TANGENT I've got news for people who think this was a rough week for the video game industry. It's gonna get worse.

When the Entertainment Software Ratings Board decided Wednesday to retroactively raise the "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" rating from Mature to Adults Only, it essentially conceded that the industry cannot effectively regulate itself.

Is independent regulation needed? Should the government become involved? These are the difficult questions the industry must now answer.

Wednesday's rating change was spurred by extraordinary circumstances. Rockstar Games programmed -- then sequestered -- a game-within-the-game wherein the main character could have sex.

When the game was released last year, there was no mention of the minigame. Although it remained buried on "San Andreas" game discs, it wasn't part of the game.

The minigame was found last month. Patrick Wildenbourg, a Dutch gamer, promptly created a file PC gamers could download to enable the minigame. The minigame was next found and accessed in the game's PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions.


Politicians and media watchdogs decried the sexual content, and demanded the ratings board take action. This week's rating change was the end result.

So was the content all that atrocious? Not really. The sex scenes are almost comical. They're not particularly explicit, and they're nothing compared to some HBO shows.

But the "hot coffee" minigame -- thus called because willing ladies invite players to their apartment for coffee -- was jarring for a different reason. It showed the ratings board uses the honor system, relying on game makers to disclose all game content.

Of course, the ratings board never saw the minigame because Rockstar didn't point it out. (Remember, the minigame wasn't part of the game.) The ratings board has since amended their rules, so that all disc content must be revealed.

The damage, however, is done. By changing the "San Andreas" rating, the board has demonstrated its fallibility. This vulnerability will be exploited by critics, and could lead to independent oversight.

It's hard to assign blame. Does the fault lie with Rockstar Games, who merely sequestered and didn't delete the minigame? Or should the ratings board, which didn't require Rockstar Games to disclose all disc content, take the heat?

Ultimately, they're both to blame. And they'll both pay a price. Sadly, though, gamers like you and me will, too.

Joshua Lynsen writes about video games each week. You can read his column, Digital Watch, elsewhere in Tangent.

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