GTA’s Nasty, Hidden, Hot Coffee Is Back. Why Should Parents Care?

blog top 11-15 car flying through air in Grand Theft Auto

Game publisher Rockstar recently rolled out Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. And fans suggest that the franchise’s name—at least the first two words of it—are pretty fitting. At 60 bucks a pop, Rockstar may be committing a form of grand larceny itself.

But perhaps more problematic is what the game gives, not what Rockstar gets.

GTA: The Trilogy has been raked over the coals for being glitchy and in some cases borderline unplayable. On Metacritic, which ranks games on a 1-10 scale, “fans” of GTA have given this version a rating of 0.5. In other words, gamers liked GTA: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition as much as Plugged In liked The Wolf of Wall Street.

But hidden in all that glitchy code is code of another kind: the code for Hot Coffee.

For those who’ve not heard of Hot Coffee, it’s the name of a hidden, sexually-explicit minigame originally found in 2004’s Grand Theft Auto IV. While gamers couldn’t play it at first, subsequent mods gave them access, and many wasted no time in triggering it. Eventually Rockstar removed the code, but the damage—at least legal damage—had been done. Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two, doled out $20 million in fines in 2009.

Now, 17 years after the original Hot Coffee code made such a stir (pardon the pun), data miners have discovered the code’s back in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition—though apparently unplayable.

So, how is a parent to think through this little news nugget?

First, the good news: As mentioned, while the basic code’s there, a lot of the other code related to the minigame is not, at least according to those same data miners. If true, that means the file can’t be enabled, no matter how creative a gamer might be. And there’s some indication that Rockstar means to strip that code out of the Trilogy – Definitive Edition permanently. (Rockstar announced that the game wouldn’t be available for a bit on PC so the company could “remove files unintentionally included in these versions.”)

But parents should be aware that even without the file, the Grand Theft Auto games have been wildly problematic from the get-go. Our game reviewer Bob Hoose reminded us of that in his review of GTA IV, telling us about the game’s strip clubs, prostitutes, drugs, violence, gore and incredibly strong language. Hoose added:

Are you mystified that anyone would spend that kind of time on this kind of stuff? Are you certain that at least kids won’t be playing since parents won’t let them? MTV News and Wired magazine both interviewed groups of gamers under the age of 17 who have played previous iterations of the Grand Theft Auto franchise and who plan on getting their hands on No. 4, too. One said, “My mom doesn’t have a clue about games or ratings, so we’ll just go in and get it.” Another commented, “I am mature, and my parents know this is just a video game.” Still another noted, “If my parents took video games as serious as movies and paid more attention to what I was playing, all of this could be avoided. … Not that I would want them to do that.”

This Trilogy Edition—which includes the games Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas—contains all that and more, of course. And while the content may feel slightly less egregious today than back in the day, that’s because the culture’s gotten worse: The games haven’t gotten better.

But if you’re here you likely know all that. So with that in mind, I’d like to take a more metaphorical turn.

The Hot Coffee code had long been hidden in the game, waiting for a mod to bring it to life. But a lot of entertainment contains messages that are simultaneously more and less obvious—hiding in plain view.

While Hot Coffee stole the headlines, it was never meant to be taken seriously. It was, perhaps, never meant to see a consumer screen. But when we watch movies or television shows, listen to music or play video games, we’re absorbing thoughts and ideas that can impact us in ways that Hot Coffee never could. They might try to push sexual ethics that aren’t our own or a worldview that’s antithetical to that of our family’s. Oftentimes, entertainment’s most profound issues are hard to quantify in a Plugged In content section. How a movie thinks is just as important as what it shows.

But there’s another reminder here, too.

We, too, have “code,” if you will. We have our own strengths and weaknesses hidden inside us—even some that we might not find for years or decades or, perhaps, ever. We’d never know if we had a weakness for alcohol, for instance, until we took a swig. We might never have suspected we had a weakness for pornography until we saw … Hot Coffee.

Entertainment—sometimes innocently, sometimes not—can find that code in us and send us off down unhealthy roads. That’s one of the reasons we do what we do here at Plugged In: We try to help parents avoid things that might bring those codes to life in both their kids and themselves.

The fact that the latest Grand Theft Auto collection contains code to Hot Coffee perhaps, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. But the code behind that code? That’s critical indeed.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

2 Responses

  1. -The hot coffee mod was in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, not Grand Theft Auto IV. And Grand Theft Auto IV released in 2008, not 2004.

    No offense, Paul, but I don’t even play GTA and even I know these things.

    1. -Nice catch. And Paul, thanks for your concerns – I can understand your focus on monitoring whether entertainment is manipulating us toward vile ends, but there are plenty of political and religious influences within and adjacent to the church that are doing the same to much worse effects right now. I don’t like Grand Theft Auto—I played a lot of #5 after getting it for free and found the world-building callously misanthropic when it could have been a silly comedy a la Saints Row 4—but in terms of things that are manipulating well-meaning Christians into endorsing dangerous ideas, video games are not high on my list of concerns.

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