Thursday, July 28, 2005

Attention! Le cafe est chaud!

So I've wanted to talk about this Hot Coffee issue for a while. I should note up front that I'm talking out of... well, not my mouth, for three Reasons: (a) I've never played GTA3:San Andreas - I played GTA3 start to finish but didn't see the value of playing the sequels/expansions, (b) I've never seen the Hot Coffee mod, other than from a couple screenshots, and (c) I haven't read up on the subject much.

But, this is a blog, and thus I don't really need any qualifications to pontificate, so here goes.

As I understand it, here's a synopsis of the subject:

Rockstar (developer) develops a game called Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas (GTA3:SA), and ships it via publisher Take Two (TT). Entertainment Software Rating Board gives the game a Mature rating (M). After the game ships, one or more hackers tinkering with the game's bits figure out how to enable a "modification" (mod, quotes to be explained later), called 'Hot Coffee' to the game that allows the player to participate in a bunch of "mini-games" that are basically pornographic in nature (I don't beleive there's full frontal nudity - esp MALE FFN which is what really gets the porn stamp here in conservative America). Another hacker somewhere takes the hack from the PS2, which was hard for the avg user to replicate, and figures it out for the PC version, and so now it's easily distributed on the web. Then all hell breaks loose.

Jack Thompson, anti-game-violence crusader/gold-digger starts touting it, Hillary Clinton gets on a soapbox, etc. Surely Jesse Jackson, Geraldo, and Baba Wawa can't be far behind.

Rockstar puts out a statement denying that the missions and artwork (the bits) existed in the game to begin with, and that it was just a mod. Others contest this point. This is Rockstar's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" moment. The world is highly skeptical of this comment.

Controversy escalates, Rockstar volunteers a change of rating from M to AO. Retailers pull from shelves, FTC announces investigation into whether the bits existed in the first place, and whether this constitutes a deliberate effort to circumvent the ESRB rating. To quote a friend, "And now the dancing turns German".

OK, so what's all the hubbub about?

Clearly it's another case of society coming to grips (or not coming to grips in this case) with a new medium and the new possibilities it entails. It's also an example of a personal pet peeve: America has it's priorities messed up and has a big pickle up it's puritan butt. The puritan aversion to all things sexual I've observed since moving to the country just gets accentuated here by the fact that it's OK to run around on a killing spree (M rating) but the second someone gets a piece, well, that's Adults-only, thank you. But that topic's been done to death. I'll put it to bed by saying: America, get over it. Go to France, see a booby, see that kids aren't running around all Geoffery-Dahmer-like, and as they said in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, "Y'ALL GOT TA COOL OUT!!!"

Back to more lucid discussion: There are several interesting questions the hot coffee mod and subsequent events have brought about. Back to the interesting questions:

1 - To what degree is the author of *interactive* content responsible for anticipating and preventing users from creating an offensive scenario for themselves or those looking over their shoulder?

2 - To what degree is the publisher & developer of interactive (and this could even be something like DVD movies) responsible for verifying that no offensive material exists on the medium that might get later exposed in some way? (e.g. If a lone person inside the developer hides an offensive easter-egg in there).

3 - How graphic and photo-realistic does something have to be before it's considered inappropriate? Is naked GTA3 worse than Naked Sims because they look more true to life (crappy graphics engine comments aside). Would Naked HL2 be worse (whoah! Look at the coochy shader!)

I don't have answers, but I think they are interesting topics for discussion and if there's *any* good that comes from the Hot Coffee debacle it'll be that it forced these issues.

I do have one perspective that I'll share.

I don't beleive that it's cut-and-dried. I think there's a spectrum of... let's call it "innappropriate content enablement".

At one end of the spectrum, someone authors something that allows the user to author content or enable events or sequences of events to happen. Let's call this the innocent end of the spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, lets call it the malicious end, is someone who authors content with clear intent of enabling end-users to easily and quickly author or enable innappropriate content. The out-of-box experience might be innocent enough, but it's clearly designed to get around initial scrutiny and let the target audience get to "something more".

Photoshop is an enabling tool. If someone uses it to draw a naked person, Adobe's hardly to blame. This is an example of something close to the 'innocent' end of the spectrum.

Someone that ships a comic book with naked girl pix hidden in invisible ink, and then ships it with a pen to reveal said ink, well, they are at teh far right.

Rockstar is pretty clearly toward that far end of the spectrum - but how far? That's what the FTC investigation is going to try to find out. If it really is that far, then they should twist in the wind. If not, well, we're still going to need to find a way to deal with this stuff. Eithe way it's going to be interesting to watch.


Anonymous said...

you should at least go to ifilm and watch the hot coffee video. personally, I was pretty amused at the game controls depicted on the screen (ie, excitement meter, change position, etc). A little surreal though. -- tdc

Zaira said...

hiya! zaira here..kinda new here, heard bout this blogging stuff from my friend Tricia so i tried signing up too..and i am! i just wanna say hi and i just viewed your blog..nice!..visit mine too...i wanna know your thoughts or whatever..sure to have fun blogging!

adam said...

kim, is zaira your mom?

anyway...i watched the hot coffee vid. amusing for an adult, definitely not in the interests of bush lovers. president bush, i mean.