Clinton wants inquiry into 'Grand Theft' sex

In a letter to FTC, senator expresses concern over reports that anyone can unlock sexually graphic images hidden inside game.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling on federal regulators to investigate the latest version of "Grand Theft Auto," a popular video game series that allows players to go on simulated crime sprees.

In a letter she is sending Thursday to the Federal Trade Commission, the New York Democrat expresses concern over reports that anyone who uses a free code downloaded over the Internet can unlock sexually graphic images hidden inside the game, called "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

Clinton asked the commission to determine "the source of this content," especially since the game can fall into the hands of young people. The game industry's self-policing unit, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, is investigating whether the maker of the game violated the industry rule requiring "full disclosure of pertinent content."

Clinton also asked the commission to look into whether the industry erred in giving the game a rating of M, or mature, for players 17 years and older. National electronics store chains sell M-rated games but tend to avoid adult-only titles.

She asked the commission to determine whether retailers were adequately enforcing the ratings. Citing statistics released by the National Institute on Media and the Family, she said that 50 percent of boys between 7 and 14 were able to buy M-rated video games.

"Parents who rely on the ratings to make decisions to shield their children from influences that they believe could be harmful should be informed right away if the system is broken," she said.

Politically, Clinton's decision to wade into the controversy over Grand Theft Auto is noteworthy. She singled out the game when many Democrats were trying to figure out ways their party can match Republicans on the issue of family values.

Rockstar Games, maker of the Grand Theft Auto video games, has noted that hackers--or independent programmers--created the program that allows players of the recent Grand Theft game to make its characters engage in sex. Rockstar, like many video game developers, usually encourages so-called mod amateur programmers who create modifications for popular games, which often give players access to special areas, missions or abilities.

The one involving Grand Theft Auto allows the game's male protagonist to have sex with the various girlfriends he meets in the game. The game's user must download the special program from the Internet.

Responding to Clinton, Rockstar spokesman Rodney Walker said, "We support any effort to empower parents to control what their kids consume, but we also want to strike a balance so that the average video game player, who is not a child, is able to continue to play the games that they enjoy."

Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, defended the rating system. "'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' was rated Mature, for ages 17 and older, with five content descriptors: intense violence, blood and gore, strong sexual content, strong language and use of drugs," she said. "It's hard to call that inaccurate. It's been appropriately rated."

Seth Schiesel of The New York Times contributed to this report.

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