1. Doom (1993)
By today’s standards, there’s almost nothing shocking about the original Doom. You run through dungeons and shoot demons, and there’s some pixellated blood. Yawn.
But back in the early ’90s, Doom was a big deal. Though it wasn’t necessarily the original first-person shooter, it was the first to become wildly popular and come to the attention of national media and non-gamers. The combination of the FPS-style immersion, realistic (for the time) violence, and “satanic” imagery caused controversy after the game’s release. In fact, it would later be blamed in part for the Columbine shooting.
2. Death Race (1976)
If you actually play Death Race, it might be hard for you to figure out what’s happening on screen thanks to the outdated graphics. But all official descriptions of the game give context: You’re driving a car, and you get points for running over anthropomorphic “gremlins.”
Of course, these “gremlins” are basically just stick figures due to graphical restrictions, so in essence the game looks a lot like cars running over people and leaving little gravestones in their wake. Understandably, this upset people at the time and made the game one of the earliest video game controversies due to violence.
3. SimCopter (1996)
Yes, even a simple flying sim like SimCopter had its share of controversy. After release, players found a hidden easter egg in which they happened upon what appeared to be a party full of men in Speedos. The player could also interact with the men, appearing to make out with them.
It turned out that Maxis programmer Jacques Servin included the event in the game, which would appear on particular dates (such as Servin’s own birthday). The prank was thought to be partially a “culture jamming” stunt, and partially retribution for Maxis’s working conditions for programmers.
4. Mortal Kombat (1992)
If you grew up in the ’90s, you probably remember the controversy around Mortal Kombat. It was one of the first games to feature such visceral, realistic violence, and the backlash worsened when the game was set to release on the normally kid-friendly Super Nintendo.
Famously, the Nintendo version of the game featured green blood instead of red blood, and a number of the match-ending “fatalities” were toned down.
5. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1991)
The first Leisure Suit Larry game, published in 1987, was a text adventure in the style of King’s Quest, but with a twist: This time, your adventure was to lose your virginity.
Though the goal of the game — and just about every joke along the way — was sexual in nature, Leisure Suit Larry was never visually explicit. Any sex scenes were blocked with a comically large “CENSORED” box, and there was no nudity to speak of. Still, a number of stores refused to stock the game, fearing blowback from parents and watchdogs over the game’s language and suggestive content. When the game was remade in 1991, the controversy surrounding it remained.
6. Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
Wolfenstein actually preceded Doom, so most of the controversial aspects concerning first-person shooters that applied to Doom applied to Wolfenstein first…just on a smaller scale due to the game’s comparatively low popularity.
However, Wolfenstein had another controversial aspect to deal with, as it featured Nazis as the game’s central villains. When the game was ported from PC to Nintendo, it was scrubbed of all swastikas, any references to Nazis were removed, and Adolf Hitler (who was the game’s final boss) had his mustache removed.
7. Dance Dance Revolution Solo (2000)
Even a game as innocuous as Dance Dance Revolution isn’t immune to controversy. The original arcade version of Dance Dance Revolution Solo reportedly featured animations that included prescription drugs, alcohol, and a scantily clad nurse dancing on a syringe. The Youth Advocacy Coalition in San Diego worked to get the machine replaced with a newer version with those animations removed.
8. Perfect Dark (2000)
Perfect Dark was always going to face some controversy, as it was the first Nintendo 64 game to receive an “M” rating. However, the game dodged even more furor as it removed a unique feature before the game’s release.
Originally, Perfect Dark was going to work with the Game Boy Camera to allow players to map their own faces onto characters. However, likely due to the fact that the Columbine shooting occurred shortly before the game’s release, developer Rare chose to scrap that feature, citing “technical difficulties.”
9. Resistance: Fall of Man (2006)
Video game controversies usually involve parental groups or anti-violence advocates, but in the case of Resistance: Fall of Man, Sony found itself going head-to-head with the Church of England.
Resistance featured a combat level set in the Manchester Cathedral, which the Church of England considered both offensive and a violation of copyright law. Additionally, the Bishop of Manchester voiced concerns over a game depicting so many combat deaths in a city that was dealing with gun violence problems.
For their part, Sony argued that the game took place in an alternate reality, but eventually issued a formal apology to the church.
10. Bioshock: Infinite (2013)
The original Bioshock upset some due to the game’s gruesome violence, in particular the option to “harvest” the game’s child-like “little sisters” for resources. But the series three-quel Bioshock: Infinite had a different controversy altogether: a forced baptism.
Some Christian players found the use of the baptism scene to be offensive to their religion (at least one player even got a refund). Others found it offensive as they were forced to accept the baptism as non-Christian players.
11. Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (1987)
Barbarian was slightly controversial for its time due to the game’s violent content, but it was the cover art that really caused a stir. Instead of a painting, as was the norm, Barbarian used a photo cover and hired Maria Whittaker, a model known her her Page 3 shoots in the UK’s The Sun.
Whittaker’s bikini-clad appearance on the cover actually sparked protests in the UK, and led to the game being banned for minors in Germany for a time. In spite of (or perhaps thanks to) the controversy, the game ended up being a commercial success.
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