Consumer Freedom

Murdering Hookers Is One Thing, but Having Sex With Them…

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When I found myself in the unaccustomed position of seeing merit in a class action lawsuit, I knew it wouldn't be long before I came across one that was easier to ridicule. Even The New York Times has trouble keeping a straight face about the lawsuit over "hidden sex scenes" in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Here is how what is ostensibly a news story about the case begins:

Lawyers who sued the makers of the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas profess to be shocked, simply shocked, that few people who bought the game were offended by sex scenes buried in its software.

Any buyer upset about hidden sex in the violent game could file a claim under a settlement the lawyers struck with the game's makers, Rockstar Games, and its corporate parent, Take-Two Interactive. Of the millions of people who bought the San Andreas version after its release in 2004, exactly 2,676 filed claims.

Each of them will get coupons or discounts worth $5 to $35, at a total cost of less than $30,000. The lawyers, meanwhile, will get $1.3 million, equivalent to a contingency fee of 4,300 percent. They emphasize that Take-Two also has promised to make a "charitable contribution" of $860,000 to everyone's favorite charity, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

The problem is not just the extreme lopsidedness of the payments but the difficulty in figuring out exactly how consumers were injured by Take-Two's failure to completely eliminate the sex scenes that had been edited out of the official game. The scenes were "accessible only to knowledgeable players using third-party software," the Times notes, so it's not as if easily offended people accidentally stumbled upon them. In any case, how many easily offended people play Grand Theft Auto? Players who unlocked the sex scenes presumably viewed them as a bonus, not a bug.

The discovery of the scenes did lead to a change in the rating for the unexpurgated game, from M (for players 17 or older) to AO (for players 18 or older). That might make a difference to retailers and therefore affect Take-Two's ability to distribute the game, which is why it ultimately released a cleaned-up M version. But from the consumer's point of view, it's a trivial distinction. Since the only way to see the hidden scenes was to go looking for them, the only consumers who might have been upset about them would have been parents who bought the game for their more tech-savvy kids. They would have to be parents who are OK with a video game featuring the murder of police officers, prostitutes, amd random passers-by but draw the line at cartoony sex. To the credit of the American public, there don't seem to be very many of them.

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  1. My only lasting entertainment contribution to our great society is being savagly attacked by do-gooder lawyers!

  2. There are alot of dumb lawsuits, but I have to say: worst… lawsuit… ever.

  3. I await legislation that caps legal fees at below what the clients are awarded.

  4. Grand Theft Auto should include a feature which makes it possible for you to drive your car up the courthouse steps and through the lobby, running over as many lawyers as possible, for extra points.

  5. They would have to be parents who are OK with a video game featuring the murder of police officers, prostitutes, amd random passers-by but draw the line at cartoony sex. To the credit of the American public, there don’t seem to be very many of them.

    They just all seem to yell the loudest.

  6. I await legislation that caps legal fees at below what the clients are awarded.

    Waiting is fun!

    (And it should be whatever the legal maximum non-usurious interest rate is, as a percentage of what any individual client is awarded, in class action suits.)

  7. I await a windfall profits tax on attorneys.

  8. A note on the AO vs M rating. An AO rating is a huge blow. If I’m not entirely mistaken none of the three current console manufacturers allow AO games to be released on their console. Walmart and other retailers won’t carry AO games on the shelves.

  9. Also I have a copy of the hot coffee PS2 version, I can’t remember if my X-Box version is too. I guess I qualified for this suit.

  10. You await legislation? Readers of Reason are actually pushing for legislation to regulate something?

  11. Don’tcha know – watching theiving, murdering, mayhem, robbery and littering is A OK, but the sight of a cartoon nipple causes irreparable harm (I m living proof – I try and watch ’em whenever I can)

  12. Bored and lonely old lady – I constanly see my wicked neighbors engaging in wanton sex though their kitchen window from my patio.

    Police Officer – I can’t even see their kitchen window, ma’am.

    Bored and lonely old lady – You have to stand on the box in that corner there, and lean out over the railing. Can’t you make them stop?

  13. If a kid is tech-savvy enough to access the hidden content in San Andreas, they are more than savvy enough to access a galaxy of hard core pornography on the internet, and would probably wouldn’t even be fazed by low res cartoon nudity.

  14. You await legislation? Readers of Reason are actually pushing for legislation to regulate something?

    Sure. Class actions are an artificial creation anyway; why can’t they be regulated to prevent abuse?

  15. The very best part was the mother who said she was fine with violence in a game – even, perhaps, blowing away cops. But stealing is right out. In her deposition she said, “I wasn’t aware of the stealing”… in a game called Grand Theft Auto.

  16. Sure. Class actions are an artificial creation anyway; why can’t they be regulated to prevent abuse?

    If a company does $10 of damages to 1 million people, shouldn’t there be a way to get restitution for these small damages on a mass scale?

    I await legislation that caps legal fees at below what the clients are awarded.

    Sure. Class actions are an artificial creation anyway; why can’t they be regulated to prevent abuse?

    Since when do libertarians support price caps? Is it only for industries you don’t like?

  17. I’m not writing in support of this suit, but it’s funny how supposed free marketers become statists when it comes to an i.ndustry or group of people that they don’t like

  18. I always said if anyone was smart enough to see the Hot Coffee level they have already seen everything the internet has to offer. Donkey Sex to puking Asian girls.

    It was not a simple little cheat code it took a bit of work to see it. It would be like breaking into the store room of a movie theater then being offend by a reel of film you pasted together yourself.

  19. I don’t understand american problems with AO rating and not selling them. That’s why ratings are there. To advise people. Why have a rating which “shouldn’t” be used. What is the difference to anyone if on box there is a text M or AO. Adults play games too.

    In Europe we don’t have any problems with ratings. They all sell all ratings. And console manufacturers here also allow all ratings.

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