Dubai: Banned console game Grand Theft Auto (GTA): San Andreas is still available in stores despite being withdrawn from the market in November 2006, Gulf News has learned.

The game, which retailers say was banned due to its violent and profane content, is sold under the table.

It also became a source of controversy when it was discovered in 2005 that the game contained a hidden "minigame", known as Hot Coffee, which allowed the player to engage in sexual acts.

Lalit Vase, Regional Manager at Red Entertainment and Distribution, which is the sole distributor for Take-Two Interactive, publisher of GTA, said that the San Andreas version of the game was asked to be withdrawn from shelves before the Hot Coffee controversy surfaced.

"Hot Coffee was almost unheard of in the UAE. The game was available in the market before a withdrawal was ordered, following consumer complaints about profanity and violence," he said. "All GTA games have been banned since."

Direct imports

Games that are not approved by the authorities, however, can still be bought in the UAE, said Vase. "Smaller stores tend to buy games from wholesalers without getting official approval, or import it directly," he added. "Many of which would be sold under the table."

Stores contacted by Gulf News said they stocked the game and retail it for Dh170 to Dh180.

A manager of a popular media and books store in Dubai told Gulf News that young gamers were not restricted from buying games that are rated as unsuitable for children.

"We don't carry many games with adult ratings, but whenever a customer purchases one, we advise them of the age restriction," he said.

A 20-year-old gamer who did not want to be named told Gulf News he had not found GTA in stores but said it was easy to buy abroad or download on the Internet. "The violence doesn't affect me as I know it's only a game," he said.

Ali Sahiwala, a 19-year-old student disagreed. "Such games can have a negative effect on people, especially if they play at a young age," he said.

A prominent psychologist stressed the need for parents to take the rating system seriously, saying it should aid them in deciding whether the purchase is appropriate.

"There is evidence to suggest that children who view violent TV programmes or play violent computer games are more likely to act aggressively," she said.

She said that video games should not be a substitute for physical play and social interaction with peers.

Check the games

Parents, she added, should learn more about the games their children buy and perhaps even play them first.

Ali Abbadi, father of two boys, aged seven and four, said his children are "addicted" to video games which he blames himself and his wife for.

"Both of us work long hours and have no time to spend with the children, so they are left at home playing video games," he said, adding that he has noticed "violent behaviour" in his children recently.

Modification allowed access to hidden minigame

Besides portraying extreme violence, GTA: San Andreas created controversy after a "mod", or a code modification, provided access to a hidden "minigame" within the game that allows the main character to engage in sexual acts with one of his girlfriends.

When it was discovered in 2005, the minigame caused controversy in the US, with lawmakers calling for the game to be banned and demanding regulations for video game sales.

The US based Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) then changed the game's rating from "mature" to "adults only", prompting the publisher to create a new version of the game without the minigame, while issuing an online patch to cover earlier released versions.

However the furore hardly affected Japan and Europe, which had already given the game a restricted rating.

With additional inputs from Suhail Alrais, Staff Reporter

Have your say
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Your comments

I believe that this is an excellent game and a great source of amusement. I have no problems letting my kids play it; after all it is just a game at the end of the day. There are more important issues to deal with like unfair labour wages, speeding on roads and alcohol abuse.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 08, 2007, 11:27

Most of the parents are having the same problem; working long hours. There are not enough places (at reasonable charges) where children can be sent for learning.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 08, 2007, 10:45

While censoring such offensive games is a good measure, still however, in today's high-tech world, a kid with average knowledge of Internet browsing can give him access to the game in question. Therefore, parental guidance is also stressed when it comes to Internet browsing. Government censoring is never practical. Parental guidance is always effective. It?s simple.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 08, 2007, 07:55

I think all video games should be released only after the Government checking. Such immoral games could have a dark impact on teenagers.
Posted: August 08, 2007, 04:29