Considered to be one of the greatest in the franchise prior to GTA V, San Andreas debuted in the same year as other iconic titles such as Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, Fable and Cave Story. When it came time to launch the PC port the following year, a certain infamous mod spilled hot coffee all over the general consciousness.
When you think of GTA, you think of crazy missions and spending hours exploring the open world doing anything your heart desired. Don't feel like playing the main campaign? Grab random cars for a joy ride! Stressful day at work? Take a baseball bat to peoples skulls! Giggly teenager? Entice some ladies of the night with your stolen ride. Make the sexy times and use your pimp hand strong to regain that green she took from you.
In San Andreas, however, your main character, Carl "CJ" Johnson, is able to utilize a dating system in-game, allowing him to date up to six women. Building up your relationship with the ladies will grant you perks ranging from vehicles, attire, to special benefits depending on the type of girl you're dating. Once you prove yourself to be a worthy ladies man—or collected all the oyster pick-ups—the girl will invite you to her house for some "hot coffee," and we're not talking Starbucks.
All is well and good. We get a cheap adult moment much like the squeaky car when we have a prostitute on board. Everyone shrugs it off since hey, you're playing GTA. Curiously, you wonder what's going on in the house. Well, not myself personally since San Andreas' graphics does nothing for me downstairs—somebody had to think about sweet rendered nookie with PS2 grade visuals.
Virtual frik-frak isn't something new; it's present in Fable, a game released the same year. Give enough gifts until the girl starts flirting with you. Follow up with a follow the leader routine to "go somewhere private" and bam, she's all yours, captain. EA's popular franchise The Sims is another fine example of woohoo, literally.
Why did Rockstar get a bad rap when they aren't the only game in town? An addition of a sex mini game, that's how. In other titles with a sex scene, it's implied something is going down with the fade outs. All you have is your imagination and/or perverted fan art on the Internet. The Sims have acts of debauchery right on display, but what's below the sheets isn't exactly what you think it is.
Fun fact, my favorite game is a somewhat obscure title for the Playstation 2 known as Steambot Chronicles – Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot (ポンコツ浪漫大活劇バンピートロット) in Japan. The infamous hot coffee scene is spoofed if you played your cards right. Vanilla, the main protagonist, is able to date fellow band mates Coriander or Savory. Instead of hot coffee, the premise here is hot cocoa. After you meet the criteria to trigger this easter egg, a parody of the scene in GTA plays out with implied suggestion. The screen turns black during this dialog and the last thing you hear is a lustful "Mmmm, delicious." Considering you need a cotton swab dubbed "Lil Swabby" and this happens shortly after you choose the option "clean my ears," maybe the type of women Vanilla goes for has a thing for ear play, who knows?
Initially, RockStar denied this mini game was part of the coding and claimed it to be hacked. Fine. Fair enough. PC Master Race is known for modding games all the time, case closed. Or is it? Whatever happens on PC tends to stay on PC, but A user who goes by the handle "Gothi" over at PS2 Save Tools dispelled any claims Rockstar made. Known as "GTA : SA Censor Remover," plain Jane console versions of San Andreas got to access this mini game. Promptly following the mini game being "unlocked" was Rockstar ending up in the wrong neighborhood of political influence.
The next chapter in Rockstar's story was an obvious one. Enter the moral panic about how video games are the downfall of society and that Rockstar is teaching young children the proper technique to sacrifice goats. Alright, the last part was made up, but gamers are familiar with moral panic in our hobby. Everyone's favorite anti-fun police captain Jack Thompson got wind and was more than happy to dawn his moral crusader uniform. Not to be out-band-wagoned, senator Hillary Clinton echoed the talking points. It's not like video games and real life are two entirely different planes of reality or anything.
Once the moral flood gates were open, anything wrong with society had a target to point fingers at. From a protest group known as the "Peaceholics" (not making this up) picketing the sale of the game to a then 85 year old grandmother named Florence Cohen filing a class action lawsuit after she purchased the game for her 14 year old grandson. ESRB ratings be damned, same for overlooking the fact this mini game isn't even accessible without going out of your way to gain access to it. It's amazing the lack of critical thought people have once they've been swept away on a wave of mass hysteria.
Protesters have argued that selling adult games should be illegal to minors. Well, obviously. The ESRB rating system was created for the sole intent of ensuring certain games stayed out of the hands of minors; it's the main basis of the ESRB even existing. Had Rockstar not been forced to change the rating from M to AO, many people complaining over children and video games still didn't have much of a valid complaint. Remember, M rated games are intended for a 17+ audience; not the grandkids in junior high. Unsure the legal system should have it's time wasted with irresponsible parents buying high rated games for minors, though.
The best way to describe these types of panics are a collection of hot air with no clear direction to go. If a non readily accessible dirty mini game in a title aimed at 17+ year olds was enough to spark a think of the children backlash, one questions how much of this outrage was informed and how much was from parroting shoddy reporting. What a time to be alive! With Rockstar being public enemy number one over the hot coffee mod, how bad can the actual mini game be?
Yep. Compared to Skyrim mods, hot coffee mod is pretty vanilla by today's standards. It features some horrific voice clips that get recycled and the moaning is less convincing than the "I'm here to fix your pipes, ma'am" scenario in adult film. "Dry hump simulator" doesn't quite roll off the tip of your tongue as "hot coffee mod" does. For all intended purposes, the models may as well have been Barbie dolls smashed into one another. Nothing about the animations were smooth nor did they resemble what most people would consider arousing. Was the hot coffee mod controversy blown out of proportion in the media? Yes, only by a lot and then some. Jack Thompson sure did have a lot of free time on his hands—not very surprising he later became a disbarred attorney in 2008.
Rockstar's hot coffee tale comes to a close following the recalls of the unmodded game from the general public and civil class actions. Some retailers were given an AO sticker to stick over existing merchandise—taking out as many copies as possible out of circulation was the top priority. This controversy was so huge, Australia banned the selling of the game once the rating was bumped up. Although, it doesn't take much to get a game shelved down under when you yell loud enough. Curiously, eBay also barred the sale of the unpatched game, which is unusual considering these sort of things create artificial rarity. The recall was intended to be mandatory, but we all know many owners of the original wouldn't part with their now hot item so willingly.
Enter Version 2.0 of San Andreas. As a means to regain their former M rating, patched versions of San Andreas were released that omitted the hot coffee mini game entirely. Unfortunately, because the game was designed to crash if the files were modified, this made a mess of modded multiplayer and other more tasteful mods that added in content like more vehicles. Players were forced to downgrade if they wished to do any modding. You can't keep a good modder down. Eventually, this limitation was overcome by a couple of crafty modders from the GTA modding community. It should be noted that the ESRB took just as much heat as the publishers did.
Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, and Evan Bayh introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act on December 2005, which is basically a federal enforcement of ESRB ratings to, you guessed it, protect the children. I'd like to reiterate the point that even if San Andreas didn't have a hard to access "sex" (if you can call dry humping and giving the air a blowie sex) mini game, the rating was already too high to be sold to children regardless. Parents should really take more responsibility for what they purchase their kids instead of petitioning for more laws that should be common sense. It's Grand Theft Auto, not Super Mario Bros. Parents and kids alike knew what to expect with this franchise.
Ten years later, we can look back and laugh at how absurd this controversy was. The only thing learned from all this besides how easy it is to shake down a company for money in the name of using minors as political shields is that some games are not intended for children. Who knew? Maybe during the 10th anniversary, we'll be joking about all the controversies Rockstar went through for GTA V. The programmers should have removed the code before shipping the game out, but it's not unusual to have left over code in a video game once it hits retail. It's one thing to get riled up over sexual content in a game—for Americans anyway—it's another to make a huge fuss over said content that you have to specifically go out of your way to see.
All I have to say is keep being you, Rockstar. If there wasn't a hint of controversy surrounding a GTA game, it wouldn't be GTA.