The “Hot Coffee” scandal — a sex minigame found by a modder inside the code of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — still weighs on Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games, which makes the series. In an interview with The Guardian, Houser said he views the seven-year-old incident as an attack on video gaming in general.
“We never felt that we were being attacked for the content, we were being attacked for the medium, which felt a little unfair,” Houser said. “If all of this stuff had been put into a book or a movie, people wouldn’t have blinked an eye.”
The Guardian goes so far as to suggest “Hot Coffee” has shaped how Rockstar deals with the press today although Houser said he and brother Sam’s reluctance to do many interviews comes from a Rockstar culture in place well before Hot Coffee.
I think Houser’s right but it’s also important to remember this took place in 2005, an eon ago in the relationship of video gaming to the mainstream press and culture. Since then, adversaries like Jack Thompson have vanished, screw-ups like Fox News had in covering Mass Effect, and Call of Duty making everyone comfortable with casual violence thanks to ads like these, have toned down the mainstream’s knee-jerk reaction to video games. Thoughtful releases from Rockstar like L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption have also set an expectation that an M-rated game is no less meritorious a work than an R-rated film is.
Grand Theft Auto‘s name alone may still incite some stupid reactions but I’d be surprised if its next game is treated like anything other than a mainstream work of entertainment, with all the privileges given to it.