers apparently revealed that she had been having difficulty communicating with the company’s executives. Their topic of contention may have been behind the company’s delayed filing of its annual report with the SEC. This would be an opportune point to insert some little quip about art imitating life.