Steaming Hot Coffee scandal is much ado about nothing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 12:00am

So what? So help me, but that was my reaction when I heard about the Hot Coffee scandal.

Hot Coffee is the name of a steamy 'mod': code that modifies a game - in this case Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The industry usually encourages mods because, through embroidering plotlines, the perpetrators, known as 'modders', boost their babies' popularity and lifespan.

Apparently motivated by mischief and a desire to sharpen their programming skills, modders have been around at least since the original version of the gothic shoot-'em-up Doom, which encouraged the practice. Modders still tinker with Doom, adding flamethrowers, third-person adjustable camera angles, new textures and all kinds of flourishes.

But they do not add naked ogres or bonking humans - Doom is all about being knee-deep in the dead. Society apparently finds this fairly acceptable - the game is rated M (Mature), which means you must be 17 to play. The same applies to GTA but it may wind up with taboo AO (Adults Only) status because Hot Coffee enables the hero to engage in a sexual act before your eyes. Pure voyeurism.

Thank 36-year-old Dutchman Patrick Wildenborg - a name neatly reminiscent of Jocelyne Wildenstein, the plastic surgery diva and a certain sci-fi giant. Mr Wildenborg seems to have created a monster but insists that his mod merely accesses material already included in GTA.

The publisher Rockstar Games apparently built the hanky panky into the game, but decided to disable it in the final release. Maybe Rockstar simply wanted to inject some intrigue that would whet the appetite of wayward code-crunchers. Or maybe the firm planned openly to feature sex but got cold feet.

Either way, now all hell has been let loose by California assemblyman Leland Yee who has long campaigned for restrictions on the sale of video games to children.

Mr Yee slammed the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), saying: 'Once again, the ESRB has failed our parents ... This particular game has been known to include extremely heinous acts of violence, and now it has been uncovered that the game also includes explicit sexual scenes that are inappropriate for our children.'

The ESRB promptly opened an investigation to determine if rules had been broken. The result may decide whether San Andreas is reclassified as AO: if that happens, stores might just take the game off the shelves, which would be no bad thing.

Make no mistake: San Andreas is heinous because of its promotion of violence - it gives you respect points for killing cops and whores whenever you take a break from stealing cars and swaggering around. If the game does become harder to buy, that is fine with me. But whether the sex hacks should be the cause of its downfall is a different matter.

After all, sex is how everyone, even Mr Yee, came to be.

Show me the evidence that exposure to it via a screen is damaging to 'minors'. In reality, children take sex on board like, well, most other things - it is bullying and the death of pets and relatives that they find hard to cope with, instead of cartoon footage of writhing bodies.

Anyway, remember that as things stand the viewers are meant to be at least 17. In many countries, you can drive, have sex and join the army at that age.

Just say the scenes revealed by Hot Coffee were somehow warped. Imagine if, after sex, the hero ate his partner Sin City-style: under those circumstances Mr Yee might be justified in his attack.

In fact, you just see the hero hump his girlfriend on the floor in various positions. That's all.

At a time when we are still trying to come to terms with real images of what bombs can do to commuters trapped underground, Mr Yee's outrage seems all the more disproportionate. Nonetheless, his attitude reflects that of the establishment - while movies containing excessive violence only receive an R rating, movies with lashings of sex attract the dreaded X. Sick.

Ranking Grand Theft Auto as hardcore because of the 'mini game' would be particularly sick and silly since viewing the footage takes effort. You have to download the modification and then install it to access the action. Next, you need to enter the environment and find your way to the coffee zone.

Many young players will not bother. If they really want to see porn, all they have to do is log onto the internet and temporarily switch off any filters mum and dad have imposed, while they argue in the other room.

The more you look at it, the more Mr Wildenborg's Hot Coffee window on lust seems like no cause for concern, indignation or censorship. In short, the scandal is a storm in a hot coffee cup.

To download Hot Coffee, visit