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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 'Hot Coffee' modder tells the story of discovering the content

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

"From my point of view, I think there is no reason why [this sexual content] shouldn't have been included," said Patrick Wildenborg, the software engineer who discovered and published as a mod the "Hot Coffee" content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in an interview with Eurogamer.

Shortly after the game's original launch on PlayStation 2 in the fall of 2004, Wildenborg and the Grand Theft Auto modding community began to examine the files on the disc so they could "be prepared for [modding] the PC version." They found "several animation files" with names referring to sex acts, including "sex," "kissing," "SNM" and "blowjobz." One modder eventually developed a utility to allow people to view the animations with stick figure models.

The community initially thought the files were remnants of some abandoned code, but Wildenborg went futher to try to figure out how the animations may have been used in the game. "This particular section of code is complex so it took quite some effort and time to grasp what it did," he said.

"It became clear that the code that referenced the animation was not just some abandoned content, but that it was fully working, just configured to be inaccessible."

"It baffles me how some Americans find two people making love more damaging for a 17-year-old than all the violence in the game"

Wildenborg believed the content could be accessed "if we were able to overrule the flag preventing it from executing." That's what he did once the PC version launched in June 2005, using a hex editor to flip the switch. Then he released the edit to the public as the first San Andreas mod.

"I tossed the name 'Hot Coffee' on the file, based on the fact that the girlfriends would ask CJ in for some 'coffee' as a euphemism for sex," he said.

The content got Rockstar and parent company Take-Two in all kinds of trouble with the ESRB, the media and the U.S. government. The ESRB changed San Andreas' rating from 'M' ("Mature") to 'AO' ("Adults Only"), at which point major American retailers stopped carrying the game. After Wildenborg acknowledged that the content could only be accessed by modifying the game's code, Rockstar attempted to shift the blame solely to the modding community, a tactic that backfired. The Federal Trade Commission began its own investigation, while Take-Two was hit with a class-action lawsuit that the company settled in 2009 with a payment of more than $20 million.

Wildenborg remains confused by America's puritanical attitudes toward sex. "It baffles me how some Americans find two people making love more damaging for a 17-year-old than all the violence in the game," he said.

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