G.H. writes about my post on the flap over the latest episode of Grand Theft Auto, “San Andreas,” which contains an easily unlockable explicit sex scene (warning to clickers: the parties are clothed but it’s clear what they’re doing). It was not until a considerable row arose that the Entertainment Software Ratings Board agreed to change its rating of “San Andreas” to “AO” (Adults Only) from “M,” which meant that teen-agers could buy it. (See “What the Entertainment Industry Deems Suitable for Kids,” July 21.) Says G.H.:

“You repeated the common error of regarding GTA as ‘for kids.’ GTA-SA is not for kids, and never was. The GTA series has always been famous — one might say notorious — for its child-unfriendly content.

“The latest title in the series, the one with the ‘Hot Coffee’ mod, was originally released with an M/MATURE rating from the ESRB. The description for this rating follows: ‘Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.”

“That is a pretty good description of what awaits players of San Andreas, and it certainly covers the brief sexual antics present in the Hot Coffee scene….The REAL question for all these ‘concerned parents’ is why — sex scene or no sex scene — they were letting their young children play a game where the goal is to be a successful violent gangster and eventual crime lord.”

You’ve raised an excellent question, G.H. The problem is that kids are the major consumers of interactive games, and many parents probably assume that the games are child-friendly. They may not be aware of exactly what an “M” label means, since anyone of any age can buy an “M”-rated product. Some parents migh thave read “Everything Bad Is Good for You” and assume that, at the very least, salacious and violence-laden video games are at least providing their kids with mental stimulation. They ought to be more vigilant.

Nonetheless, the industry itself is clearly reluctant to slap a label onto a product that could narrow its consumer base–as we can see from the the ESRB?s balking about changing the rating of “San Andreas” to “Adults Only.” I’m not advocating government regulation of the game industry. But I am saying that it’s time for some improved self-regulation.