Tuesday, May 5th, 2009...1:47 pm
10 Controversial Video Game Controversies
By Rassam Fakour-Zaker
Know Your Money Editor
Since this topic has been blogged to death, I shall avoid the well-trodden Mortal Kombat/GTA/Manhunt route and focus on some of the more interesting and bizarre controversies that have been stirred up by the video games medium from its blocky, monochromatic emergence in the 1970s until… just about… now. (Oh yeah, it’s that fresh).
The entries here cover a wide spectrum of perceived offences – from indecency and blasphemy to good old, reliable violence. Likewise the offending games run the gamut from scapegoated innocents to reprehensible reprobates (though I’ll defend to the death your right to play them).
Death Race (Arcade, 1976)
The world’s first officially controversial video game demonstrates how far the medium has come in terms of technology, but perhaps not in terms of thematic content. Based on the classic cult movie Death Race 2000, the offending game was based around the movie’s dystopian motor sport in which hit and run kills score players extra points.
Despite resembling Pong in terms of primitive graphics and gameplay the US media latched onto Death Race as a symbol of the insidiousness of the new medium. Various newspapers, magazines and TV shows denounced the game as “sick”, but the controversy, as is customary, lead to a significant increase in Death Race’s business and, in this particular instance, helped boost the popularity of an entire fledgling industry.
Custer’s Revenge (1982, Atari 2600)
Of all the games on this list, Custer’s Revenge is surely the hardest to defend. Players were put in control a naked Colonel Custer (which I’m pretty sure is the inspiration for Cyril Sneer from The Raccoons, go compare the resemblance if you don’t believe me) who must negotiate his way through a barrage of arrows in order to have sex with a Native American woman named “Revenge” who is tied to a post at the other side of the screen.
Women’s groups, anti-pornography campaigners and Native American spokespersons all justifiably denounced the game for its sexually violent and racist content (which the developers predictably denied), court cases ensued and many retailers refused to sell the title. Though generally regarded as a dire game, the reaction, once again, resulted in a commercial success.
Night Trap (1992, Sega Mega CD)
Night Trap is a clear example of the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of video games disseminated by those who do not actually play them and, moreover, have something to gain from whipping up moral panics (i.e. mainstream news media and conservative politicians).
Featuring fully-digitised (but still grainy) graphics, Night Trap, along with Mortal Kombat, was singled out for a lynching by a US Senate hearing on video game violence. The game was decried as “shameful” and “ultra-violent” and, even though the politicians’ misplaced indignation centred around the erroneous fact that it had players trying to kill a group of scantily clad women (saving the women was the game’s actual goal, and the scantiness of their cladding was also exaggerated), blanket media coverage and ensuing public concern ensured that Night Trap was pulled from many US stores.
The Guy Game (2004, PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox)
The Guy Game debacle was the aftermath of a collision between three modern phenomena – namely, low brow games developers, drunken teenagers and a highly litigious society.
The game itself is a turgid trivia quiz party game in which players are rewarded for correct answers with clips of half naked girls on Spring Break – which as far as I understand, as an uninitiated Brit, is a US national holiday during which girls get beered up and wave their tits around (sounds like an average Friday night in the UK).
The main problem was that one of the aforementioned topless ladies claimed that the footage of her was taken when she was just 17 years old, thus negating any consent she gave at the time of filming. She consequently sued the developers and distributors as well as Sony and Microsoft for causing emotional distress and halted sales of the game
Judging by the comments here, many teenage misogynists seemed very upset by this turn of events.
Football Manager 2005 (2004, PC/Mac)
You might think it would be difficult for a footie management sim to upset anyone; but then you probably didn’t take the jolly folks over at the Chinese government into account. They didn’t take to kindly to Football Manager 2005’s developers contradicting their disputed sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan by including them as separate teams. In order to protect the country’s “territorial integrity” the Culture of Ministry issued a ban, threatening to fine any retailers selling the game as well as any internet provider that let their subscribers download it. Forces of Intolerance: one; Everyone Else: nil (Chinese Football Manager Fans: -1).
JFK: Reloaded (2004, Windows download)
This downloadable title was released by Scottish developer, Traffic Software, a day before the 41st anniversary of the infamous assassination. The game puts player’s control of Lee Harvey Oswald with the aim of recreating the assassination exactly as described in the official Warren Commission report.
Predictably, JFKR was criticised for turning such a sensitive subject into a piece of entertainment, a spokesperson for the Kennedy family called it “despicable” and, despite the creators’ claims that the game’s main function was as a “mass-participation forensic construction”, many viewed it as a cynical commercial exercise which aimed exploit the inevitable controversy. You can find an in-depth analysis of the game here.
Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (2005, Windows download)
As Danny Ledonne, the game’s developer, posits on the game’s website and in various interviews, the free-to-download SCMRPG was designed as a serious attempt to spur discussion about the horrific events and provide a kind of critical, contemplative experience that no other medium could offer.
Despite the expected outrage of the mainstream media and the game’s forced removal from the Slamdance Film Festival, SPMRPG succeeded in its goal to provoke constructive discussion of the events surrounding Columbine (see the game’s forum) as well as opening up serious debate about cultural attitudes towards video games as a valid form of critique and commentary on real-life events.
Faith Fighter (2008, Windows download/Online)
When it comes to pissing off people via the medium of video games there’s no doubt that Italian flash game developer Molleindustria, creators of the anti-corporate parody Mcdonald’s Game and the Catholic-baiting Operation Pedopriest, are in a league of their own. However, these pioneers surely outdid themselves with the recently banned Faith Fighter, which managed to upset the followers of not one, not two, but every major religion.
The offence was casued by letting players choose a deity from one of the world’s religions to participate in a one-on-one fight to the death. By way of an apology, Molleindustria followed up with a satirically-chastised sequel soon after the ban. But don’t worry: the original can still be found on the web – here, for example.
Baby Shaker (2009, iPhone)
Apple’s iPhone is fast becoming a popular games platform, but this 99-cent addition to the App Store quickly caused controversy upon release. Since Apple have to give the thumbs up to any application (as well as taking a healthy 30% cut) they were in as much hot water as the developer, Sikalosoft. The game was pulled by Apple last week having been on sale for just two days, and they issued an apology the following day stating that it was “deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution”.
Six Days in Fallujah (Unreleased, PC/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)
Basing a video game on an ongoing and highly contentious war was always going to be a direct line to controversy. But the developer, Atomic Games, clearly didn’t expect the controversy to scupper their project before its release. That’s exactly what happened last month, however, when publisher Konami dropped the game after a fierce public backlash.
Once again, this game was being touted as a realistic portrayal of real-life events with US Army personnel involved in the development, but although it reopened the “games can be more than entertainment” debate, reports of regenerating health systems and bombastic Call of Duty-style gameplay left a bad taste in the mouth, with many groups criticising the game for glorifying an unjust war.