What a difference a few years makes. In this latest installment of my monthly Culture Clash column for the International Game Developers Association, we’re talking about the steps, baby and otherwise, that a creative medium must take in order to ensure its own freedom of expression. As you might recall, in 2005 Rockstar Games decided to cross a creative Rubicon of sorts, hiding a sex scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and leaving it for haxx0rs to inevitably find. Known as the Hot Coffee scandal, it sent tremors through the entire industry as calls for censorship – which had until then been dying out – reignited with fury. Rockstar embarked on what I then quite wittily described as a “polymorphic campaign of bullshit,” going to ever more flamboyantly unbelievable lengths to deny their own culpability in the matter.
The dust did settle, eventually, and now seven years on, it’s only fair to concede that Hot Coffee – dangerous, selfish, and stupid as it was – did accomplish something. The censorship threat blew over and games have more creative license than ever before. Personally, I still don’t forgive Rockstar for what it did; in Vietnam terms, the company destroyed a village in order to save it. What I offer here is not a justification for the company’s misdeed, just a reflection on the fact that they cast a die and got a result. Enjoy!