GTA: San Andreas, the "Hot Coffee" mod

It's sort of old news now, but I'm very disturbed by the huge disaster that's been made over the Hot Coffee mod that hacks GTA: San Andreas to allow the player to execute code that was otherwise inaccessible, to allow the character CJ to have sex with his girlfriend. Unlike some people who are quick to judge things that they haven't bothered to actually try out, I've played the game, in depth. And an amazing game it is. It has broken the record for PS2 game sales, and it well deserves that record.

The game is meant for adult audiences -- it's rated M, which means no one under 17 may buy it. I haven't watched any gangster movies other than Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill -- I assume Boys In the Hood would be a better comparison if I had seen it, but the level of grittiness (violence and language-wise) seems on par with those two movies. As gritty as they were, they were rated R, not NC-17, and certainly not X, which is the equivalent revised rating they've given GTA: San Andreas. Setting aside for the moment that you cannot see the sex in the game without hacking it, let me describe how the sex is portrayed:

The sex occurs between CJ and a girlfriend only after many dates where we see them smiling, laughing, holding hands, and kissing in the cinematics that play after successful dates. CJ must wait for her to offer the sex, after he has been dating her for a while and been treating her well. He cannot force it on her. It is entirely consensual and positive, and an entirely believable thing for a happy couple to be doing.

You see no penis, no vagina, no penetration, no closeups, no sound effects other than an occasional moan from the girlfriend if you're doing well. A movie with this content would get no more than an R rating.

Aside from the fact that there is no way to access the sex in the normally-played game, it is evident that Rockstar decided not to use it and left this code unfinished, because CJ is entirely clothed during the sex, and there is no music in the background.

Movie directors never get this kind of outrageous attention when they leave a few scenes on the cutting room floor to achieve a lighter rating. That is exactly what game producer Rockstar did -- they edited out a game feature. A piece of software is not as easily edited as a movie. Removing chunks of code can be tricky and if it's not done very carefully, it can cause the whole thing to become unstable. They were well within their rights to lock it away, unused like a vestigal organ. If someone found a way to make it work again, that is not Rockstar's fault. Indeed, their user license expressly forbids the kind of reverse-engineering required to have done this.

I am further disturbed by a seeming inability of the news media to understand the reality of the situation. Time and again I see people reporting that Rockstar first denied creating the Hot Coffee content, then changed their story. I read their statement, and they did nothing of the sort. They blamed the hacker for doing what was forbidden, reverse-engineering the game, to create the mod that allowed players to see this abandoned code. They didn't say the hacker created the content of the Hot Coffee mini-game, they just said in a carefully worded statement that the sex was not a part of the finished game, as they released it. I quote: "...the 'hot coffee' scenes cannot be created without intentional and significant technical modifications and reverse engineering of the game's source code". Get it right, media people. You're doing them more harm than good. They are the victims here.

"The editing and finalization of any game is a complicated task and it's not uncommon for unused and unfinished content to remain on the disc," also said the spokesman. Similarly, another lesser-known mod for this game allows players to re-enable a skateboard into the game. Rockstar had planned to include skateboard riding, but abandoned that code, too, yet vestiges of it are still in the code. And in the same way, a player will never see the skateboard unless it is hacked back into the game like Hot Coffee was. Even then, the skateboard is even less finished than Hot Coffee, and even with the mod, you will not be able to ride the skateboard, because Rockstar just never got that far into the programming before abandoning it.

Despite how some people make it out, this game is not nonstop mindless violence and sex. It has a solid, realistic story with excellent scripting, well-respected actors such as Samuel L. Jackson playing the characters (see the IMDB listing for more big names), and a boatload of non-violent activities to pursue. You do not have to go around shooting people (which is exactly what you have to do in most other first person video games). In this game, it is the choice of the player. GTA is primarily a driving game, and you don't even need to carjack people's cars to go for a drive. There are plenty of unoccupied cars and other vehicles available to drive. Here are some of the more "inoffensive" activities available:

  • Playing basketball: Shoot hoops solo, trying to make baskets from different areas on the court. Just go to the court and pick up the basketball to start playing.
  • Playing billiards: A full-featured, very fun (if you like playing pool) pool game played against a computer opponent or another player. Realistic billiard ball physics, different viewing angles, and a helper for difficult angles. Just go to the local pub down the street and talk to the guy standing by the pool table to start playing.
  • Playing video games: Yes, within the game you can play other games. There are 3 or 4 different 90s-style arcade games at various locations in the game world.
  • Bicycle delivery: Quite fun and challenging. Deliver packages from a food mart to various locations all over town, within the time limit. You have to deliver more and to more widely scattered locations as levels progress.
  • Taxi service: A lot like the game Crazy Taxi. Pick up passengers and get them to their destination within the time limit. Bonuses for speed and the levels get progressively more challenging. Remember, although you can drive like a maniac, you are punished for hitting pedestrians or other things -- hitting pedestrians will make the police start chasing you and you could end up busted and lose all of your items and some of your money. Similarly, hitting other things and damaging your car too much can end the taxi mission, or make it blow up and you'll end up in the hospital, which also makes you lose all your items and some money. The goal of driving is to drive skillfuly, avoiding collisions with anything.
  • Paramedic: Injured people need your help! Pick up people in an ambulance and get them to the hospital on time. Drive carefully, or they might die!
  • Firefighter: Extinguish fires across town in a fire truck.
  • Vigilante: Assist the police in chasing down dangerous criminals.
  • BMX challenge: Ride your bike, doing trick jumps and riding up and down ramps and half-pipes to catch all of the rings throughout the bike park, within the time limit.
  • Triathlon: Swimming, then running, then...I don't know, because my stamina wasn't high enough to get further than that.
  • Boxing and martial arts matches: Available at the various city gyms.
  • Dancing: DDR-style arrow-based dancing moves.
  • Lowrider bouncing competition: Arrow-based just like the dancing, but you're bouncing your lowrider's hydraulics to the arrow beats.
  • Exploring: The game world is huge and detailed. Just exploring the scenery, the cities and the wide and varied countryside is a pleasure in itself. But there are also specific exploration-related activities you can pursue:
  • Collecting oysters: There are 50 valuable oysters to be found underwater all over the state, for those who would like the challenge of finding them all.
  • Collecting horseshoes: There are 50 horseshoes scattered throughout one of the cities to find as a scavenger hunt.
  • Graffiti: There are 100 gang tags on walls throughout one of the cities that the player can cover up with a spraypaint can.
  • Photography: There are 50 particularly scenic locations that the player can find and photograph for another bonus.
  • Unique jumps: There are 70 ramps throughout the state which will give you a bonus if you find them and jump them in a car or bike.
  • Just going for a drive: Cruise downtown with the radio on your favourite early 90s station (there are quite a few to choose from, even though the amount of content seems to be on the slim side) or fire up your own custom folder of mp3s interspersed with 90s DJ chatter and amusing fake commercials. Or drive along the coastal highway. Turn on some thumping bass and cruise your hydraulic-bouncing lowrider down the inner city streets. Drive through rural country roads and watch the farms go by while listening to country music if you prefer.
  • Dating: The dating is a whole game in itself. Meet certain girls, dress up or work out in the gym to impress them (they all have different tastes), bring flowers, take them to restaurants or out dancing, or various other activities (also based on their tastes). Personally, I think the Hot Coffee mod is a welcome and challenging addition to the dating portion of the game, but you still have the option of declining to go inside for "coffee", if you so desire. Keep the girls happy by giving them plenty of attention and dating them often, or your relationship status will go down.
  • Stadium racecar driving: Do laps around a racetrack with a bunch of computer opponent cars, with an announcer and a cheering crowd.
  • Attending flight school: You get your pilot license this way, allowing you to legitimately fly planes in the game.
  • Plane and helicopter flying: For fun, for transportation, or for challenging race and checkpoint missions.
  • Parachuting
  • Base jumping
  • Horse racing
  • Various full-featured casino games: Including video poker, blackjack, roulette, slot machines. and wheel of fortune.
This is nowhere near all of the non-violent things you can do. This is what I've found after exploring less than 1/3 of the locations in the game. I haven't even mentioned the ability to go clothes shopping at the several different kinds of clothes shops and getting different styles of haircuts, customising your cars at auto shops, etc. There is much, much more to do, in addition to the more gangster-oriented storyline missions. This game is literally dozens of games in one; scores of games, even. An incredible value.

Rockstar deserves awards, accolades, and lots of money for this game, not the huge costs of recalling discs, carefully editing the game code to remove the already-censored sexual content in an already adult-rated game, being careful to keep the software stable -- and they certainly don't deserve a Federal Trade Commission investigation.

And for reason's sake, politicians, shut the hell up about "the children". The game is for adults. I'm an adult, and I want to play the goddamned game. Stop trying to turn the whole world into a nursery.

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