* Note: If you have children reading over your shoulder who don't need exposure to mature subjects, don't click on the links in this article. This post itself is, however, fairly discrete.
So Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas recently had its rating bumped up from M (17+) to AO (which is basically the NC-17 of video games.) Why, you ask?
Apparently Rockstar put something in there that deserves an AO rating--something that happens onscreen, which had to be blurred when VH1's Best Week Ever ran their commentary on it. Best Week Ever's commentary was actually quite amusing; catch a reshow of that this week if you can, there are some other funny things in it as well.
Well, you might ask how on earth this slipped past the ESRB. It's not often a game this big gets rerated after it's been released. The thing is, this secret "scene" is unlocked with a special code. I have heard rumors that you need to download some patch or other, or whatever. But the fact remains that the scene is ON the GTA: SA disc when it comes. This scene -is- part of the game, just like any other secret code or Easter egg, no matter what you have to do to unlock it. Read the 1up.com story here.
Links leading from a different (but in my opinion related story) lead to one quip by a gaming magazine editor pondering exactly why it is this "Hot Coffee" scandal that pushed things over the edge, as opposed to the violence already rampant in San Andreas.
Of course, given that such a huge game had to be rerated, some critics are saying now that the ESRB is not enough, or isn't doing enough, or whatever else. To that I answer with a big, huge honkin': What on earth? Really, this is not the fault of the ESRB, especially if there was some modding needed to get to this extra scene. How can you blame the ESRB for not rating something that A) wasn't exactly the most readily accessible material in the game B) Rockstar conveniently neglected to mention? You could argue it's their job--but is it their job to track down modding tools to uncover every single bit of a game, to check every little corner of the disc for foul play, whether or not that corner is normally accessible? I'd say that's putting a bit too much of a burden on the ESRB. Even though the ESRB isn't always my favorite organization, I do believe that they are the victim here--well, they and several unsuspecting households.
Rockstar (who, for those of you who don't know, made San Andreas) is cooperating with the new rating. Good for them. They had it coming. At least now that they've been confronted with it, they're deciding to be responsible. I guess it's possible that the higher-up Rockstar officials didn't know, but...Okay, following the line that even if Rockstar officials didn't know, that it was their job to know, one could argue the ESRB DOES have a responsibility to know. The logic would go like this:
If the company making a game is responsible for knowing everything that'sOf course the resoning falls apart on further examination--the difference between the ESRB and the company is simple and vital: the company makes the game and can be expected to know what's going into it. The ESRB only rates the game on the basis of what the company tells them and what their people are able to find in the game--and the company doesn't necessarily tell them everything it knows. Even if we assumed that neither set of officials between the ESRB and Rockstar knew what was up (and may I point out that the only officials we can safely assume were in the dark were those at the ESRB), Rockstar is still more responsible, because they have a chain of information that should, ideally, be flowing to the top. The ESRB on the other hand has no chain of information coming to them from the people who are putting things on the discs, and is at an informational disadvantage.
on the discs, then the ESRB is responsible for knowing.