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Video game industry rethinks 'modding'

Firms may try to block practice after rating row

DALLAS -- With many video games, there's no ''game over" screen, no reason to ever get bored. In a long-standing practice called ''modding," fans create their own new chapters, artwork, and other twists to extend the lives of their favorite games.

Many game makers freely encourage the practice and give away software tools to help.

But some in the industry are now wondering about the ratings implications posed by mods after a Dutch programmer created one that unlocks a hidden sex level in the violent action game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Most major retailers promptly removed the game from store shelves after the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an industry body, changed its rating Wednesday to adults-only from mature.

The Grand Theft Auto mod, called ''hot coffee," is unique among mods because it accessed content left in the game by its maker, Rockstar Games, instead of adding new material, said Jeff Gerstmann, senior editor at GameSpot, a review and news website.

When the sex scene was discovered, Rockstar initially blamed malicious hackers for the problem but later conceded that the material had been left in the game by its commercial developers.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board's chief, Patricia Vance, called on the industry to protect games from illegal modifications by third parties, ''particularly when they serve to undermine the accuracy of the rating." But completely stopping modders could to be a near impossible task, said Sid Shuman, an editor for GamePro.com.

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