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Yahtzee looks at the classic Hot Coffee controversy.

Transcript Edit

Let's all laugh at an industry that never learns anything, tee hee hee.

Zero Punctuation's Occasional Guide to Retarded Special Moments in Gaming History Edit

On today's episode of the Zero Punctuation Occasional Guide to Moments from Gaming History Least Likely to be Adapted Into a Life-Affirming Coming-of-Age Drama, we turn to the subject of moral panics, and then we turn around again and do a big fart in moral panic's face. Over the years, controversy and video games have gone hand-in-hand, followed by tongue-in-mouth, and then cock-in-bumhole, but they've only relatively recently gotten into valid "helpful" controversies, like "Publishers are running barely-disguised casinos through legal loopholes in the hope of stealing all the money in the world so they can build a new solid-gold planet from which to plot their conquest of the universe and the death of that meddling fool, Flash Gordon."

Most video game controversies have been repeating that tiresome debate over whether it's healthy for little Timmy to make Sub-Zero tear out spinal columns, and which can be routinely countered with the argument that every spinal column torn out in Make-Believe Pixel Land is one real spinal column not torn out in the schoolyard. But what happens when video games touch upon the one thing moral guardians hate more than violence: the reproductive realities of their own depraved, shameful biology?

Hot Coffee Makes Clots Huffy Edit

The year is 2005, when the PlayStation 2 was sitting pretty atop the games industry like a big sexy jockey. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the fifth GTA game, and in their drive to experiment with the GTA formula, developers Rockstar had absolutely riddled the thing with stat-grinding mini-games that had all the entertainment value of a large bag of polystyrene packing material. And in the spirit of grinding (waggle eyebrows), someone made a mod for the PC version of the game to replace the slightly weaksauce fade out/fade up implied boffing session that ended the dating side-quests with a full-on graphic sex mini-game in which two fully-clothed models made hog's squeaks of pleasure as they slide in and out of each other like a pair of butchered horse carcasses in a dog food processing vat.

Initially, Rockstar claimed that it was all the work of naughty hackers and that one could no more blame them than one could blame an exercise book manufacturer for a schoolboy's crude drawing of a knob, until it became clear that all that the mod actually did was go into one file and change the variable "EnableHorribleSexMinigame" from 0 to 1. With the revelation that the general public had trustingly allowed into their homes a shameless portrayal of consensual lovemaking insidiously Trojan-horsed within their wholesome, innocent policeman-murdering simulator, the moral guardians threw one of their characteristic shit-fits.

For me, the fact that you had to mod the game to turn it on sort of defeats the traditional "corrupting the innocent children" argument, because any innocent child who unsuspectingly visits a PC modding website and downloads and installs "ActivateHotSexyPornMinigameWithActualSexInIt.exe" by accident - presumably while searching for Bible verses and poems about Grandma - is either a severely unlucky or unflinchingly dishonest one. But that nicety was wasted on the usual suspects, who were relishing having an excuse to get their huff on again; notorious anti-video game lawyer and humanity's answer to the Sarcoptes parasite Jack Thompson jumped all over it, which was par for the course at the time, but none other than Hillary Clinton also joined in for the kicking, just in case you thought the only mark against her was being unable to win an election against a large pile of Cheesy Wotsits in an ill-fitting suit.

But this was before our current age of digital distribution, when we don't so much own games we buy as agree to temporarily house them on our hard drives until the publishers decide they can't be bothered to keep the servers running. And there was no denying that the content was on the disc; you can't get away with putting one page of high-fidelity dick pics into the middle of The Very Hungry Caterpillar just because you glued another page over it, and the ESRB rating of San Andreas was changed from "Mature" to "Adults Only", the rating reserved mainly for porn games and which most retailers refuse to stock. Meanwhile, Europe only had an "18+" rating, which the game already had, so Europe didn't give a shit; Europe barely looked up from its tea and weird-smelling cheese. Australia, of course, didn't have a rating of "Mature" for games, so they just pulled that old "Refused Classification" bullshit, because that country's so into the nanny state that it's using Nanny's labia as drapes for its four-poster bed.

Rockstar swiftly recalled, patched, and reissued the game, and the "Mature" rating was promptly restored, but if the history of moral panics has taught us anything, it's that complying with the moral panic is the least effective way to end it; it's showing weakness, isn't it? It's like saying to the frenzied shark, "If you promise not to bite all my arms and legs off, you can have this used tampon." Lawsuits got underway, Clinton introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act to federally enforce the ESRB ratings that would ultimately flounder like an armadillo in a ball pit, but it wasn't enough.

Still brimming with huffy energy and not wanting to admit that this was all rooted in general frustration at losing control of a changing world and having nothing else to do all day but pick the kids up from soccer practice and shag the pool cleaner, the moral guardians extended their rage to Rockstar's next title, Bully, a slightly quaint game about a rascally schoolboy, which they decided, sight unseen, was some kind of loving tribute to the Columbine murderers. In perhaps the most hilarious episode of the time, a group apparently unironically calling themselves the "Peaceholics" organized a protest at Rockstar's headquarters, even issuing a list of demands, which is worth googling if you can do with a laugh, because their demands basically amount to "immediately sabotage your own business and admit responsibility for all human suffering and wrongdoing". I can't seem to find any information on what the Peaceholics were threatening to do if their demands weren't met; presumably, they were going to get real fucking peaceful on these motherfuckers.

The Lessons Nobody Learned Edit

I think it's fair to say that "Hot Coffee" wouldn't happen today, as publishers would be able to digitally patch it out before Carl Johnson had finished his first crudely-animated thrust; any controversy about locked content on the disc is more likely to center around publishers trying to flog it as DLC. But in the aftermath of "insert name of currently most relevant American mass school shooting", we ask ourselves why the video game moral panic never seems to permanently go away.

Who ultimately was hurt by "Hot Coffee", and benefitted from Rockstar's chastisement? Well, we don't need to speculate; we have stats! In 2007, the class-action lawsuit was settled and Take-Two agreed to pay every offended customer enough money to buy a slapper McDonald's meal for one. But as of June 2008, less than 2,700 people had made a claim. "Oh, how shocking!" said the eleven law firms that had been drawing the case out. "Guess people just aren't as committed to making a moral stand as they used to be. Gosh, is that the time on my suspiciously expensive Rolex? Gotta run!" So, yeah, if you want to know why moral panics drag on, it's because somewhere, somehow, a shadowy cunt is making shitloads of money from it; basically, the same reason there's still a DC Cinematic Universe.

Addenda Edit

  • Hot and bothered: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Don't worry, the White House condemning violent games won't come to anything because violent games make too much money for the people who run the world
  • Gun down a Nazi for mental health today

Extra: Differently Morphous Edit

My latest book, Differently Morphous, is out now on audible.com as an Audible Original, meaning audiobook first with print version further down the line, so get those ears unstuffed. It's a contemporary paranormal fantasy about the difficulties of adapting to modern life when you're a formless Lovecraftian horror from beyond the veil of time and space.

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
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2009
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
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Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
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2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
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Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
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2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
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Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony