SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -The industry group that sets ratings for video games is probing whether hidden features within the blockbuster title "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" allows players to make their characters engage in simulated explicit sex acts.
The series of criminal adventure games from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. subsidiary Rockstar Games has been among the best selling in history, while drawing sharp criticism for encouraging gratuitous violence.
If the investigation were to lead to a rating change from M (Mature 17+) to AO (Adult Only), it could limit sales from major retail outlets.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board "has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ”Hot Coffee” modification for (the game) … to determine if there has been a violation of ESRB Rules and Regulations requiring full disclosure of pertinent content," ratings group President Patricia Vance said in a statement.
According to enthusiast sites, loading the Hot Coffee modification on a personal computer unlocks minigames that enable users to make game characters perform sexually explicit acts.
Rockstar confirmed in an e-mailed statement the existence of the ESRB investigation and said it is complying fully.
"We also feel confident that the investigation will uphold the original rating of the game, as the work of the mod community is beyond the scope of either publishers or the ESRB," Rockstar said in the statement.
"If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate action," ESRB”s Vance said.
There have been instances where ESRB has discovered undisclosed content in a video game and changed a rating, said an ESRB spokesman, who declined further comment on the current investigation.
The move from the ESRB comes just days after California lawmaker Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, blasted the game for its violent and sexually explicit content.
The legislator, also a child psychologist, wants the game”s rating changed to AO. In the past he has pushed for restrictions on sales of violent video games to minors.
Of the 1,036 game ratings assigned by the ESRB in 2004, fewer than 1 percent received an AO rating.
The PlayStation2 version of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" was the No. 1 game of 2004, selling just over 5 million copies, according to NPD Funworld.