Sen. Clinton assails porn version of Grand Theft Auto game

She urges FTC probe of modification that can be downloaded

July 15, 2005|By Steven Bodzin and Alex Pham | Steven Bodzin and Alex Pham,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, called yesterday for a federal investigation into a downloadable modification that turns the best-selling computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas into an interactive pornographic movie.

Clinton's comments are part of the latest skirmish in the continuing battle between the entertainment industry and those seeking to keep children away from programs with sexual and violent content.

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

Contending that video game dealers and manufacturers have done too little to protect young people from games that "steal their innocence," Clinton also said at a news conference that she will introduce a bill that would fine video game dealers $5,000 for selling games rated mature and adult to underage buyers.

Video game retailers countered that Clinton's proposal would be unconstitutional and would amount to censorship.

"Rather than proposing restrictions that are counterproductive and cannot be sustained legally, Senator Clinton should be working with retailers and the video game industry to educate parents about video game ratings," said Bo Andersen, president of the Video Software Dealers Association, a trade group of more than 1,000 retailers.

Clinton, comparing the sale of violent and pornographic video games to that of alcohol and tobacco, said it is time for a law "with real teeth."

"We have reached the point where video games with truly pornographic and violent content are being peddled to our children," she said.

Published by New York-based Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the Grand Theft Auto franchise was first criticized in 2001, when the version released that year allowed players to kill police officers, run over pedestrians and hire prostitutes. Its notoriety, however, revolved around its violent content.

That changed last month when a software modification of the game circulated over the Internet. The program, called "Hot Coffee," allows a player, represented by an animated man, to engage in a wide range of nude sex acts with a female character known as "the girlfriend."

The modification does not affect the versions of the game sold for the X-Box and PlayStation 2 consoles.

Take-Two said the pornographic version of its game "is the work of a determined group of hackers who have gone to significant trouble to alter scenes. Hackers created the `hot coffee' modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game's code."

"These scenes were created by the mod community and have generated a lot of confusion about the nature of our games and of the video game industry in general," said Rodney Walker, a spokesman for Take-Two.

Some among the programmers worldwide who modify commercial games for fun, said in postings on hobbyist Web sites that the pornographic program was already embedded in the computer version of the game and that the scenes could be unlocked with a small piece of programming code. They pointed out that the downloadable modification is 41 kilobytes, making it all but impossible that it includes complex programming.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, a private game ratings group, said July 8 that it had begun an inquiry into the game, which carries a mature rating.

If the pornographic section was included intentionally, the game would have qualified for an adults-only rating, a designation attached to 18 of the more than 1,000 titles rated by the board last year.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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