ESRB to investigate 'San Andreas' sex content

Ratings board will look into claims that explicit minigames are hidden in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" code.

Following a verbal lashing from a California state assemblyman, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board said it's launching an investigation into "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" to determine if sexually explicit content is hidden in the game's code.

ESRB president Patricia Vance said her organization has "opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 'Hot Coffee' modification." "Hot Coffee" refers to the mod which, when installed on a PC with San Andreas on it, unlocks several minigames that prompt players to have the game's hero engage in X-rated acts.

The ESRB's investigation will examine whether the mod unlocks preexisting code, as appears to be the case, or is actually a purely third-party creation. The board's ultimate purpose will be to determine whether Take-Two Interactive Software violated ESRB regulations requiring "full disclosure of pertinent content."

"The integrity of the ESRB rating system is founded on the trust of consumers who increasingly depend on it to provide complete and accurate information about what's in a game," Vance said in a statement released on Friday. "If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate action."

Vance also had some choice words for Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who, in the same statement accusing the board of "failing to appropriately rate" the game, also accused it of a "conflict of interest in rating games."

Yee implies that the nonprofit ratings board, which was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association, shies away from adult-only ratings, regardless of the content. Most major retailers refuse to sell AO-rated games, thereby denying such titles broad distribution.

"Assemblyman Yee has been on a crusade for years to undermine the integrity of the ESRB, and in so doing, generate support for his legislative agenda," Vance said. "His latest attempt to win political points is to claim, without any legitimate basis, that a game rated for ages 17 and older, with explicit content descriptors prominently displayed on every box, has been inappropriately rated."

Saying that the agenda of the board was above reproach and that contrary to Yee's comments the ESRB has "failed parents" with San Andreas' M rating, Vance claimed "research shows parents overwhelmingly find ESRB ratings to be effective."

"We will do whatever it takes to maintain their confidence in them and the integrity of the system," Vance concluded.

Curt Feldman reported for GameSpot.

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