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Latest Grand Theft Auto explores full frontal nudity; court kills attempt to regulate game sales to kids

February 20, 2009 |  3:02 pm
GTA IV: The Lost & Damned
Credit: Rockstar Games.

A parents group is warning about explicit footage in a new Grand Theft Auto video game, even as a California law banning such material from being sold to children was struck down as unconstitutional.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that reviews games, movies and other entertainment for children, sent out a message late Thursday warning against Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned.

"Heavy violence, strong language -- and now nudity," the group said. "Thought this M-rated game series couldn't go any lower? Think again." Common Sense Media reviewer Marc Saltzman said that The Lost & Damned, developed by Rockstar Games and published by Take-Two Interactive Software, contains depictions of full-frontal male nudity. It also includes graphically violent scenes, including one in which a gang member's face is pressed against the spinning wheel of a motorcycle -- splatter! The game, Saltzman said, "should be kept away -- far away -- from children."

The Lost and Damned is a $19.99 add-on game, released Tuesday, that's available only as a download on Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console. To play, one must already have Grand Theft Auto IV, which launched in April with little protest from parental groups. This version offers ...

... new characters, weapons, vehicles and music, among other things.

Both titles are rated Mature, a voluntary designation given by the industry-funded Entertainment Software Rating Board. That means the board recommends that only people 17 or older play the title, and most retailers choose not to sell such titles to minors. The board also noted that The Lost and Damned contains "blood, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content and use of drugs and alcohol."

Lawmakers from California, New York and other states have tried various measures to prevent minors from getting their hands on Mature-rated video games, but their efforts have met stiff resistance from federal courts.

Today, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court ruling from 2007 that invalidated a California law banning the sale or rental of violent games to those younger than 18. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that the law was a violation of the 1st Amendment, which protects free speech. Similar laws in Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Louisiana have been struck down by federal courts on 1st Amendment grounds.

-- Alex Pham

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