Hillary Clinton enters GTA debate
Democratic Senator for New York and former first-lady Hillary Clinton has entered the ongoing controversy surrounding Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, calling for an investigation into the game and calling for new legislation to govern titles featuring adult content. The controversy surrounding San Andreas has been rolling-on with little sign of a halt for nearly two weeks now, ever since the emergence of a mod called 'Hot Coffee', which purports to unlock an unfinished mini-game from the existing San Andreas code. For their part, publisher Rockstar deny that the pornographic mini-game is part of the game per se, but don't deny that it is based on existing game content. Critics and censors seem divided about whether to act on this controversy, with Rockstar contending that community modification is beyond their control whilst right-wingers have called for stronger censorship.
Hillary Clinton has been vocal about her concern over violent videogames before, particularly GTA, but now looks set to act on these issues, having already urged the Federal Trade Commission to intervene and investigate the game, and the 'Hot Coffee' mod enabling the offensive content. Whilst the American ratings board ESRB is investigating whether their 'M' classification is strong enough, others have called for an 'AO' ('Adults Only') certificate. Indeed, the very credibility of the American system of rating has been called into question over the 'Hot Coffee' debate, with some saying that more laws are necessary to protect youngsters from viewing 'harmful' content.
In a letter to the Trade Commission, Hillary Clinton (a Presidential candidate of the future), wrote regarding the mod: "I therefore urge you to take immediate action to determine the source of this content and the appropriateness of the M rating in light of its vast accessibility, and to make your findings public." She continued: "Parents who rely on the ratings to make decisions to shield their children from influences that they believe could be harmful, should be informed right away if the system is broken. Parents face an uphill battle just understanding the ratings system. They cannot and should not be expected to second guess it."
Several states have already tried to introduce laws cracking-down on those selling games with mature content to youngsters, but Clinton called for a nationwide answer to this growing issue, suggesting a bill that would prohibit the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors, with a $5,000 (US) fine or worse as penalty.
"We support any effort to empower parents to control what their kids consume, but we also want to strike a balance so that the average video game player, who is not a child, is able to continue to play the games that they enjoy," responded Rockstar's Rodney Walker in a statement to the New York Times.
Perhaps looking to draw a line under this ongoing debate, or at least present their stance in full, Rockstar have today released a full statement on the current argument, taking the line usually adopted by games companies - that they support initiatives to protect children, but also defend the rights of older gamers seeking mature titles:
"We fully support efforts to keep mature-rated video game content out of the hands of children. Although we may not agree with certain interpretations of our titles, we are looking forward to the opportunity for a balanced and open discussion of these issues. Now that video games are mainstream popular entertainment, parents need reliable solutions to ensure family members only play the games appropriate for their age group."
"Thanks to advances in the digital and creative arts, the quality and variety of video games have never been greater. But just as some movies are rated R, some games are rated M because they are intended for mature audiences ages 17 and older. Their plots and storylines are inappropriate for children."
Taking on the freedom of creative expression stance, Rockstar added: "We are disappointed by comments that misrepresent Grand Theft Auto, detracting from the innovative and artistic merits of the game. Unfortunately, the recent confusion only serves to suggest that games do not deserve the same treatment as other forms of creative expression. By promoting awareness, we can avoid propagating the fear and mistrust of a new entertainment medium."
It is worth noting that in several other countries like the UK, Germany and Australia, age ratings imposed on games are legally binding - with retailers found breaching certifications receiving hefty punishments. Regardless of the outcome, it certainly seems likely that this debate will continue to rage now that a high-profile political figure such as senator Clinton has become involved.