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Rockstar's Houser: 'Hot Coffee' wouldn't have mattered if it were a book
Rockstar's Houser: 'Hot Coffee' wouldn't have mattered if it were a book
November 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose

November 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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"It was draining and upsetting - a tough time in the company."
- Dan Houser, one of the co-founders of Rockstar Games, discusses the ordeal his company went through during the "Hot Coffee" Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas fiasco.

In 2005, a modder found a sex-based minigame hidden away inside the code for the best-selling open-world action game, that Rockstar had failed to highlight to the ratings board. Soon afterwards, Rockstar was sued by the Los Angeles city attorney's office, and later forced to pay $4.9 million in damages.

Talking to the Guardian, Houser opened up about the whole experience, stating, "The massive social decay that we were supposed to induce hasn't happened. So in that regard, a lot of those debates that used to go on, they're not such a big deal now."

"We never felt that we were being attacked for the content, we were being attacked for the medium, which felt a little unfair," he continued. "If all of this stuff had been put into a book or a movie, people wouldn't have blinked an eye. And there are far bigger issues to worry about in society than this."


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Comments


Alan Rimkeit
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This is true 100%. In 7th grade my school had me read 'Lord of the Flies'. That book was way more jacked than just about any video game I have ever played yet it was approved of by a public school. It is interesting how that works.

Alan Rimkeit
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I am not talking about redeeming or meaningful themes here. I am talking about a book that was just as brutal as a lot of video games I have ever played. Yet it was approved of by a public school. Hypocrisy much? I think so.

Bhekinkosi Ncube
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@ Anthony Taylor: I think you're missing his point. Having an underlying message shouldn't mean that it's ok to expose children to gruesome material. It's like saying "The Passion of the Christ" is a perfectly good children's easter movie cause it shows what Jesus went though for our sins. Gruesome material is gruesome material whether it has meaning or not and the things discussed in The Lord of the Flies are extremely inappropriate for children of that age.

Games get the stick cause they're the new media kid on the block. Before games it was movies, and before that, books and music.

Sean Francis-Lyon
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@Bhekinkosi, Anthony did not miss the point, he disagreed with it. Context is everything. It is not hypocritical to be opposed to violent content in one context and not in another. If you want to compare Lord Of The Flies to a game compare it to Limbo.

[User Banned]
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Joe McGinn
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Don't believe this article for a second. This is the game company that purposefully created the controversy of the "crime simulator" GTA3 for the publicity it got them. They were doing handstands when they got the Hot Coffee freebie. "draining and upsetting" my butt.

Not criticizing them either, their "no publicity is bad publicity" approach was brilliant, I admire it. But since we know for a fact it did not upset them, you can take it to the bank that bringing it up again is also calculated. Expect more of this leading to the GTA5 launch.

Rebecca Richards
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Actually, Lord of the Flies is a frequently challenged and banned book specifically because of the violence and themes you mentioned.

In fact, it kind of proves Rockstar's point wrong - books may be protected, but that does not stop people from repeatedly and endlessly assaulting them year after year under the guise of "protecting the children."

http://tinyurl.com/7uwae7e

There's a great starting point.

Adam Rebika
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"The content is not redeemed, but justified by the exploration of groupthink and individuals, the power structures that form, etc..."

Except grad schoolers usually fail to see this deep through a text. I had read the Lord of Flies when I was around 10 too, for my school, and I can tell you we never went deeper than the story itself.

John Trauger
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A book doesn't labor to create visuals either.

Nor is there any concealing its content.

If you are going to do polygon porn, at least admit it, full frontal. (sorry, had to put it that way).

John McMahon
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Agreed. You cannot conceal sexual images in a book or movie without making it extremely difficult for anyone to find unless they are given some reason to do insane things to find stuff you couldn't see through a normal viewing or reading.

Still, It's very important to be able to clean up your code and not have abandoned code/content in the game cause that takes away from how much stuff you can fit on the disc and performance.

Bhekinkosi Ncube
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You forget that the mini-game was never meant to be accessible on release and wasn't for the majority of players. It was only found through people hacking the code. It's like someone finding the original manuscripts of Harry Potter and releasing a sex scene that was edited out. Would J.K. Rowling be sued for that? Would the rating of the book be changed or even pulled from shelves? I think not. While I think it is just good sense to clean up your code this feels like more of an attack on the medium than the actual content.

John McMahon
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@ Bhekinkosi, It is not like that.

The content was on the discs sold to gamers. And the ESRB has clear policies for that. Rockstar had to disclose of any content whether it was accessible or not.

No one would blame an author if a manuscript was released for Harry Potter that was adult-oriented and graphic. Because that manuscript wasn't the product being sold and distributed by the publisher.

I agree, it was an attack on the industry, but Rockstar still broke rules the ESRB had. Did they deserve what they got, no. But it happened and they are stronger for it.

Alex Leighton
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Yeah, I kind of wish they would've just embraced the AO rating and released it on PC with hot coffee unlocked. Told everyone, "Yeah, we're making a game for adults, and if you think crude images of two consenting adults having sex is such a horrible thing, it's your problem, not ours."

Luke Meeken
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And if an R-rated film had had X-rated single-frames spliced into its DVD, there most certainly would have been controversy. Or if an adult-but-not-pornographic novel had secreted pornographic images in the binding which were revealed by ripping the book apart, there would certainly have been controversy.

There is certainly a bias between violence and sex w/r/t what is considered acceptable in pop culture, and there is certainly a bias on the part of pearl-clutching culture warriors to assume games are a children's medium and demonize them, but the argument that this guy is making is patently wrong.

Steven Christian
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Plenty of children's cartoons do have sexual material including photos of full frontal nudity.
The worst offender was Disney in plenty of their films.

eg.
http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/rescuers.asp

John Byrd
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That's always the cost of doing business in the coolest new media. In the 1920's, it was jazz music on the radio; in the 1950's, it was adult comics; in the 1980s to today it was rap; in the 1990s and 2000s, it was video games. If you look at the history of those artists who have been chosen for abuse by the establishment over the years, you'll see that Houser is in some excellent company.

Michael Joseph
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Hot Coffee also gave them a lot of free publicity and brought some new customers on board.

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Allen Brooks
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Yep - why do you think this feature is even here? The Housers are milking the social capital they've built up over the years by being reclusive to the press now in order to make you think about GTA in the lead-up to GTA 5's release.

They want your mindshare, Michael, and you're giving it to them. We're all giving it to them.

Leonardo Ferreira
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I remember reading some critiques of Ian Fleming Bond novels from the 50's not long ago, and the arguments about they being the embodiment of the downfall of morality in the society (being full of violence, sex, sadism and very little restraint) made me remember the same sort of arguments that were being used at Rockstar by then.

The self-appointed arbiters of cultural value will always judge their hipocritical, self-centered, self-serving judgements as they see fit, and there always be those to side with them, for that is the easiest thing to do.

(though Rockstar, admittely, profited immensily from the controversy surrounding and pouring from gta, so there's a mutual-feeding relationship for ya)

Simone Tanzi
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I still don't get why modern society, especially in America, demonize sex so much.

Heads blowing off in an explosion of blood and brain - Kinda suitable for kids
Sex no matter how watered down and just faintly hinted - Immediate censorship.

Justin LeGrande
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The culture of the Americans who migrated from Europe were steeped in hypocritical puritanism. "Punish us not for our values, but punish others for theirs." Even the founding and history of the United States is rife with hypocritical, puritan values demonizing the values of other cultures, especially those of the American Indians.

This is still reflected today in United States politics- "It is good and patriotic to support our military, even if we kill thousands of innocents over in foreign lands using the context of national security; but it's scary that teenagers wear hot pants and gaudy cosmetics."

One of the main purposes of the GTA series design is to point out such hypocrisies; it hit a little too close to home. No one likes having their flaws pointed out in public, especially not in living color, so of course there was a backlash amongst the most puritanical of us.

Bob Charone
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because most people are not violent, but were all sexual. a kid slicing someone in half in mortal kombat does not want do it in real life unless they have a psychological problem

Jakub Majewski
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Oh, funny. I had just posted a couple of hours how surprising it is that no one has brought up this argument - but apparently, I overlooked Simone's post somehow. For those too lazy to scroll down, let me recap why there's nothing in the least bit hypocritical about having strict censorship in regards to sex, and not censoring violence.

We treat violence very differently to sex because they are, in fact, very different. Very few people would object to having an audience when beating someone up. On the other hand, very few people would not object to having an audience during sex. To put it simply, violence is very, very much in the public sphere of life, and sex is extremely, extremely private. And this is not because someone has arbitrarily ("hypocritically, self-centeredly, self-servingly...") made such a decision, but because it it something that almost all human beings fully agree on. The overwhelmingly vast majority of the human race does not have a problem with some degree of violence on screen, while automatically turning their heads away when seeing... not even sex, most people turn away seeing a couple kissing passionately. We feel instinctively that we have no right to watch.

All in all, it's all fine and dandy to suggest that sex should not have to be censored, "we're all adults", and all that bullshit. But it's not in the least bit true, which you can tell when you consider to what degree you would like yourself or your spouse to be exposed in public.

Kristian Roberts
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@ Jakub
"which you can tell when you consider to what degree you would like yourself or your spouse to be exposed in public."

Perhaps it not my fear of be naked in public that keeps my clothes on, but your fear of seeing naked people.

Again, if you are going to make giant blanket assertions about how people other than you and the people you know/have come into contact with feel about sex and violence (or anyother thing), you'll need at least a little bit of supporting evidence.

Raymond Grier
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Wow Christian, that wasn't fair at all. Sex and sexual violence are 2 different things.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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Nah, if there was a rating system for books and some writer managed to hide content to achieve a more commercially viable rating than they should have had, there'd be this type of outcome as well.

Also, an author probably would have had the stones to keep the content in the game (at least the PC version) rather than be censored. Just sayin.

Daniel Campbell
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I think the major factor was the non-disclosure to the ESRB. Not that I think Rockstar is really a fault though. They DID remove the code from the game allowing the mini-game to be activated. The only thing we/they can really do is learn from this debacle is to be careful with the content left in a game's code. Even if we don't think anyone will see it, someone might.

Simone Tanzi
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You can say "someone will"
Today you can't really expect to hide anything from the public.
If you put it in the disk they will find it.

Kelly Kleider
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The ESRB defended their rating. The game had every warning they could put on a game (sex, drugs, violence etc...)

The problem came when someone from Take2 made an official statement saying that Rockstar did not make the content. That is what got them in hot water and allowed investors to claim that Take2 did something wrong that led to the stock price tanking.

If Take2 had said, yes the content is ours and we decided not to include it in our game in a playable form. The data is there because the decision to remove the mini-game was made late in the game's development cycle and removing it entirely represents risk. Instead, a spokesperson (I think it was a marketing person) made statements without checking with the development team. The initial statement had to be backtracked and made Take2 appear to be hiding something.

Jakub Majewski
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You know, I'm really surprised that somebody hasn't yet trotted out the old, idiotic argument about the hypocrisy of tolerating violent content and repressing sexual content. I guess it was referred to in a roundabout way by the 'Lord of the Flies' comments, and I'm sure it's one of the things Leonardo is thinking of with his inane "hypocritical, self-centered, self-serving judgements", but remarkably - it hasn't been mentioned directly yet.

So, why don't I pre-emptively shoot down down this argument before it comes up? ;)

We treat violence very differently to sex because they are, in fact, very different. Very few people would object to having an audience when beating someone up. On the other hand, very few people would not object to having an audience during sex. To put it simply, violence is very, very much in the public sphere of life, and sex is extremely, extremely private. And this is not because someone has arbitrarily ("hypocritically, self-centeredly, self-servingly...") made such a decision, but because it it something that almost all human beings fully agree on. The overwhelmingly vast majority of the human race does not have a problem with some degree of violence on screen, while automatically turning their heads away when seeing... not even sex, most people turn away seeing a couple kissing passionately. We feel instinctively that we have no right to watch.

Also, for the record - Dan Houser must have missed the memo about the uproar "Fifty Shades of Gray" has caused. A book that treats sex as trivially and despicably as GTA San Andreas got the exact same reaction. It's not a "we're a poor, repressed new medium" thing. San Andreas crossed a line that no medium is allowed to cross without backlash.

Ben Lewis-Evans
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Ah, but is the turning away if you see someone kissing passionately in public innate or social? I see plenty of people passionately kissing here in the streets in the Netherlands and people don't turn away, get outraged, or walk by with their heads down. It is just something that is happening. In fact when I see it, I feel like it is more likely to make me want to grab my girlfriend and kiss her than to turn away and not look. This is just anecdotal of course.

However, I don't think there is evidence to suggest that we as humans are innately uncomfortable about sexual matters or innately believe them to be private and but innately fine about violence. In fact if you look at children they are quite interested in all that sexual stuff (without knowing what it is initially due to a lack of cultural impact yet) which is why they might on occasion produce hilariously inappropriate comments/behaviour (only to be told off that that is 'inappropriate' - i.e. learn that culturally it is not on). Whereas if you expose a young child to the sounds and rapid actions of particularly nasty violence there is a decent chance you end up with a crying, fearful child.

Or look at the varying states of undress or dress that are or have been popular in cultures around the world. In some places there has been or is currently nothing wrong with topless women walking around, or men with huge codpieces. Or at other times people have been very prudish about such things. Culture is important here.

Besides, even from an evolutionary perspective it makes much more adaptive sense to be more likely to be put off by violence (danger!) and instead be attracted to and curious about sexual stimuli (... er.. sex!).

Ben Lewis-Evans
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P.S. there is actually research showing that seeing sexual imagery increases disgust thresholds in people (i.e. makes so people are not so easily disgusted by normally disgusting stimuli) and therefore increases willingness to perform somewhat disgusting tasks - You can check it out here http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pon
e.0044111

Kristian Roberts
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"Dan Houser must have missed the memo about the uproar "Fifty Shades of Gray" has caused."

What uproar?

We seemed to miss that up here in "Sex-isn't-evil-land." And have you ever seen perfume ads in France? Try running those in the States.

But in all seriousness, assertions about the innate role of sex and violence need to be supported with...y'know...evidence. Without it were all just talking about our own little corners of this highly contentious globe.

Liza Shulyayeva
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In my opinion not having the content there that's wrong, it's concealing its existence from authorities and customers. The fact that it was not easily accessible makes no difference - it existed, was essentially usable, and was being distributed to millions of people without their (or their legal guardians') knowledge.

Lee Smith
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What happened when "Hot Coffee" was found in the UK? Absolutely nothing. The game was still well within the 18 rating and there was no controversy.

There is definitely an issue in America with sex in video games. Fahrenheit (know as Indigo Prophecy in the US) had a very similar interactive sex scene that was removed from the American version of the game but included in the European version. It is very much a cultural thing.

Lee Smith
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There's one major difference between the AO rating and the 18 rating we have in the UK, almost all stores in the US refuse to stock AO games effectively banning them. 18 rated games in the UK are available in any store that sells video games.

Joe Wreschnig
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"I know, that major retailers don't stock AO titles but that doesn't mean the games are banned, it's up to the retailer that he doesn't stock AO games."

Nintendo, Sony, MS, and Steam do not allow AO games on their platforms. This effectively bans AO games in the US. The same is not true of PEGI/USK's 18 rating, or CERO Z. Outside North America games with those ratings face various point-of-sale restrictions (as does M in NA), but not prima facie licensing restrictions.

The retailer has no choice in the matter, unless they choose to stock one of the two dozen PC games that have been released with an AO rating.

AO exists only so the ESRB can claim they are not fostering censorship, while still fostering censorship.

Kelly Kleider
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The part of the whole Hot Coffee thing that was the most idiotic was the change from M to AO basically went from 17+ to 18+.

TC Weidner
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just silly, a game as violence and nasty as this, and for people to get in an uproar because the character may get naked and make love? Tells us more about how messed up as a society we are then anything else.

IE. Killing and senseless slaughter deemed OK, showing physical affection however.. now. now you've crossed a line. Ridiculous


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