The modern video game industry is a billion dollar juggernaut, but the road that brought us here isn’t without its share of bumps. These mostly come in the form of controversies that contributed towards a negative image that still lingers around gaming today.
10. Mass Effect’s Sex Scandal
This controversy actually ended up being quite beneficial for gamers, as it showed that anti-video game crusaders will present a distorted point of view or simply not know what they’re talking about. In short, Mass Effect allows the protagonist to have sex with one of several characters. This is done through a cutscene that shows a few suggestive poses, the worst being a brief glimpse of a character’s butt. It’s PG-13 at most.
This didn’t stop some media personalities from making outlandish claims. One Fox News contributor claimed that it was polluting the minds of young gamers by letting them “engage in full graphic sex” that left “nothing to the imagination.” One evangelist went even further and stated that the game allowed “virtual orgasmic rape” by letting the player “sodomize whatever, whomever, however the game player wishes.” It became quite clear that neither played the game or had even seen the scenes they were criticizing.
9. Death Race’s Violence
Controversy surrounding the level of violence in video games is nothing new, but it had to start somewhere. Its origins can be traced way back to a 1976 arcade game called Death Race. Based on the cult film Death Race 2000, the goal of the game is simply to run over as many so-called “gremlins” as you can in order to increase your score.
Since the game was made almost 40 years ago, the graphics and the gameplay are obviously primitive. The car, the “gremlins” and the obstacles are nothing more than white stick figures on a black background. Despite this, Death Race showed a level of violence that was not previously seen in video games, so it garnered a lot of controversy. It was the first time a video game scandal would get significant media attention on shows like 60 Minutes and the Weekend News on NBC.
8. Wolfenstein 3D’s Nazi Content
Nowadays, Nazis are pretty much the default villains for video games. If you want to make a violent video game without upsetting too many people, just have the good guys kill Nazis or zombies and you’re all set. However, it wasn’t always like that. When Wolfenstein 3D came out in 1992 and showed the protagonist gun down Nazi after Nazi, it caused a lot of controversy.
Keep in mind that at no point is Nazism portrayed in a positive light. In fact, the protagonist is a typical American hero who takes on the entire Third Reich by himself and even kills Hitler. If it had been a movie it would have been the biggest blockbuster of the year. However, it wasn’t just a game with Nazi symbolism, but also one of the first (and at the time, most prominent) games in an emerging genre — first person shooters (FPS). It might be the first, but it sure won’t be the last FPS to attract negative attention.
7. Mortal Kombat’s Gore and Violence
More than two decades and ten video games later, Mortal Kombat remains one of the most popular fighting game franchises in the world. It doesn’t look like all the controversy surrounding its content has hurt it in any way. However, in terms of impact on the industry, Mortal Kombat had a very significant consequence — the creation of the ESRB. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is the organization that implemented a content rating system for the video game industry.
The move was deemed necessary due to the graphic violence featured in Mortal Kombat. Besides being gruesome, it was also quite detailed for its time because the combatants were digitized sprites of hired actors. Of particular note were the Fatalities — elaborate finishing moves the player could execute at the end of the match to kill his opponent.
6. Carmageddon’s Motorized Violence
It’s not every day that one movie can be the inspiration for two highly-controversial, completely unrelated video games made two decades apart. Death Race 2000 inspired the creation of another vehicular combat game, 1997’s Carmageddon. The goal was similar to that of Death Race — cause as much mayhem as possible using an assortment of vehicles. This included destroying other racers and running down as many pedestrians as possible.
The game’s publisher, SCi, actually thought that some controversy would do the game good and did everything it could in order to keep it in the media. This included submitting it to the British Board of Film Classification for certification, even though the game lacked video footage. However, this plan would eventually backfire when the game was refused certification in the United Kingdom. In order to make it compliant, the company had to replace the human pedestrians with zombies that bled green.
5. Doom’s Graphic Content
The violent content featured in Wolfenstein 3D was increased and improved in Doom, a game made by the same company one year later. Doom was an instant hit and is still hailed as one of the best games in the genre, but it also attracted huge amounts of controversy due to its graphic content and satanic symbolism.
And if that wasn’t enough, Doom came out at a time when violent video games became the default media scapegoat for most bad things that happened in society. It even took part of the blame for the Columbine High School Massacre — one of the perpetrators was a huge Doom fan who created his own levels. This made many people question whether there was a link between violence in video games and violence in real life, a point which still isn’t clear today.
4. Custer’s Revenge’s Rape Scandal
Some controversies generated by the video game industry are well-deserved. Even supporters of video games generally won’t try to defend Custer’s Revenge, a primitive Atari 2600 game that came out in 1982. Although it featured very crude graphics, it clearly depicted a naked Custer with an erection whose goal was to make it to the other side of the screen and have sex with a naked and bound Native American woman.
Obviously, the game was marketed strictly to adults, but it attracted a lot of criticism regardless due to the fact that it was about rape. This led to protests from women’s rights and Native American groups, and the game was banned in Oklahoma City. The gaming industry didn’t respond well to the game either, as it’s often referenced when talking about the most racist, most disturbing or simply the worst games of all time.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s ”No Russian” Level
Call of Duty is one of the most successful franchises in the world, so anything featured in it is going to get a lot of coverage. At the same time, it’s these kinds of jaw-dropping moments that made the series popular in the first place.
The first Modern Warfare featured an extremely memorable scene where a nuclear bomb goes off and actually kills a protagonist. It’s clear that the scene dubbed “No Russian” in the second Modern Warfare was meant to incite the same kind of emotional response. The player, a CIA agent undercover in a Russian terrorist group, takes part in a massacre at an airport where the terrorists (and the player, if they chose) open fire and kill everyone present.
The developers knew it was going to be controversial. They even included an option to skip the level. Even so, many people were outraged at the mindless violence, particularly when taking into account that much of the franchise’s core audience is minors. However, sales of the game seemed completely unaffected.
2. Manhunt and Manhunt 2’s Extreme Violence
If there’s a video game developer that’s synonymous with controversy, it’s Rockstar. Surprisingly, it’s not the company’s golden goose, Grand Theft Auto, that we’re referring to here, but another series called Manhunt. Playing an escaped convict who takes part in a brutally violent reality show, the goal is not only to survive, but to kill others in horrendous ways — the more gruesome the kill is, the better the score.
Not surprisingly, the game caused quite a stir, but this was completely overshadowed by its sequel. Manhunt 2 was dubbed by many as being the most violent video game ever made and earned an extremely rare Adults Only (AO) rating from the ESRB.
None of the major console manufacturers accept AO games, which meant that Manhunt 2 would have been, in effect, banned. Major revisions had to be made so that the game would earn the lower Mature rating, but it was still banned in several countries. Regardless, a pirated uncensored version made its way online so many people were still able to play it in all of its gruesomeness.
1. Grand Theft Auto’s Everything
A franchise that attracts controversy like a magnet, there’s really no point in singling out a particular moment or even a particular game in the Grand Theft Auto series. While the violence in GTA isn’t worse than that of other franchises, the prominence of the series means that these will always be the ones that take center stage. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas caused a huge scandal when someone discovered a hidden sex scene (dubbed the “Hot Coffee” mod). This briefly earned the game an AO rating until the mod was removed.
The latest iteration, Grand Theft Auto V, stirred up more than its usual controversy thanks to a scene where the player has to torture a character using a variety of brutal methods. It’s quite gruesome and can’t be skipped, but the controversy didn’t seem to hurt the series in the slightest. GTAV enjoyed the biggest opening for any media product ever, taking in over one billion dollars in just three days.
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