- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The video-game industry yesterday changed to adults-only the rating of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” a best-selling title in which explicit sexual content can be unlocked with an Internet download.

The decision followed intense pressure from politicians and media watchdog groups.

Grand Theft Auto’s producer, Rockstar Games, said it is working on a new version of the game that would satisfy the original “M” for mature rating. It said it would provide new labels to any retailer willing to continue selling the version currently on store shelves.

Rockstar’s parent, Take Two Interactive, also admitted for the first time yesterday that the sex scenes had been built into the retail game — not just the PC version but also those written for Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles.

Company officials had suggested that a modification created by outsiders added the scenes to the game, last year’s best seller in consoles.

“There is sex content in the disc,” said Take-Two spokesman Jim Ankner. “The editing and finalization of any game is a complicated task, and it’s not uncommon for unused and unfinished content to remain on the disc.”

The sex scenes, inserted in a game whose main character seeks bloody vengeance on gang-filled streets while picking up scantily clad women, had prompted outrage from parent’s groups and politicians including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

In a statement, the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) said the sex scenes were programmed by Rockstar “to be inaccessible to the player.”

But ESRB chief Patricia Vance also acknowledged that the “credibility and utility” of the industry-run board’s initial “M” rating had been “seriously undermined.”

Many retailers sell “M”-rated games, which “may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older,” according to the rating board. but won’t sell “AO”-labeled games at all.

The ratings change was vindication for Patrick Wildenborg, the Dutch programmer who developed and freely distributed the modification that unlocked the hidden content in the game’s PC version.

Such “mods” are wildly popular in the hard-core gaming community and — authorized or not — exploit the medium’s interactive nature to extend the playing life of many popular titles.

The Parents Television Council, a group that monitors sex and violence in the media, said it was pleased with the rating switch but called on Rockstar to voluntarily recall the game and offer refunds to anyone who purchased it.

“I tip my cap to that first step of showing responsibility,” said Tim Winter, the council’s executive director. “Phase two needs to be absolutely getting to the bottom of this coding issue. How did it get into that game? How did it get past the ratings board?”

The ESRB was formed 11 years ago amid congressional pressure to crack down on violent video games. The board now issues ratings for more than 1,000 game titles each year.

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