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Hot tea at Rockstar

July 27, 2005 ・ Blog

I went to visit Rockstar’s London office today to see a new game they’re developing based on the 1979 New York gang war film The Warriors. It looks like a good game, full of Rockstar’s trademark well-judged melding of videogame convention with the rest of popular culture. It’s a street brawler, like Double Dragon or Spikeout, set in dilapidated and dark inner city streets. The combat appears to be fairly deep, with counters, reversals and some freedom over how you tackle the many enemies that can surround your character. AI gang buddies lay into foes too – you can even step back sometimes to get a better overview of how the battle is going and plan accordingly. The atmosphere of the game is nice too. Though nice perhaps isn’t the right word – it mirrors the world of the film well: all peeling paint, rusting corrugated iron and sodium glare off wet streets.

It’s an interesting time to be visiting Rockstar. Though the PRs carefully didn’t mention it, hanging over the meeting was the current furore (though there’s usually one) surrounding the Hot Coffee mod (which originated here). It reinstates an explicit sex minigame in GTA: San Andreas. Rockstar has been accused of “smuggling” in the material in the game so it could retain its M (Mature 17+) rating in the US. A higher certificate would have prevented the conservative Walmart and co chains from stocking the game.

It’s all bollocks, of course. It takes a lot of effort to install and run the mod. It’s not the sort of thing that people can ever accidentally see – and those that will are hardly susceptible to the moral damage of seeing badly realised virtual sex. That hasn’t stopped Hillary Clinton wading in to accuse the game of undermining family values, though. Nor veteran anti-videogame lawyer Jack Thompson, reacted to the Hot Coffee mod by accusing the Sims 2 of having sexual material in it “no different than what is in San Andreas, although worse,” because it blurs out the genitals of the in-game characters when they’re naked, the implication of such awful things surely being huge draws for, gasp, paedophiles and the like.

Cue Steven Johnson, who has written an open letter to Clinton through the LA Times. There are also a graph going around showing how falling crime rates have corresponded with the period since GTA 3 was released, too.

All this knee-jerk negativity towards videogames is gratifying causing their supporters to think more carefully about their place in modern culture, and how perception of crime and moral panic seems rather more important than how Clinton et al choose to understand videogames – which they don’t appear to very well at all. So that’s good.

Oh and the title to this post amusingly refers to the fact I drank some tea rather than coffee at Rockstar’s offices. Ha ha.