If you hate video games for exposing youth to violence and sexual content, you’re about to get a whole lot angrier. There’s a notion shared from some critics that video games need to be heavily censored in order to protect impressionable young minds. It’s a silly notion, of course, that is difficult to justify when one examines other art forms in the entertainment medium, especially film. Still, it doesn’t stop the detractors of video games to point to extreme examples of when the line was crossed—unlike other mediums, I guess. These extreme examples are video games that range from promoting extreme blood and gore to pursuing morally devoid acts such as rape. As any gamer will probably tell you, there is a line that should be carefully tread by developers. Any act can be justified under the right context, but doing so with malicious intent or simply for shock value blurs the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 15 most controversial video games ever and why they were the subject of controversy. Some are warranted, others are laughably tame by today’s standards. But it’s an important discussion to have in order to clearly dictate what should be accepted in the medium. Most of these video games are available online or through older consoles, so if you’d rather see for yourself, you can do that too. So sit back, prepare to be offended and enjoy this feature on the most appalling games to ever be released, or not released.
15 Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the best games on the Nintendo 64. It was also, well, controversial for its brazen sexual and drug-related references. But compared to some of the other games on this list, the game is fairly tame in terms of controversy. It was targeted by the usual group of anti-gamers who are unable to consume entertainment without taking everything to heart. Obviously there’s a fine line to be tread here, as we’ll soon discover. Still, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was deserving of its critical acclaim, not only for its gameplay but its hilarious spoofs on popular movies.
14 Duke Nukem 3D
“I like a good cigar...and a bad woman,” “It's time to abort your whole freaking species,” “It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all outta gum” are just some of the quotes that came from the beloved Duke Nukem 3D. Despite the game’s critical acclaim, it received harsh criticism for its depiction of females as strippers, prostitutes, sex slaves and nothing else. It was also filled to the brim with adult humour and copious amounts of violence. It was a good time, but the womanizing hero remained in anti-video game crosshairs for quite some time. The game was clearly built as an action comedy experience, but when has that ever been enough to quell opposition?
13 Grand Theft Auto Series
We could make a standalone list of the most controversial Grand Theft Auto games, there’s so many. Each title unabashedly revels in controversy, and it’s a major part of the series’ irresistible charm. It’s a difficult task to make a video game funny, let alone jaw-droopingly amazing, but Grand Theft Auto has done both consistently since the first was released in 1997. Whether it’s including hookers, drugs, or being able to drive freely on the sidewalk, “GTA” lets you do just about anything. But it’s never serious, and the series always maintains a tongue-in-cheek tone. It’s just fun, plain and simple. Lighten up.
12 South Park: The Stick of Truth
I had a lengthy internal debate on whether adding South Park: The Stick of Truth to this list could be justified, but anything from Trey Parker and Matt Stone is bound to conjure controversy. The pair made the Guinness Book of Records for their use of profanity in 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, after all. The final build of The Stick of Truth had several scenes banned by the ESRB that included anal probing and abortion sequences (one of which involved a booster seat for the young player to undergo said procedure). Critics agreed that the game deserved praise and, really, you should always expect some kind of controversy with South Park.
11 Night Trap
By today’s standards, Night Trap is an innocuous video game. It doesn’t possess the sheer brutality of Manhunt or the brazen sexual implications found in Grand Theft Auto games. Nonetheless, in 1992 it brewed considerable controversy for its “ultra-violent” and “disgusting” content. The game wasn’t a gore fest, though, nor was it excessively sexual. It centered on some scantily-clad females and that’s basically the extent of it. Still, it was enough for its opposition to claim it encouraged taking advantage of vulnerable women. The game, along with another on this list, helped pave the way for the introduction of the ESRB ratings that are still used today.
10 Mortal Kombat Series
Mortal Kombat, along with Night Trap, helped implement ESRB ratings on video games to deem what is suitable for children and teenagers. It remains one of the most popular fighting games in the video game industry, especially with Mortal Kombat X inching closer to release. If you’ve been living underground for a few decades, the game centers on a cast of fighters that each possess unique skillsets. The game is played on a best-two-out-of-three basis, and the player can perform a brutal fatality upon winning the match. The game was banned in Germany and Brazil for its excessive use of blood and gore.
9 Custer’s Revenge
Custer’s Revenge is a video game from 1982 that caused controversy for its explicit sexual content. The player controlled Custer, based on General George Armstrong Custer, in a side-scrolling adventure to reach a Native American woman. Not so bad, right? Except Custer wore nothing but a cavalry hat and boots, revealing his perpetual erection throughout the game. Once the player reached the Native American woman, who is tied to a pole, they were prompted to rape her. The game was subsequently banned in several places before a new developer purchased the rights to the title and altered the ending so the woman was willing to have sex.
8 Left Behind: Eternal Forces
Left Behind: Eternal Forces received mixed reception for its uneven gameplay and graphical shortcomings, and for its controversial content. The player controlled the Tribulation Force, a Christian-led group that targeted any one that opposed their will. The game promoted using conversion techniques rather than violence as excessively opting for the latter would result in losing allies. Still, combat was recommended when necessary. Many criticized the game for promoting religious warfare, and Christian groups opposed its use of violence as contradictory to the beliefs of the religion. It’s worth noting the online aspect of the game allowed players to control both sides, the Christians and non-Christians.
7 Ethnic Cleansing
Ethnic Cleansing made no effort in concealing their message, which basically amounts to being super racist. The player controls a neo-Nazi or Klansman and is tasked with killing African Americans, Latinos, and Jewish enemies. The game celebrated white supremacy and supported anti-Semitic behaviour. The game predictably received overwhelmingly negative reviews and was rightfully lambasted by professional critics for its blatant and unabashed racism. It should come as no surprise that the first-person shooter was a hot mess of technical oversights. To make matters worse, the game was released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2002. You stay classy, National Alliance Games.
Here’s an excerpt from the Hatred announcement trailer: “My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred. And I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance and no life is worth saving. And I will put in the grave as many as I can. It's time for me to kill. And it's time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.” And that sums up the premise of the upcoming video game rather precisely. You murder civilians and cops in brutal fashion and that’s that. The game recently received an AO rating by the ESRB, which is a rare occurrence. Manhunt 2, another game on this list, initially received an AO rating before editing some of the content to be rated M for mature.
5 Thrill Kill
Thrill Kill was a fighting video game that received the elusive adults’ only rating from the ESRB. Thing is, it remains unpublished to this day as EA refused to release the game to the public for its excessive use of blood and gore and sexual content. It’s amusing to watch clips of the gameplay online as it seems rather tame compared to modern day fighting games like Mortal Kombat. While the game was cancelled, it is playable online as the code leaked before its demise. So if you’re into controlling a cannibal who uses a severed leg as a weapon and then chews on it in celebration, you should be able to find Thrill Kill rather easily.
Carmageddon drew the ire of naysayers for promoting the death of innocent civilians by rewarding murderous behaviour. That’s because the game encouraged players to run over pedestrians with vehicles. Many countries forced the developer to censor the game by replacing humans with robots and zombies, eliminating the use of blood with green and black liquid. The premise might not seem controversial today when you consider the amount of hyper-violent video games freely available online, but in 1997 it was under intense scrutiny. Since its release, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund Carmageddon: Reincarnation, which was finally released on March 27, 2014.
3 Super Columbine Massacre RPG!
This is pretty self-explanatory. The premise of the game—and the inclusion of an exclamation point in the title— was in poor taste, and the creator rightfully received intense criticism for creating the game. He made no profit from the free PC game but defended Super Columbine Massacre RPG! stating that it was meant to spur discussion on what happened and dissecting the heart of the issue. No matter which side you stand on, the game is deservedly controversial. The creator even made a documentary titled “Playing Columbine” in 2006, which recapped the release of the game and its impact in the media.
Unsurprisingly, RapeLay is game about rape. You play as Masaya Kimura, a male who stalks and subsequently rapes the Kiryuu family, which consists of a mother and her two daughters. It’s pretty messed up, and the gameplay extends to selecting different sexual positions and even encourages you to avoid impregnating one of the females. The game has been banned in Japan, among other countries, and was later removed from Amazon. Video games as a medium are a breeding ground of artistic expression, but creating an explicit rape simulator game is hard to justify. Much of these games don’t possess the subtly of any given Grand Theft Auto game, opting instead for shock value.
These games are just brutal, and the controversy surrounding the series is well-deserved. Here are some of the executions you can dish out in Manhunt: suffocating enemies with plastic bags, jamming crowbars through skulls, gouging eyes and faces, beheadings with strangling cords, and destroying genitals with sickles, among other creative ways. It sparked considerable controversy overseas as New Zealand outright banned the game and made it illegal to own a copy. It was also banned in several other countries for its incessant and cruel violence. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the game was released by Rockstar Games, the minds behind the Grand Theft Auto series.