LOS ANGELES/TORONTO – The video game maker that sparked uproar over a hidden sex scene in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," is courting new controversy with its latest schoolyard title "Bully" — featuring boys kissing.
That sexual twist came to light only after Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (TTWO) released the "Teen"-rated game on October 17, having weathered protests from anti-violence advocates who tried unsuccessfully to block its sale to minors.
"Bully" stars 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, who must navigate cliques, fights and young love at his new boarding school, along the way winning brawls, completing missions and plying girls with candy and flowers in exchange for kisses.
But Jimmy can also use the same approach with boys.
When Jimmy approaches a tall, blond boy with some flowers, the boy replies: "I'm hot. You're hot. Let's make out."
Gay video-game enthusiasts have embraced "Bully," which was was the U.S.'s third top-selling game in the week ending Oct. 27, according to figures from UBS.
"Progress!" wrote one reader of Gaygamer.net, who applauded the move by Take-Two's Rockstar Games studio.
"Hot Gay Coffee," quipped another on the same site, referring to the controversial "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" sex scene that was dubbed "Hot Coffee."
Others, however, were not so enthusiastic.
"I can't have my kids playing this game. This is morally reprehensible. GTA (Grand Theft Auto) is a real man's game, Bully is a disgrace," wrote a poster using the handle spideRRR on GameSpot.com.
The inclusion of the explicit sex scene in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" also had some parents, along with regulators and lawmakers, fuming.
Take-Two was forced to pull that game from store shelves at the cost of millions of dollars to the company because it had not disclosed the existence of the scene.
The "Grand Theft Auto" series has reaped revenue in excess of $1.5 billion, around 30 percent of Take-Two's sales in the period since the first game's debut in 2001, said Michael Pachter, a video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities.
In "Bully" the controversial scene was not hidden — but it also was not advertised to consumers.
The video game industry rating board considered the boy-kissing-boy scenes in "Bully" before assigning it a "Teen" rating, spokesman Eliot Mizrachi said.
A spokesman for Rockstar declined comment.
Brenda Brathwaite, a professor at Savannah College of Art & Design and author of "Sex in Video Games," said gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered characters are "more and more the norm" on television and that Rockstar is in the vanguard of game makers to include this type of content.
Most video games target a young male audience and focus on shooting, racing or sports.
Same-sex displays of affection are largely unexplored, although they are possible in Electronic Arts Inc.'s (ERTS) popular "Sims" titles and in online games like "Second Life."
"It's symbolic that the diversity that's appearing in broader media is making its way to games in a way that's not insulting or necessarily sensationalistic," said Brathwaite.
But Pachter, the analyst, said considering the baggage Take-Two brings to the table after "San Andreas," introducing a homosexual aspect to "Bully" was an unnecessary risk for the company to take.
"It doesn't glorify anything ... Do I think that many parents would have a problem with their kids seeing it? Yes."