FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, July 22, 2005

Video Game Backlash?

In the wake of revelations that the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contained sexually explicit content, several major retailers, including Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Circuit City, have yanked the game from their shelves. Wal-Mart and Best Buy have said that they aren't sure whether they would restock the game, even if the offensive content were removed.

The mod (or modification) content was not something ordinary gamers were meant to see. Rather, it was intended for tinkerers, and accessible only through a downloadable file called "Hot Coffee." The odds that a child could have accessed that content were almost nil.

The controversy raises several key questions about the state of today's video game industry. Clearly, video games now show up high enough on politicians' radar screens for them to make a fuss (and, in Sen. Hillary Clinton's case, to build some conservative street cred). But where was the uproar earlier? Grand Theft Auto is notorious for its violent content, including cop killing. Will we see further crackdowns on violent video games, or will outrage be reserved purely for sex?

Also, what will this incident do to the video game industry? It's never good to have your product kicked out of Wal-Mart, after all. Is this just the latest outrage du jour, or just the beginning of a wide, ongoing government crackdown? Will it serve to drive developers of the most controversial games underground?

UPDATE: The GTA backlash is not limited to the States. Australia has reportedly banned the game outright, claiming that its content exceeds its most restrictive rating for adult material.

Sources: Wired, The New York Times