As Grand Theft Auto V, the most expensive video game ever made, is snapped up by MILLIONS (it's made $500m in one day) of adoring franchise fans and newcomers to simulated-sin city living, CBR takes a look at the history of controversial video games, some of which by today's standards just look downright cute.
Decades before the mindless gunning down of innocent civilians whose only wrongdoing was to be in your way created a media frenzy, an arcade game called Death Race shot to the headlines for its 'needless' destruction.
Taking inspiration from the 1975 classic movie Death Race 2000, the two player arcade title had you driving over little gremlins, squealing as they died.
Well, they were supposed to be gremlins. The graphics are of course quite primitive, and they were probably humans to be honest.
Oh, and the massive grim reaper, and skeletons decorating the arcade console.
In a world where colourful, happy, bouncy characters dominated the video game market, this was seen as a very adult game, and the conservative media had a field day.
Combine all of this with the fact it got out that the game's working title had been Pedestrian, making the "gremlin's" similarity to humans seem all the more transparent, and you've got the makings of gaming's first ever mainstream media controversy.
There was a story on 60 Minutes looking at the dangers of the game's psychological impact. The National Safety Council said Death Race was "sick and morbid".
And how did all this buzz affect sales of the game? Have a guess. A former employee of developers Exidy says "the end result was that Exidy sales doubled or quadrupled," following Death Race's controversial exposure, while former Exidy president Pete Kauffman says "It seemed like the more controversy...the more our sales increased."
Sneaking up behind a member of The Hoods (a gang lowest on the rung of a prison's omnipresent scum), James Earl Cash, the protagonist, quickly whips the bag over their head. As the gang member begins to gasp for breath, he is spun around as Cash punches him again and again. Blood jets out of the bag and the body begins to go limp. It is then that the Hood is finished, his neck broken with a sickening crunch.
This was the opening execution of Rockstar Games' Manhunt, making their GTA series look like Mario.
Manhunt was released on the 18th November 2003 on the PlayStation 2 in North America and three days later in Australia and Europe. An Xbox and PC version were released the following year.
It was the centre of the storm following the horrific murder of 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah occurred.
On February 27 2004, one of Pakeerah's friends, 17-year-old Warren Leblanc, reportedly lured him to the park with a promise of meeting a couple of girls. When they reached the park, Leblanc produced a hammer and a knife and attacked his friend. Pakeerah was dead within minutes, suffering more than 50 wounds. His neck was covered in deep cuts and his head suffered several fractures. Multiple stab wounds were found throughout his body, some so deep that they punctured his liver and kidney. Moments after the crime, two Leicester police officers found Leblanc covered in blood. He instantly confessed to the murder of his friend and was arrested.
His mother made this statement: "I think that I heard some of Warren's friends say that he was obsessed by this game. To quote from the website that promotes it, it calls it a psychological experience, not a game, and it encourages brutal killing. If he was obsessed with it, it could well be that the boundaries for him became quite hazy."
Patrick Pakeerah, Stefan's father, also made a statement: "The way Warren committed the murder this is how the game is set out, killing people using weapons like hammers and knives. I don't play these games but if they are influencing kids to go out and kill people then you don't want them on the shelves."
Postal 2, with the namesake from the term 'going postal'...sees you decapitate police officers with shovels, urinate on innocent bystanders, shoot men who are depicted as being of Middle Eastern descent making bombs, and opening up and letting rip on the poor librarian just because you returned it late.
The crazy, nonsensical world of Postal 2, made by company Running With Scissors, is a badly made game that just tries to offend, and didn't really cause too much of a stir due to it's limited PC release. It's a title built on a foundation of discrimination and political incorrectness, rather than glamourising criminality and sex, so didn't get popular enough to garner a media-rollocking.
The '90s classic has spawned innumerable sequels that have found themselves pretty well in the middle of the pack in terms of fighting-game violence.
But when it hit arcades in 1992 and home consoles the next year, Mortal Kombat jumped out because of its realistic, digitised graphics - and the gore they depicted.
Brandishing severed heads, ripping out hearts and spines and the like helped put Mortal Kombat at the head of a pack of games that prompted hearings in Congress and, eventually, led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
The gore also helped it to become one of the most popular video games of all time.
Call of Duty: MW2
The level of violence in the massively popular Call of Duty title is probably what any experienced gamer would expect from a combat title.
But it was the nature of that violence that turned heads. Set in the "near future," the shooter puts the player in firefights in Afghanistan and, at least once, lets them join forces with terrorists. One scene puts the player in the position of deciding whether to join in as an ally guns down innocent civilians in an airport.
The infamous airport level saw jaws hit the floor worldwide as it was deemed insensitive and outright offensive. As the elevator doors opened at the start of the level, you can easily just gun down about every man, woman and child you see without consequence as you're playing undercover with the Russian terrorists.
In fairness, that mission, called "No Russian," is optional and players are warned of "disturbing content" beforehand. But plenty of mainstream-media critics condemned it, particularly with its release coming around the time of the November 5, 2009, shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.
In Japan and Germany, the game was altered to end if a player killed civilians.
Grand Theft Auto series
With countless lawsuits, media-hatred to match the worst killers, and infinite parental up-in-armdom, the GTA series from Rockstar Games has to be one of the most well know and controversial video game series ever. Through more than a decade of cop-shooting, prostitute-killing mayhem, GTA has been the target of abuse, criticism, and death-threats from media outlets and people in power all over the world.
However, with GTA V, we've seen something strange happen. The frenzy hasn't appeared. The media are embracing it with open arms. GTA seems...it seems...okay. I think we're allowed to play it. There's no conteroversy?
But...there's a scene in the game where you torture an innocent Azerbaijani. There's something here, you think, as you strap jump leads to a man's nipples and turn up the voltage that something that is daring you and society's self-appointed moral guardians to be outraged. Yet suddenly you realise that we can't even outrage ourselves any more. Pretty much everyone has joined in with the lauding of a game - of a franchise - that people seem to have deemed to be beyond questioning. GTA isn't just a sick game for weird people any more, which will be evidenced when the receipts are counted up at the end of its first week. It's a valid part of the mainstream culture.
It could even be art.
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