When video games become increasingly realistic, widespread or artistic, some bring innovation on the market, others fail grandiosely. There are those, but then there are also a number of video games that result in some pretty intense controversial subjects. Since the dawn of time, flaming media, worried politicians and outraged attorneys have pointed their finger at the video game industry as their scapegoat for the people’s acts of violence or bad behaviour.
So enough controversies on issues of sex, race, religion, politics, and violence, but which exactly are the most memorable in the history of gaming? Here’s a list of the top ten biggest video game controversies of all time!
The list being only a top 10, not every game makes the list. A few mentions before we start: Wolfenstein 3D, Postal 2, Silent Hill, BMX XXX, Rapelay and Super Columbine RPG.
10. Resistance:fall of men (2007)
The combat scenes that take place within a virtual representation of Manchester Cathedral caused controversy with the leaders of the Church of England. They claimed it was inappropriate of Sony to allow players to fire guns in a city with a gun problem. The story gained international headlines and even got criticism from then prime minister Tony Blair and Parliament. Even after Sony issued an apology, officials still weren’t satisfied.
9. Sim Copter (1996)
Nothing seemed amiss with family-friendly game Sim Copter, when gamers suddenly started reporting the presence of a rather strange and controversial easter egg.
At certain points in time the game would spawn a great number of smooching and kissing men while being shirtless and wearing speedo trunks. “Their fluorescent nipples were drawn with a special rendering mode usually reserved for fog-piercing runway landing lights, so they could easily be seen from long distances in bad weather” if we may believe Wikipedia. The code would also promptly cause himbos (male for bimbos) to swarm and crowd around the helicopter, get slashed to pieces, in turn making them need a hospital and hereby earning the player some easy cash.
Later the team at Maxis found designer Jacques Servin had been responsible for the easter egg and shortly sacked him afterwards for adding unauthorised content. Yet, the easter egg would oblige Maxis to hit-up a re-release for Christmas. Servin justified his actions as a response to the intolerable working conditions he suffered at Maxis. But that wasn’t enough to answer for his acts, because months later a group named RTMark reached the surface, claiming entire responsibility for the himbos being inserted into the game along with 16 other acts of "creative subversion". RTMark had gladly rewarded Servin 5,000$ for his little controversial prank.
As a matter of fact, Sim Copter was one of the first games to include content hidden from the ESRB and set the stage for future work in preventing what developers let slip by when publishing a game. While the game was released without any smooching later on, it remained popular for its controversy.
8. The ‘No Russian’ airport mission, MW2. (2009)
Talk of modern warfare 2 to anyone, and they’ll surely remember the scandal around the ‘No Russian’ mission in which players joined Russian terrorists in an airport massacre. If players did not already skip the mission they had the choice to either shoot civilians or watch them get slaughtered.
Mass controversy ensued as many thought the game would train players to commit mass murder and terrorism. The developers only argued that the mission had been created to evoke the horror of terrorism. A scriptwriter of the game reportedly said the level should be "upsetting, disturbing, but also something people would relate to”.
Things couldn’t get any worse when an actual terrorist attack was committed at the Moscow airport on the 24th of January only months after MW2’s release. 35 people were victim of the explosion while another 130 were injured. Sadly, it did not take long for Russian media to speculate that the infamous ‘no Russian’ mission could have inspired the attack, showing a montage of the level and disturbing images from the real-life attack.
7. Manhunt (2003)
Violence in video games was nothing new when Manhunt released in 2003. But this game had literally crossed every single line from planet earth to Mars. Even former Rockstar Employee Jeff Williams had to admit on his blog that "there was almost a mutiny at the company over that game". He added that the game "just made us all feel icky. It was all about the violence, and it was realistic violence. We all knew there was no way we could explain away that game. There was no way to rationalise it. We were crossing a line."
The controversy in this game comes from the brutal and graphic manner in which players were allowed to execute their enemies. The game contained three levels of executions, and the executions got bloodier as the levels of execution progressed. In Manhunt it was encouraged to execute the enemies in the most gruesome of manners.
In the aftermath, the game was said to be linked to the 2004 murder of Stefan Pakeerah in Great Britain. The victim’s mother claimed the killer had been “obsessed” with the game after he pleaded guilty in court. During its full media exposure the game had been removed from the shelves by vendors including international branches like Dixons and GAME. Also in countries such as Germany, Canada, New Zealand and Australia the game was wholly censored and banned.
6. Grand Theft Auto (1997)
If we must name one franchise that has received the most law files, criticism and hatred, then it definitely is Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise. What would this list be without Grand Theft Auto? According to the Guinness book of World records 2008 and 2009 gamer’s edition, it is the most controversial video game series in history, with 4,000 articles published about it, including accusations of promoting violence, corrupting gamers and connecting to real-life crimes.
The game was controversial alright. It let players do just about anything: kill cops, steal cars, run over and kill pedestrians. It was a complete and utter chaos, yet very entertaining for gamers. Despite its cartoony aspect the game was condemned in Britain, Germany and France and banned in Brazil.
Grand Theft Auto III added a spoonful to that as the series went to a 3D sandbox world. The 3D graphics made the violence even more realistic and players could hire prostitutes and murder them. Of course, news outlets could not resist sparking up a flaming hot debate on Grand Theft Auto’s controversy. Jack Thompson, a lawyer that has sued and filed the most complaints against any violent video game, was more than happy to join the conversation on NBC about GTA: San Andreas.
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5. ‘Hot Coffee’, GTA San Andreas (2005)
Although I've already mentioned Grand Theft Auto before, the ‘hot coffee’ sex mini-game was what really drastically hit as a mini-earthquake all over the media. (AHA!) This time Rockstar would have to pay for their sadistic content.
If hackers buried themselves deep enough into the program’s coding they would find Rockstar had incorporated a mini game where players could control CJ (the protagonist) having sexual intercourse with other female characters.
At first Rockstar denied allegations that the mini-game was ‘hidden’ in their video game, stating that the content was result of hackers making "significant technical modifications to and reverse engineering” the game’s code. But later it was revealed that the mini-game was also built into console versions of the game, and Rockstar was caught red-handed.
The discovery of the sexual content resulted in some scathing criticism from high-profile politicians, amongst which most notably Hillary Clinton, who called for tougher regulations on the sale of video games. The game received an 18+ regulation as well as mass protestation from the public.
4. Deathrace (1976)
With a name as ‘Deathrace’ it might not even seem strange this game makes it to our list. Despite the fact that this arcade game wasn’t the first violent video game, it was the very first one to get a significant amount of controversy in the United States.
Inspired by the 1975 cult film ‘Death Race 2000’, the game had one or two players control an on-screen car with the simple objective of running over as many gremlins as possible. These would squeal and squirm till they eventually turned into tombstones, obstructing the screen until the car would eventually crash.
This was not even so bad, but with the chunky black and white graphics of the time these ‘gremlins’ actually looked more like stick men, and the working title had been ‘Pedestrian’, so its implication was quite clear.
Deathrace was immediately bashed to the ground by a media onslaught. The National Security council called it ‘sick and morbid’, while the CBS news program 60 minutes did a show on the psychological impact of video games. It was also covered on NBC's Weekend news show, in the National Enquirer and Midnight magazine.
Deathrace is said to have inspired the infamous and violent, driving sandbox game, ‘Carmaggedon’, which was released in 1997.
3. Night Trap (1992)
Night Trap is infamous for its part in the 1990s Congressional hearings over offensive video game material. Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Lethal Enforcers and Doom are cited as primary factors in leading to the development of the ESRB game industry ratings system.
The game was controversial because it featured scenes of ‘extreme’ violence towards young woman, particularly a scene in which a hot blonde in a nightgown is dragged offscreen in a shock collar by a group of henchmen. Ironically, that was the only violent scene in the game.
Night Trap was cited by senators as "shameful", "ultra-violent", "sick", and "disgusting", encouraging an "effort to trap and kill women". What they didn’t realise is that really players were supposed to trap the henchman, and save the woman, not harm them. Major newspapers including USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times covered the hearing, making the game instantaneously world shocking news…
2. Mortal Kombat spine ripping (1992)
If fighting games are for you, you must surely have heard of Mortal Kombat before. This arcade game had become world famous for its overly ‘abusive’ and nasty violence at the time. It was also one of the reasons the ESBR was founded at the end of 1993 to censor games and paste big age tags over violent video games.
The fighting game allowed players to rip off their opponent’s head with a blood drenched spine dangling under it. It was also possible to rip out opponent’s hearts and hold it in the air, representing a spectacular victory.
According to Gamespot it was arguably the first time people got to see "lifelike, realistic violence in a video game...whether they liked it or not." Kids, players or even just bypassers were either completely revolted or just impressionated by Mortal Kombat.
What made it stand out? "Everything was over the top," said Jeff Greeson, editor in chief for MK. "From the pools of blood spewing from your character, to the outrageous gruesomeness of the game's fatalities. Mortal Kombat not only shocked anyone who had ever played the game, but those who simply walked by the game were mesmerised by its gore."
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1. Doom (1993)
Apart from being regarded as being one of the most influential video games of all time, Doom has had a considerate fame for its depictions of gore and satanic imagery, almost making it the King of controversy in video game history. In many cases Doom was described as a "mass murder simulator", which could be used to simulate extremely realistic killing.
People were already nervous of the game, but what really started sparking heavy fuelled criticism resulted from links with the Columbine high school massacre in 1999 in the U.S. The high-school students, responsible for the massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were said to have been avid Doom players, and most probably had used it to train before committing the act. Harris had said it would be "like playing Doom". Plus, according to Rocky Mountain News "His [Eric Harris] nickname, Reb, was inspired by a character in one of his favourite computer games, Doom, where the goal is to score high body counts."
While Doom and other video games had been used to justify national school shootings across the U.S in that period, research featured by Greater Good Science Center show that the two are not related. More researches conducted resulted in the same conclusion. Another thousand Doom fans across the nation defended the game by saying the cause for the shootings had been much further than Harris’ and Klebold’s interest for Doom.