But when the hidden, X-rated "Hot Coffee" scenes were discovered in GTA, touching off a storm of indignation that made headlines across the country and raged all the way to, not everyone thought the brouhaha was an all-around disaster for the industry.
"I think 'Hot Coffee' had one good side effect..." said Brenda Brathwaite, chair of the International Game Developers Association's sex, or Sex SIG. "It woke up millions of people to the fact that there is sexual content in video games and that they should pay attention to the ratings (given to games by the Electronic Software Ratings Board). People who knew nothing about games knew about 'Hot Coffee.'"
Though there have long been video games with sexual content, many people are only now discovering that fact, in the wake of the Grand Theft Auto "Hot Coffee" scandal.
Millions of people are beginning to understand that many games have mature or adults-only content and parents should be extra careful to read and understand the ratings on games before buying them for their children.
Indeed, the GTA scenes were just the highly publicized tip of the adult-oriented video games iceberg. In fact, there are dozens of games that address sexual issues, sexuality and sex itself, ranging from Cyberlore's "Playboy: The Mansion" to Sierra Entertainment's "Leisure Suit Larry." Downloadable nude "skins" have even been created by third-parties to (un)clothe characters in Electronic Arts' best-selling "The Sims."
And while some people--particularly politicians--may find the existence of adult video games a worthy target for criticism, others feel that when properly labeled as "mature" or "adults-only" by the ratings board, such games shouldn't be treated any different than other forms of media, such as movies, magazines and the like.
"I think there are different standards that are applied to our industry, particularly by nongamers," Patricia Vance, president of the ratings board,in August. "I think most of the time that's based out of (people) just not being familiar with the facts and not being gamers themselves."
Partly because of that dynamic--as well as to help developers of adult-oriented games coordinate efforts and find a community of like-minded people--the IGDA's Brathwaite created the Sex SIG. And though it officially launched in August, it had been in the works for months.
"The plans were under way, but it was announced shortly after the 'Hot Coffee' scandal broke," Brathwaite said, "so it was very timely. But we didn't plan that."
Brathwaite was a natural choice to run the Sex SIG. When not running the group, she's the lead designer on "Playboy: The Mansion," which stars a sort of "Sim Hugh Hefner"--players take on the persona of the Playboy magazine founder and live out his everyday, sex-soaked life in and around his famous Los Angeles mansion.
Of course, Brathwaite's game and "Leisure Suit Larry" are far from the only adult titles available. There's also porn star Jenna Jameson's "Virtually Jenna," numerous strip poker games, sex-charged versions of "Tetris" and "Wheel of Fortune" and many others.
Though no specific sales figures exist for mature and adult-oriented games, Brathwaite estimates that they account for 12 percent of all