Video games. Often, we turn to them for a fun distraction or even relaxation. Some, however, don’t take video games so lightly. Over the years some of the most popular franchises in history have stirred up quite a bit of controversy. A few titles have been so badly received that they’ve even been banned in various countries, with criminal charges making owning these games a crime that could land you in prison.
Let’s take a look at some of the most controversial releases in gaming history.
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Everyone who has played probably remembers the notorious Modern Warfare 2 mission, “No Russian.” When placed into context, this mission doesn’t seem as outlandish. Players are placed in control of an undercover agent, working with Russian terrorists. These terrorists are about to engage in a mass murder in the middle of an airport. So, what is our agent to do? Fail to participate and blow his cover? Or embed himself even deeper in the organization in the hopes of bringing it down? Since context isn’t something the media is usually concerned with, this mission became the center of controversy as viewers looked on in horror at players mercilessly mowing down innocent civilians as they ran away screaming. Some NPCs would even hide and beg you to stop. One important note is that players could finish the mission without firing a single bullet because *spoiler alert* you get caught as a double agent anyway.
2. Grand Theft Auto Series
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Simply picking one or two titles out of the series isn’t enough. Nearly every single GTA title has caused some controversy. Described as everything from a “murder simulator” to a game about killing prostitutes, Grand Theft Auto has been repeatedly scrutinized by politicians and the media. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton herself became a proponent for banning the series, especially after the “Hot Coffee” mod was released for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Television personalities such as Glenn Beck even accused GTA of being a murder simulator used by the military to desensitize soldiers! Scenes like Grand Theft Auto V’s waterboarding/torture mission haven’t done much to help the game’s image, even in the present day. Despite its poor reception by the more conservative members of society, GTA remains one of the most popular and profitable gaming franchises in history.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Id Software
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Doom, one of this year’s sleeper hits, hasn’t always been so loved. The original, released in 1993, was infamous for its use of gore, violence, and satanic imagery. It was one of the first games to get a mature rating due to such high amounts of graphic violence. This title was also released during a spree of school shootings, most notably the Columbine High School massacre. When it came to light that the shooters we fans of this game, it instantly became a target for many religious and conservative groups around the country. It was even said that the shooters modeled a level to look like their own school. Luckily it was found at the time that there was not enough of a correlation between games and shootings and Doom continues on even today.
4.Mortal Kombat Series
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
This fighting game is one of the most iconic titles in video game history. Mortal Kombat has spanned dozens of consoles and even managed to survive through the arcade era. This ultra-violent fighting game is not for the faint of heart. Its use of insanely violent moves known as “fatalities,” in which fighters decapitated one another or dismembered their enemies by literally ripping them apart, became a staple in the franchise. Although many gamers find its level of gore almost comical due to its over-the-top presentation, many others have not received it so well. Mortal Kombat was one of the titles that pushed the U.S. government to hold hearings on violent games, discuss censorship in media, and even consider bans. It was condemned as racist and misogynist and blamed for the string of school shootings in the ’90s. It seems Mortal Kombat has been assaulted with every accusation under the sun, but it lives on to fight another day.
5. Postal 2
Publisher: Whiptail Interactive
Developer: Running with Scissors
In the gaming community, nothing conjures up images of wanton violence as much as the Postal series, at least for those old enough to remember games like Postal 2. It is the only title in gaming history in which the player could tase someone, light them on fire, and then urinate on them to put it out. If that simple description disturbed you, there’s a lot more depravity to be had in the game itself. Players could simply navigate the in-game world, finding the most horrific ways to murder innocent people, although the creators claimed it could be completed without violence. Due to “Gross, abhorrent content (Urination, High Impact Violence, Animal Cruelty, Homophobia, Racial, Ethnic Stereotypes, etc)” it was banned in countries like New Zealand. This game remains banned in various countries and those who are caught with it can be fined or even receive jail time. Although Postal 2 has spawned copycats like last year’s controversial Hatred, this genre has petered out, and that might be for the best.