Grand Theft A Grand Overreaction?

Would you rent an R rated movie for your child? What about a movie rated NC-17? And if you did ignore the MPA rating, and your child ended up viewing highly inappropriate content, whose fault would that be?
In case you are the only human who has yet to hear this vital news, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas contains pixilated sexual activity in game play that (although not viewable out of the box) can be enabled using freely downloadable mods.
Uh oh, uproar time. The product has been rerated with an AO (adults only) rating. And even Hillary Clinton has weighed in demanding increased legislation and stiffer penalties to keep violent or pornographic video games away from children.
I have never played any of the Grand Theft Auto games. Frankly, they just don’t appeal to me. I have also not bought them for my kids. Why? Because they carried an M rating (M as in mature). What does M mean? As per the ESRB, “Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.” And that text appears alongside the M rating on each and every box. In case that is not clear enough, the ESRB M rating is very similar to the MPA R rating. AO, by contrast, “should only be played by persons 18 years and older”, similar to the MPA NC-17 rating.
Not that ages 17 and 18 are that different. The real difference between games rated M and those rated AO is where they are sold. Target, Best Buy, and other stores are pulling Grand Theft Auto San Andreas from their shelves now that it is rated AO. But does that actually mean anything as far as game suitability is concerned? Does the fact that these stores sell M rated games mean that they are appropriate for kids? Games rated M are not for kids, it’s as simple as that! If you do chose to ignore the rating, well, you have no one to blame but yourself.
The games I buy for my kids are mostly rated E (everyone), and I’d consider a game rated T (teen) if it were researched thoroughly and found not to be inappropriate. But I don’t buy my kids games rated M because, well, they are rated M!
Then you Senator Clinton for your concern, but if parents don’t want their kids playing games clearly marked “for persons ages 17 and older” and “sexual content”, then don’t buy them games rated M! Duh!

34 responses to “Grand Theft A Grand Overreaction?”

  1. Jim Davis Avatar
    Jim Davis

    I agree with you Ben.
    Anyway I’d much prefer my kids to see a little bit of flesh rather than pretend to kill people.

  2. Raymond Camden Avatar
    Raymond Camden

    Ditto with Jim. I think I read someplace where it’s only in America where it is "better" a women get killed instead of a naked woman.

  3. M. Schopman Avatar
    M. Schopman

    The one thing that really makes me smile is that they actually say.
    "it is ok to murder, molest, deal drugs, but once there is a sign of nudity it becomes inappropriate" So it is no problem to let you kids murder others? Well it is virtual, but hey, the same counts for that patched fitness lesson.
    And that for a country with the largest porn industry, the largest industry with violent videos, the largest industry with erotic targeted videoclips with celebrities, and weapons available for everyone if you can afford one.
    Must be a difference of culture. I had the same feeling when Janet Jackson’s performance act showed a tit. Not only it was a bad tit, but it was like the entire sky felled down, A HUMAN TIT!
    How naive is that?

  4. Larry Kim Avatar
    Larry Kim

    The whole thing was just a big PR stunt, and well executed too — their video game has gotten so much free media coverage. Kudos to their marketing department.

  5. rd Avatar

    Seems funny to me, that in a game (which I’ve played btw) where you can pay for a hooker, have implied sex with her in your car, then run over and kill her, and finally take the money back. Thats all fine for selling in walmart! But oh my, theres a hack that allows you to have sex with a girlfriend! And because you can see the nudity, that warrants an uproar. Europe must think we are ridiculous.

  6. PaulC Avatar

    Just a clarification, it’s not pixelated. 😉
    I have the game. I see no real difference in what was shipped in the game, and what this hack/mod unlocks.
    If as a parent you think the latter is too explicit, the former is too. You don’t *see* it, but it makes it very clear what’s going on.
    I agree with you, there is a ratings system in place, and the new consoles will have parental control features. Bad parents are running out of people to point their fingers at.

  7. SteveB Avatar

    I agree with PaulC. If parents would actually parent their kids, this would be less of an issue. Too many adults let society parent their children instead of taking responsibility for them.

  8. Scott Barnes Avatar
    Scott Barnes

    heh, this had me laughing my butt off as here in Australia they typically aren’t bound by the US rating scheme. (We have our own and usually its ignored).
    One thing baffles me, is that in order to unlock the material(s) in question, you would have to have online access (ie to read the instructions or know of someone who does). Correct me if i am wrong, but isn’t pirating games online a common occurence amongst teens?
    "Hey steveo, can you burn me a copy of GTA:Sand, mum won’t buy it for me"
    I’m thinking Steveo’s not going to suddenly turn around and go "I would love to, but its AO rating and feel your not ready for such entertainment"
    This will make this game that much more attractive in terms of "must get list", pre-the-mod-hacking it was a gold rating. Now, it’s going to get higher.
    I myself own the game, and have played all previous versions. The title says it all "Grand Theft Auto" it promotes violence and "take what you want, when you want attitude". Does that mean me as a person or a child will suddenly attack a citizen and steal their car? normally no..but i’m sure in some obsecure pocket of suburban america someone with access to a Desert Eagle will disconnect from life, carry out the task and turn and say "the game made me do it".
    Law & Order SVU has already done a show about GTA:Sand, it was covertly done but the key signature was when your character would run over a woman, you would then get out of your car and stomp on her lifeless body and rob her.
    I remember my partner saying "as if they’d let a game like that be made heh" and i actually had to turn and say "it does exist, and i played it last night" – she was shocked. The sad part was, one had to admit its existance but really its not that shocking to play.
    Parents need to accept responsiblity for their children, and sooner or later THEY WILL be approached by someone for sex,drugs,violence. The absolute only chance you can provide your child with is the ability to "think" before they act. This has to do with the attitude in which you raised them and discipline you have cultivated their little minds with.
    Its way too easy to point the finger at evil and rant about it…in reality though? we are basically not far between those who used to point at someone and yell "heretic! burn em` at the stake paw" and those who agreed.
    If you plan on being a game developer, develop a nervous twitch around town centres that have enough room for a linchin…

  9. Ikke !! Avatar
    Ikke !!

    I think this is a perfect example of the overreacting American people.
    Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a beautiful country you have there, but your rules, laws and values are a bit weird. But I suppose you think the same about us (Dutch) 😉

  10. Marcos Placona Avatar
    Marcos Placona

    America is a nice place, but the laws are sometimes so stupid.
    Maybe here (UK) sometimes we have stupid laws, but sometimes America so awful! Seems like they need to manage life every time.
    Like Ikke said, "don’t misunderstand me", it’s just my opinion, and I can’t forget that the most of the readers here are from America ;o)

  11. Adam Reynolds Avatar
    Adam Reynolds

    If you want to get a good summary of what’s gone on head over to (Wednedays page, not todays).
    Basically the company that manufactured GTA SA, have stated that this is only available because of the "Hot Coffee" mod available to the PC and that this mod added this ‘sub game’
    Then somebody got hold of a sealed PS2 copy(non-modifiable), put in a load of cheat codes and bingo, the you could play the sex ‘sub-game’.
    I would like to point out that scoring points for driving over old ladies and children, compared to getting your timing right to satisfy a woman (which is the gist of the sub-game, and you don’t see any penetration) and THEN the USA has a problem is weird. Over here the game has an 18 rating.
    What is more disgusting is that the game authors initially denied they ever put that in the game.
    You need to look at your classification system.
    Then again we have topless women on page 3 of our newspapers and we don’t think that’s a problem.
    Sex isn’t a problem. Violence is.
    Adam (UK)

  12. Marcos Placona Avatar
    Marcos Placona

    Yes, I do agree violence is a problem, but it’s on our reality every time. It doesn’t mean that we need to play on it, but we do have to know what’s good and what’s not for children.
    I used to play GTA SA and didn’t even know about this mod. It’s a great game (not better than GTA Vice City), and the letter "M" is in big on the cover.
    Should some father buy this for children? No way, that’s why we have the big "M".
    Did u ever play "Carmagedon"? It was a best seller game where you earn points driving over people, but it was not a mod, it was the real game.
    Marcos (UK)

  13. k-sea Avatar

    There is a larger problem with Games on PS2 platform… I’ve never had to enter my password to play a game regardless of rating. Yet when I play an R rated move I have to enter my 4 digit password to continue to play… Seems every game rated even at teen age groups should have to use the password functionality built into the game console to play.

  14. PaulC Avatar

    Carmaggedon was great.

  15. Raymond Camden Avatar
    Raymond Camden


  16. Don Avatar

    "Sex isn’t a problem. Violence is."
    I disagree. I don’t believe the problem is the game, the movie, the tv show, or the music. I think the problem is with the parents. Most are looking for ways to distract their kids so they can watch Survivor, Desperate Housewives, etc. in peace.
    These parents then blame fast food companies, music labels, movie studios and tv for their kids getting fat, stupid, etc. when the real blame is that parents aren’t parenting only placating.

  17. M. Schopman Avatar
    M. Schopman

    It is impossible to protect your kids from every type of nudity, violence or situation that is normal nowadays. They have friends on school that talk about that movie with "Arnold Schwarzenegger", and they are confronted dialy with celebrities in the media with certain types of very revealing clothing, and so there is no way you can prevent your kids from consuming this. Yes, you can, by storing them in a basement with bars on the windows.
    What is wrong, is parents who close their eyes for parential guided information about sex, birth control, violence, etc. Like the media brings it, it is like people are scared to talk about the "S" word and that results in children being unaware of the topics.

  18. noname Avatar

    I’ve always hated GTA … my friends play it but I’ve always refused. It’s the worst time waster out there. I hope this will make it harder for next versions to be published.
    (PS. Ben … I’ve always been noname!)

  19. John Farrar Avatar
    John Farrar

    Well.. I completely agree on one of your points. If we don’t want our children playing certaing games then we shouldn’t buy them for them.
    Counter question… so are you for legalizing sale of liquor and cigarettes to minors? I am guessing you are not. The issue that is being pressed is that this type of game should require an ID to buy. If it is for Adults only… then someone should have to prove they are an adult. Otherwise your dillusion is that merchants are more concerned with the youth they serve than the money they make.

  20. Aaron Martone Avatar
    Aaron Martone

    Rockstar put this in their own game, where it was accessible via in-game or (as it is with San Adreas’ case), via a ‘cheat’.
    I’m glad to see you have a level head on your shoulders, Ben. Personally, I cannot stand the parent model who believes that games are the cause for violent behavior.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed games since I was 10 (26 now) and without tooting my own horn, I believe I am a very rational person who would not think for a MOMENT that killing people in games means I should do it in person. So when I hear people say that games make people, I just remind them that what they said is an excuse, since I’m an exception to the "rule".
    Anyways, Ben, you sound smart enough to know that these games are rated these ways for a reason; No parent could be on top of what their kid is into all the time, and these ratings provide a fast assessment of whether this game may be appropriate for children.
    It may just be me, but I crave a game that is a polar opposite from "the Brady Bunch". In other words, the less wholesome it is, the more entertaining I’ll probably find it. 🙂

  21. Scott Stroz Avatar
    Scott Stroz

    It’s issues like this that makes me almost embarassed to be an American. I have the following problems with this ‘debate’.
    1. This is just another way to try and get the legislature to raise our children. I don’t want laws telling me that because a child might buy a video game, I can’t buy that same game. Almost borders on First Amendment violations.
    2. Some want to take this video game off the market because it propogates violence, yet, no one has mentioned taking guns off the market. So we have a right to ‘keep and bear arms’, but not virtually?

  22. Michael Avatar

    While it is unfortunate that a legislative body has stepped in to rate these games, it was done for a reason. True, ‘some’ well adjusted people can make the differentiation, there are many children that have trouble making this distinction. Video games have a huge influence on behavior and to say otherwise is just .. well misinformed on the human condition itself.
    I have played GTA before and actually found myself turning it off and just saying that I would rather not play some realistic game where I impersonate a thug and kill people in the streets, just for fun. Not to mention the quality of the graphics and how many ways you have to kill people ( especially in gta ) is just getting ridiculous.
    America has become one of the most violent societies and games like this arent helping the situation. These games have a drastic influence on many who play it, I have seen the before and after of just 1 session, it numbs you to that type of violence. Those images dont just drift right out of your brain, unless there isn’t anything between the ears to begin with 😉

  23. Raymond Camden Avatar
    Raymond Camden

    Michael, you are absolutely right. Some children cannot make the distinction. That is why this game is not for children. The end. End of story. Period. Etc. The game was for 17+ year olds. Not children. What else does Rockstar need to do? Hold parent’s hands while they walk through the store? At some point the responsibility MUST fall on the consumer, and I believe Rockstar did more than enough.

  24. John Farrar Avatar
    John Farrar

    I don’t have one of these game consoles. Can someone tell me if a child who is under 17 can buy a game that is 17+? I am wondering what the legal penalty would be if someone were to sell one of these games to a minor?

  25. Ben Forta Avatar
    Ben Forta

    John, there is no law regulating who may buy the games. The ratings are guides for parents and adults, and so there is no penalty. This is very different from alcohol and cigarettes, those need to be restricted because it would be far too easy for minors to obtain them without parents ever knowing. Video games, on the other hand, is something a parent would (and should) know about. Not many kids would own an XBox or PlayStation and TV without their parents knowing. So alcohol and cigarettes are not the right analogy, a better analogy is Internet access, or the library, or magazines – there is definitely content in all of those not suitable for minors, and it is the job of parents to protect their kids.

  26. John Farrar Avatar
    John Farrar

    Granted… parents should know. Yet, not all children are completely honest with thier parents. For the families where that is no problem we can both agree that it’s not likely a problem. Yet, where children are delinquint this type of game contributes to such delinquincy. It is also true that not all parents know what inticements their children have been exposed to… and in that aspect drugs would be a better illustration than cigarettes. One trip down the wrong road is a thrill ride that leaves many children in our nation marked for life in many ways. I respect your point… but it seems you haven’t dealt much with this type of child. You seem a bit sheltered in your expose. (Internet you know the danger is there and should put freedom of exposure above freedom of speach concerning your childrens innocence. The problem is many parents consider the home safe just because they don’t bring something in… but what about something that comes in without their knowing.) That is all I am trying to say… who is responsible for "selling" the games to minors, or giving them such things.

  27. PaulC Avatar

    If one’s parenting skills were so stellar that they wouldn’t know a.) their kid had a console and b.) what they were playing on it, the kid is headed for trouble with or without the help of GTA. If that doesn’t set him/her off doing something stupid, something else will.

  28. John Farrar Avatar
    John Farrar

    So PaulC… you are admitting by your statement that you side with the concept that such games "set off" some children. Therefore you think games can effect our thoughts. That is to the point I was trying to make. Good parents have children go astray. So on point A, a parent may know the child has a console… and on point B, many children play games before both working parents get home from work. Getting such children past the "set off" stage without more trigger influences is a good thing. I am not for regulating the parents… but do support legislation about vendors supplying such things to minors.

  29. Scott Barnes Avatar
    Scott Barnes

    Heres a few points i’d like to append to comments some more:
    – If the game is (insert locale rating here) then imho, there should be some backup laws to adhere to this (much the same way with alchol, adult movies etc). In Australia you cannot rent a movie if you are under the age of its rating (those that do face penalities). I think stores should be held accountable in that regard (whether we agree with parenting vs bad parenting)
    – The game is a game, lets not get into armchair phsycology and put forward our thoughts on childhood behavior(s) and how they react to influences to things like violence/porn/immoral thoughts. Leave that to the so called experts (the ones that actually studied the medium).
    Its entertaining game, i enjoyed it in the same way i enjoyed watching DIE HARD movies when i was younger. Does that mean i am swinging from a sky via a rope, shooting out windows while yelling "YIPPY-KIA-YI-YA-MOTHER.." no..
    – It was given an initial rating of 17+, if a child (if you still prefer to call them that) doesn’t know about "SEX" by this stage, then you’re freaking deluding yourself. All this is doing is giving them some practice (safely)
    – Parents shifting the blame, if your child is given unlimited funds to buy "games" at their own lesiure and you turn around tommorow and go "i want xyz banned so my darling little child can’t access it" – i simply would reply with "you’re a bad parent, stop breeding now"
    – If it’s AO rating, then so be it. I can live with that, am i bumbed that some 13yr old kid can’t enjoy a game that lets them slaughter unlim amount of prostitutes on the street with either a ninja sword or car… well.. no, i can live with that?
    – This isn’t about America, it just so happens the event that triggered this was initially started in the US. In Australia for example we have our little "purists" political parties ranting and raving about the 10 commandments of do’s and don’ts. Its world-wide, people were offended the game had a pornographic element to it. The only reason it was picked up so widely is because it had all the right ingredients to make it a nice sweet target. If they were all so set against "porn" in games and what not things like Leisure Suite Larry or Playboy Mansion would not of gotten off the ground as it would be deemed taboo.
    Nope, the only reason this got headlines was because it had a nice scare tactic associated to it "you can kill, and screw women in game"…out come women feminist movement(s), religious leaders condemming it, victims of crime demanding it be stopped etc.. all pushing their own agenda, and using this game as yet another example of societies immoral thoughts.
    It all kind of reminds me of how people consider swearing taboo, it shouldn’t be done at all and people are easily offended? yet … they themselves will do it either when in pain/anger/inbed? double standard if you ask me.

  30. Michael Avatar

    ‘Nope, the only reason this got headlines was because it had a nice scare tactic associated to it "you can kill, and screw women in game"…”
    It looks like one of the biggest issues at hand is that the publisher of said title seems to have lied about the fact that the events in question were indeed included with the retail version. There seems to be a bit more to the headlines than some feminists. They lied to get their product in walmart and target. Bottom line. Lied, admitted they did so and now will be facing the repurcussions of their false testimony.

  31. Scott Barnes Avatar
    Scott Barnes

    That is true, its the lying that should of been the focus not the content but yeah we are all guilty of debating the content, not the actions of alledged deciet.
    That being said, i bet you it was some rogue developer who considered it an "easter egg". I can’t imagine an executive meeting taking place where everyone said "the games good, but we need more..hey lets put in a sex act based scenario?"
    I’ma thinking that someone has recieved an internal "your on notice" memo since the fallout.

  32. Jake Avatar

    Ugh… this story makes my stomach turn. Especially the woman suing Rockstar over this. I blogged about this story last week:

  33. John Avatar

    I think US citizens are very sensitive about this sort of things.
    I mean: look at the news, teen shows, daily life at schools. I really don’t think blocking GT is will make your child a "better" raised child.
    US citizens shouldn’t be so paranoid about these
    things just because the media brainwashes you.
    Porn is all around us these days: mags, internet and last but not least, in our minds 🙂

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