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'Sims' content criticized
Video game critic charges EA at fault for users who add explicit images to family-oriented game.
July 28, 2005: 10:13 AM EDT
Video game critic Jack Thompson is criticizing
Video game critic Jack Thompson is criticizing "Sims 2" publisher Electronic Arts for changes that some players make to the game.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - A Florida attorney and video game critic says Electronic Arts, the leading game publisher, is to blame for the fact that its popular title "Sims 2" is being modified by some users to include sexually explicit images.

The complaints by Jack Thompson to the company and a number of politicians says that EA (Research) needs to take steps to stop so-called "mods" that can make many of the characters appear naked to game players.

"Adult "porn sites" are featuring, via free downloads, the mods that allow the consumer to customize the appearance of the labia, nipples, pubic hair, and penises. As you know, The Sims 2 already features reproductive activities in this "T" rated game," he said in the letter to the company's general counsel.

"To the extent that your company does absolutely nothing to crack down on this apparent infringement upon EA's copyrighted material...then EA collaborates, in every sense of the word, with the modders to put this material into the hands of consumers, many of whom are children, given the inviting "T" rating on the game," said Thompson's letter. A "T" rating, for teens, allows anyone to buy a video game without an age check.

The complaints follow action earlier this month by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which canceled the ''mature'' 17-and-up rating on the game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and restricted it to ''adults only," a change that limits the number of retailers willing to sell that game. The publisher of "Grand Theft Auto," Take Two Interactive Software (Research), has seen its stock fall and is facing a Federal Trade Commission investigation due to the ratings change on that game.

While "Grand Theft Auto" is a violent game by nature, "Sims 2" is marketed as more of a family title, with game players directing the lives of characters in the games in normal everyday activities. When characters are shown dressing or showering or other naked activities, the view of the character is blurred.

Thompson charges that the blur can be easily removed. And he disputes the company's claims that the naked character which can be revealed without the blurring are no more explicit than dolls such as Ken and Barbie.

Thompson told CNN/Money that he's not sure he's even going to push for the ESRB to change the "Sims 2" rating, but he believes Congress will soon hold hearings on the whole issue of ratings and the content of video games.

"I think you're going to see some pretty interesting hearings on the hill," he said.

In comments to other media, an EA spokesmen said that Thompson's complaints about "Sims 2" are nonsense and that the company has no responsibility for changes being made to the game.

"Reasonable people recognize what mods are," EA spokesman Jeff Brown told the San Jose Mercury News. "A consumer who chooses to use a mod does so without any kind of agreement with the company. There is no nudity. There is nothing improper or vulgar in 'The Sims 2.'

"Reasonable people understand the San Jose Mercury News is not responsible for vulgar things that people doodle into the margins of the paper,'' Brown said.

Thompson charges that EA and other game makers could take changes in their software to prevent mods from taking place, but they don't because the mods make games more attractive to some buyers and increase sales.

"They want the revenue rather than reputation I don't think is deserved of being a family-friendly game," he said.

Thompson acknowledged that any game, even one directed to young children, can be modified to include inappropriate images. He said that's one reason he opposes having any kind of rating system for games.

"I think it's a fig leaf to protect the industry and doesn't protect kids," he said of the rating system.

The Mercury News reports that in a conference call with analysts Tuesday, EA CEO Larry Probst said the game-ratings system is working fine despite the recent controversy over the rating for "Grand Theft Auto."

For "Game Over," a column looking at the business of video games click here.  Top of page

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