The Day That Even Grand Theft Auto Conceded Its Limits

Ten years ago, we learned where gaming's baddest, most daring franchise draws the line: At sex.

Retrospective by Jeremy Parish, .

Rockstar Games comes by its name honestly; with one of the most successful game franchises ever made under the company's belt, the studio certainly has the clout and substance to justify its rebellious, bad-boy corporate persona. But even Rockstar has to draw the line somewhere, and 10 years ago today we learned exactly where that line is drawn.

The Grand Theft Auto series has always seemed eager to court controversy. From the very beginning, it was a series about bad behavior, breaking the law, and generally being a poor citizen. GTA III became a breakout hit in large part because of its massive, immersive, open-world rendition of New York City made for an extraordinary playground for gamers to fool around in, and in part because of all the sensationalism around emergent gameplay having to do with prostitutes. But when modders restored a hidden, abandoned sex minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar finally conceded the limits it was willing to push.

Despite its inaccessibility to users without deliberate hacking, the "hot coffee" content in San Andreas ignited a firestorm of controversy and forced the ESRB to re-rate the game as an adults-only title. Rockstar quickly reissued an edited version of the game that removed "hot coffee" once and for all, restoring its original hard M rating.

Critics of the series (and the studio) were quick to declare this a victory, suggesting that their fiery op-eds had worn down Rockstar and that the company had neither the spine nor stomach to deal with media scrutiny. In reality, Rockstar was probably motivated by sheer pragmatism; the AO rating would have made San Andreas ineligible for sale at major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Costco. Bumping it back down to an M rating undoubtedly ensured continued sales of the game — sales that were definitely bolstered by the interest inspired by all that "bad" publicity. Did Rockstar flinch? Maybe... but they raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in doing so. Would that we could all flinch so profitably.

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Comments 17

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  • Avatar for Breadbitten #1 Breadbitten 3 years ago
    The only thing this article accomplished was making me realize that GTA: San Andreas is now more than a decade old.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @nimzy It's almost as though the elements of American society determined to take down GTA are far more torture-positive than sex-positive....
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  • Avatar for franciscovillarrealh #3 franciscovillarrealh 3 years ago
    @Breadbitten "For more grim reminders of your impending mortality, keep reading USGamer, and don't forget to subscribe to our Youtube channel!"Edited July 2015 by franciscovillarrealh
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    It's a sad comment on our society: we still live in a largely sex negative culture. Things have not improved in the last 10 years, in fact the gaming world only seems to be growing more and more conservative, which is very alarming. A society in which we champion body shame is not a healthy thing for anyone.

    The media has an important role in this. It's still much too common to read sex negative viewpoints in game reviews, *especially* for any sexuality aimed at straight men. We need to stop looking at pornography and titillation in video games in a negative light, regardless of whether it's aimed at men or women. We need to be more open and welcoming to sexuality in media.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #5 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 For me, it's a matter of context. In a narrative driven game, like GTA V, Trevor's sexual behavior further illustrates his overall personality. The Dead or Alive series, by contrast, rides a fine line between gratuitous pixel-skin show and quality fighting game. If an otherwise sub par game is trying to titillate its way to higher sales numbers, a review should reflect that. A review that just points a finger and yells "BOOBS" without explaining why there are breasts there in the first place isn't doing anyone any favors, either.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #6 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru No, that's an unhealthy, sex-negative point of view. When you say that sex needs to be justified by narrative, and not "gratuitous," you're implying that sex is dirty, that enjoying it for it's own sake is bad. This is a viewpoint driven by shame. Sex in media shouldn't need to be justified, and titillation for it's own sake shouldn't be looked at as a bad thing.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #7 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Don't worry, the only opinions that matter are still Judeo-Christian conservative straight white males. Pay no attention and continue about your business. Good reminder of one of the major steps back that went along the way to getting here though.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #8 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 If it makes you feel any better, I take the same stance on violence.
    I don't feel ashamed about sex. I also don't feel that anyone who ever calls any depiction of nudity or sexually suggestive acts is automatically being "sex negative".
    There are those instances, as I've already stated, where a sub par product, be it a game, movie, or book, seems to have an excess of "sex" or violence added to it in an effort to mask a sub par product. But, I guess that's just my opinion. I suppose the counter argument would be that those products existed simply as vehicles for the aforementioned "sex" and violence. I'm not opposed to those who seek that out. It's just not my bag. So, I would want a reviewer to point it out.
    Quick example: "Showgirls" A great movie if you ever wanted to see that girl from Saved By the Bell pretending to fuck that one guy from Sex and the City (was it Sex in the City? I'll have to check that and edit later) Not so great if you want to see a cohesive plot and good acting.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #9 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    Despite the cries of politicians and "experts" society has not collapsed due to our choices in entertainment. The kids that played these games for the most part became fully functioning, productive adults. Now instead of the moral fabric of society being assaulted through electronic entertainment we have to worry about people getting offended. Because material that offends will bring us down into the abyss of prevalent (insert favorite ___ism here).
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  • Avatar for theresacatalano27 #10 theresacatalano27 3 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru But you agree that games and films with gratuitous sex can be good, right? So, whether a piece of art is good or not doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how much sex is in it, right?

    Unless, I suppose, you are looking primarily for sex, and you just find the sex to be of low quality. In that case it makes perfect sense to tie sex and quality together in your review!
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #11 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @theresacatalano27 Totally agree. You can absolutely have a product that has a higher level of gratuitous (insert whatever here), and still have that be a good product. In the case of movies, for instance, some may cite, well, any of Tarantino's films, as having an excessive amount of violence. I don't find the product worse for it, however I don't necessarily think that they require it, either. It simply is, because in the context of assassins, mobsters, and/or mobster assassins, things will get bloody. The few instances where it might be deemed overly excessive (redundant, I know, but follow me here), it is usually meant as a nod or homage to a trait prevalent in the genre (I'm thinking of the blood geyser that sprung forth from the guy that Lucy Lui decapitates in the first Kill Bill, I think).
    The inverse would be something like this. "Hey, so this new fighting game we're making, Dead or Alive, kinda sucks. The mechanics are all broken, and I'm pretty sure there's a glitch that makes your Playstation catch fire." "Meh, make their titties bounce and ship it.".
    Now, I'm not suggesting that DoA sucks, but HAD it sucked, the boob bouncing could be an example of trying to disguise a flawed product with by slapping a sexy coat of paint on it.
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  • Avatar for theresacatalano27 #12 theresacatalano27 3 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru Right, but I think you're missing my point. So what if the bouncing boobs are there to distract you? Actually, it doesn't just have to be sex... what about a game that is trying to disguise it's poor gameplay with impressive graphics? Equally not cool, right? But there's nothing inherently wrong with high tech graphics. Many people like them, just like boobs. What's bad in both cases is the poor gameplay. If you're writing a review, while you would probably want to mention the great graphics and the boobs, there's no reason to do it in a negative light. There's nothing wrong with those elements. The gameplay is what's bad, so that's the only thing you need to speak negatively about, right?
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #13 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @theresacatalano27 Very true. However, content matters, particularly when it comes to sex and violence, for some people. So, at least in a full review, I think it would need to come up. There are people, including parents, who use such write-ups when making purchasing decisions. You and I, as both mature adults and informed gamers, may already have some concept of what it entailed in a Dead or Alive game (I only picked that since it was already my example of choice), a newer gamer, or concerned parent, would want to know about the physics involved.
    And yes, pretty graphics disguising poor gameplay is equally uncool. And I would hope that a thorough review would mention that, too.
    Slightly off-topic, but I am really enjoying the intellectual conversation surrounding this topic. Thanks again, USGamer.
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  • Avatar for philipsommer60 #14 philipsommer60 3 years ago
    I literally just got done beating this game...
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru I'm with you all the way on this one Captain! Gratuitousness of any kind is tiresome to me, be it in terms of sex, violence or indeed graphics. Its the way a game feels that's important, and anything that distracts from that should be mentioned.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #16 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @philipsommer60 Wow, 10 years? You're like the anti-matter version of a speed-runner.
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  • Avatar for sla #17 sla 2 years ago
    sla super game
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