NEW YORK CITY—Remember when video game designers thought it was cool to include "hidden" pictures or information or play scenarios in the games they wrote, and bloggers would go crazy trying to be the first one to discover the under-the-radar features?
Of course, designers and bloggers are still doing that... but they're probably doing it a little more carefully, having learned the lesson of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Seems that back in 2005, Rockstar Games, a division of Take-Two Interactive, got into major trouble with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which upped Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' rating from "Mature," which signified content that "may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older," to "Adults Only," which should "only be played by persons 18 years and older" and "may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language." This had the effect of keeping the game off the shelves of some major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.
Why? Because game hackers had uncovered a sexually-oriented "mini-game" that had been hidden in the game's programming code: a scene that depicted digital characters, for the most part clothed, simulating fucking and other sexy moves. Although normal play of the game could not reveal the hidden scene, downloading a program "key" called "Hot Coffee," created by game enthusiasts, allowed players to access the hidden scene.
Of course, discovery of this "hidden sex" drove some U.S. senators a bit crazy, and it was they who leaned on the ESRB to re-rate the game, which at that point had sold over 6 million copies. The discovery also generated a class-action lawsuit from consumers who apparently were scandalized that they now owned a video game with hidden "sex scenes" that they couldn't even view without the Hot Coffee program... but the mere fact that the scenes were there was bad enough.
Interestingly, at the same time, Take-Two was also being sued by some of its investors for improperly backdating stock options, but eventually, the suits were merged and, after four years of litigation, a settlement reached where Take-Two put up $4.9 million and its insurance company another $15.2 million to settle all claims.
It's unclear from news reports how much of those funds are earmarked for the scandalized gamers and how much for the gypped investors—but whatever the percentage, it's another win for the forces of censorship.