InkWell reader D.M. alerts us to a story we’ve missed: the controversy over the latest episode in Grand Theft Auto, an interactive game pitched at teenagers working their PCs, Xboxes, and PlayStation2s. Seems that “Grand Theft Auto San Andreas” contains an explicit sex scene that can be easily unlocked with an Internet-download cheat code. Yesterday the video game industry changed the game’s rating from “M” for “mature” to “AO” for “adults only,” and the game?s manufacturer, Rockstar, offered free patches and promised a more secure version in which the sex scene presumably can’t be accessed.

What fascinates me about this story is that neither Rockstar nor the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, charged with classifying games as suitable for youngsters, was willing to do a darned thing for several days after the National Institute on Media and the Family issued a complaint about the game on Friday. Rockstar claimed–falsely, it now appears–that the pornography had been inserted by an unauthorized hacker–and the ratings board said, essentially, so what? It was only after Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) added her voice to the protests and three major retail chains–Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart–announced they would pull the game from their shelves that either Rockstar or the board bestirred themselves and Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two International came clean about what had happened. Here is the report from the Associated Press:

“Take-Two spokesman Jim Ankner acknowleged in an Associated Press interview that the scenes in question were created by Rockstar’s programmers.’The editing and finalization of any game is a complicated task and it’s not uncommon for unused and unfinished content to remain on the disc,’ Ankner said.”

What I’d like to know is: Why was that “unused and unfinished content” created in the first place in a game designed for children? Click here for a frame of  “San Andreas” captured on the San Francisco Chronicle?s page (Warning: The scene is R-rated, not X-rated, and the characters more or less have their clothes on, but it’s pretty clear what they’re about to do), and you’ll see that the artists did quite a bit of extra work on something they supposedly had no intention of using..

Furthermore, the scene was part of a story line in which a young lady invites the hero into her house for “hot coffee.” Even the unlocked version of the game lets you know the exact temperature of the java: You see the house shake and you hear groans of pleasure. Is this the kind of story that the Entertainment Software Ratings Board thinks is suitable for “mature” youngsters? 

This is an appalling story of irresponsibility at every level of an industry that is charged with creating suitable entertainment for our kids–and kudos to Hillary for getting involved in it. The only good news is that, as the San Jose Mercury blog reports, it could cost Take-Two, already in the red, up to $55 million to take back its estimated on-the-shelves inventory of 1 million “San Andreas” games.

Boo hoo.