The video game industry on Wednesday changed to adults-only the rating of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," a best-selling title in which explicit sexual content can be unlocked with an Internet download.
The best-selling video game, which centers on gang violence, was being pulled from some shelves and slapped with a more restrictive "Adults Only" rating Wednesday after an investigation concluded that explicit sexual content could be unlocked on the game.
The producer of the game, Rockstar Games, said it had ceased production of GTA and was manufacturing a version without the sexual content.
The company's decision comes after heated pressure from politicians, parents groups and an investigation by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the ratings board for the video game industry.
The ESRB ruled that retailers had to change the game's rating from "M," which "may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older," to an "AO," which some stores refuse to carry.
"We're pulling the game off the shelf until the new version comes," says Julius Chatmon, manager of a GameStop store in Alexandria, Va. "We're not allowed to sell it at all, not even to adults." Calls to the Texas-based GameStop Corp., which operates 1,908 retail stores, were not returned Wednesday.
Controversy over the game erupted earlier this month when players began downloading an Internet "mod" that allowed them to see the sexual material on GTA's PC version. "Mods" are popular programs that allow players to alter characters and scenes.
The problem, says ESRB president Patricia Vance, "is that this mod was unlocking material that was already hidden on the game," and not created by a third party.
"We were never informed that there were these kinds of scenes on the game, even if they were never intended to be discovered by players," she says.
Officials with Rockstar and its parent corporation, Take-Two Interactive, could not be reached for comment. But on the companies' Web site, Take-Two president Paul Eibeler issued a statement that the "mod" was unauthorized.
But politicians and video game officials blasted the company for putting hidden content on the game, which has sold more than 5 million units since its release last fall.
"So many parents already feel like they are fighting a battle against violence and sexually explicit material with their hands tied behind their backs," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said in a statement Wednesday. "We need companies to be responsible, and we need rating systems that work."
Sean Bersell of the Video Software Dealers Association says that video gamemakers often are compelled to "lock away" content that they feel will give the game an undesired rating. "But it's a dangerous practice. If they put it on the game, someone is going to figure out how to find it."