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Video Game Censorship
by: Dr. Boogie

It seems that the age-old battle to censor video games has been renewed once more. About two weeks ago, my best friend got himself a copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the PC and we took to it until the wee hours of the morning for days on end. A week later, he showed me a mod he found online called the Hot Coffee Mod. For those of you who haven't already heard about it in the news, the good people at Rockstar programmed in a sex-themed minigame that you engage in once you make enough progress with your girlfriend to be invited in for a cup of coffee... if you know what I mean. And you do, of course, because frankly, I know my readership to be the cream of the intellectual crop. Anyway, the minigame itself is very much like sex itself, in that you must hit a button when a white bar is filled, only in real life, the "button" is the G-spot and the white bar is... I don't know, a vagina maybe.

editor's note: nobody seemed to notice the pattern on the sheets

Metaphors aside, the programmers decided not to use that titillating bit of gameplay, and so no controversy raged over it until just recently, when it was revealed how the content could be unlocked. And let me tell you, nothing offends people quite like soft-core pornography featuring a poorly-rendered naked woman and a fully-clothed man. Controversy raged, angry parents gnashed their teeth (Teeths? Tooths?), and politicians descended upon the morass like crows descending upon a very controversial bit of roadkill.

Oh well, I thought to myself. I wonder how long it will take before society loses its taste for red herring? Longer than I would have guessed, apparently. You see, my local newspaper is a wellspring of information. For the most part, it's just local news with important world events described near the end of the first section. I, however, read it not for its expert coverage of the latest yard sales and nearby hootenannies, but rather for the two funniest sections to be found in any newspaper: the comics and the letters to the editor. I was looking forward to the latest round in the ongoing argument between the creationism and evolution people, but another story caught my eye on the way there.

The story in question concerned the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the nonprofit group that provides ratings for all the different video games out there. They're currently under fire from parent groups, politicians, and other people with too much time on their hands for not catching the sexy minigame before they gave the game an "M" rating. Now, one could make the argument that NO ONE found the material until the highly modifiable PC version was released, or that the "M for Mature" rating states that the game is for people who won't be offended by graphic violence or adult situations, but those are arguments for people who aren't outraged, and how could you not be outraged at such a sight? Well, you could be one of the millions of people who don't play video games, or you could be a child who hasn't played the game because your parents read the warning on the back of the box and decided not to buy it for you. However, if you were the kind of god-fearing person who heard about this story secondhand and have never played a video game in your life, or if you were the kind of person who plays video games/watches movies/reads books just so you can find something that offends you, you'd be foaming at the mouth.

Getting back to the news story, it mentioned that critics of the ESRB complained about the vagueness of the ratings that they apply to games. Now that I could understand. After all, it says "strong language" on the GTA: SA box, but who knows what that means? Does it mean that the characters will be talking about bodybuilding? And right below that, it says "strong sexual content." Now what in the hell is that supposed to mean? Maybe the people at the ESRB were using the standards of the 1920s, when "strong sexual content" meant that a man mouthed the word "breast" while in the presence of a lady. Then again, maybe the phrase, "strong sexual content" in a video games means the same thing it does on Cinemax: that you're going to witness a contrived setup followed by some R-rated humping.

On that same note, the story also said that another criticism of the rating system was that it was hard to understand. Now this was what I was really looking for. For years, I've struggled to understand what it is that people don't understand about what I've considered to be a fairly self-explanatory ratings system, and typically, a line like that in a news story is a transition that's followed up with some details. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and what followed were merely some historical facts of the ESRB. Oh well, the search continues.

A regular Rubik's Cube.

I used to think that my state was immune to this hullabaloo, but oh boy was I wrong. Our state's representative decided to vote "yes" on a bill that would stick retailers with a hefty fine should they accidentally sell an M-rated game to a minor. One would think that they could simply appeal and say that rating was too confusing for them to know better, but I doubt that would fly with the angry parents. So now, whenever I go to pick one up, I get "carded," as though my copy of Doom 3 came with a free shot of Jaegermeister. This turn of events was especially confusing for me because I was led to believe that republicans were against anything that could cut into a business's profits, but apparently, our rep felt that there was more to gain through capitalizing on knee-jerk reactionaries.

Also on the anti-video game bus is former first lady and "New Yorker," Hillary Clinton. Still angry over the profound (and televised!) collapse of her marriage, the New York senator has now turned her frustrations on video games where people are having sex. Oddly enough, I got a letter from her (well, a form letter from her) asking for money just the other day to help fund her run for the presidency in 2008. I, of course, didn't have any money for her, but I still wanted to help, so I thought of sending her a box of my cat's sand-encrusted waste. Sadly, I was out of cardboard boxes, so if you're reading this, Hillary, I'm sorry you didn't receive my campaign contribution.

I suppose I should wrap this up before I really start going off on a tangent. The bottom line is this: an M-rated video game is just like an R-rated movie. If you're a parent, just LOOK at the rating label on the box before you buy little Johnny that game he's been wanting for ages. I mean, if it says "17 and older," and you buy it for your ten-year-old, what kind of a parent are you? If it says on the back of the box, "drug use" and "strong sexual content," maybe you shouldn't get the game for your daughter's 13th birthday.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you should give the video games your kids are playing the same kind of attention that you give to the food your kids are eating. If you do, you won't need to have the government step in, and you'll be stealing the thunder from those opportunistic politicos.

As for GTA: SA, the game has been pulled off the shelves at virtually every retail outlet. I went to Best Buy the other day to see if I could snag a copy of the PC version, but was informed by one of the salespeople that I was two days too late. Now, Rockstar has decided to voluntarily raise the game's rating to AO (Adult's Only), a category populated mainly by the dating sims straight outta Japan. Despite this change in the rating, and despite the fact that there is pretty much nowhere to buy the game except online, the TV ad campaign is still running. In effect, the situation has become just like the episode of South Park wherein Cartman buys an amusement park, forbids anyone else entry to the park, and then advertises it on TV, taunting the public with stories of the park's greatness. Will the end result be the same for Rockstar, a deluge of sales once the game is again made available to the public, or will they wind up just like Cartman, broke and forced to look on as their archrival recovers from a hemorrhoid? Only time will tell...


editor's note: Dr. Boogie is really just bitter because he's 5 years old and his parents won't buy him Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

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