Avoiding controversies in video games that are rated for teenagers and above, can basically be considered as an achievement. Almost all companies that have developed titles for that age group have been subject to scrutiny or direct criticism regarding their games’ content at least once.
Video games are more subject to censorship than any other entertainment product. Almost all action movies that have elements of violence such as shootouts, melee fights, and depiction of blood are rated for kids. Video games, on the other hand, containing the exact same things are generally rated for audiences above the age of 17. Adult rated movies or T.V shows that contain gross sexual violence are screened in theatres and television screens but if a video game contains too much of sexual content, stores and platforms refuse to sell those products; assuming that the game even manages to get permission for release. Governments, NGOs, and the News media bashing developers for certain mature content in their game is not a very uncommon phenomenon. In fact, things have gone as far as countries banning certain video games and arresting anyone caught playing them.
Over the past few decades in the history of gaming, we have come across numerous controversies surrounding particular games or companies. While it is true that almost all of the video games with controversies had certain objectionable content, they were rated for mature audience only and the resulting drama was unnecessary.
Let us take a look at three of the most famous controversies in the history of gaming –
No Russian (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)
The list ofcourse starts with No Russian as it is still one of the hottest debated topics in the history of gaming. “No Russian” is the fourth mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s campaign.
The mission let’s you take control of undercover CIA agent Joseph Allen as he infiltrates the ranks of the Ultra-nationalist terrorist organization led by the game’s antagonist Makarov. Makarov and his trusted lieutenants attack the Zakhaev International Airport in Russia and plan to frame the U.S for it.
The mission shows graphic portrayal of a mass shootout in the airport where the terrorists gun down reacting security guards and unarmed innocent civilians alike. Civilians can be seen screaming and running for their life. Some even crawl on the floor after getting shot, leaving a graphic blood trail. As part of the mission, you can participate in the shootout by shooting the civilians yourself. This, however, is not compulsory and you can simply follow your comrades without shooting any civilian yourself. If you try to stop your attacking comrades by shooting them instead, you’ll be killed since they are apparently immortal during that mission. At the end of the mission, you are shot by the antagonist Makarov as he knew your secret identity all along and this whole plan was to frame you for the attack. Players also have the option to skip the mission altogether without losing any achievement score.
Leaked footage of this mission was released online prior to the game’s launch and was met with heavy backlash. Media houses, politicians, religious leaders, and various other spoke-persons criticized the developers for portraying such atrocities in their game. Others considered it as a genuine art form and thought it was necessary to portray human suffering in order to add realism to the game.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was banned in Russia altogether. It’s German and Japanese versions were modified in such a way that the mission would fail if the player shoots a civilian.
Hot Coffee mod (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
The Grand Theft Auto franchise has always been a topic for controversy even when it was just a top-view 2D game. The franchise’s ability to give players full freedom to go on a crime spree is still criticized by many. However, even among all the other controversies which the series was involved with, the Hot Coffee mod kind of stood out.
The developers added an interactive mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which was removed before launch. Remember the dating system from the game? Once you impress your girlfriend enough, she’ll invite for a “coffee”. Accepting the invite will show you a few seconds of exterior view of the girlfriend’s house; moaning sounds indicative of sexual intercourse can be heard in the background. But according to Rockstar Games’ original plan, there was supposed to be an interactive sex mini-game instead. Players were supposed to press the Up and Down arrow key to have sex. They could also change sex positions, and view the scene from various angles. Players were supposed to fill up an excitement meter by having “good sex” with their girlfriends.
This mini-game was removed before the game’s release but it’s source code and assets were left untouched. The modding community, however, came up with a mod dubbed as the “Hot Coffee mod” which would allow PC users to access the mini game. The mod was later released for consoles too.
Rockstar Games was heavily criticized for this “hidden game mode” since they initially denied all allegations. The game’s ESRB rating was changed from “Matured (M)” to “Adults Only (AO)” which resulted in it being pulled from most of the stores. Rockstar, however, later released a patched version of the game which excluded the game mode from it’s source program. Several lawsuits were filed against the company as they “failed to disclose sexual content in their game”. Rockstar Games was heavily penalized for it and had to pay huge sums of money as settlements and penalties.
Fatality (Mortal Kombat series)
The Mortal Kombat series is one of the first game franchises to fuel a major controversy within the gaming industry and beyond. The series has been criticized for its graphic portrayal of violent and bloody combat system.
The “Fatality” system of Mortal Kombat sparked major controversy when the first game in the franchise was launched, i.e, in 1992. The Fatality system is basically a violent finisher move which a character can perform after defeating their opponents. The animation of this Fatality move is unique to each character. In almost all cases, the moves are extremely violent as they can feature dismemberment, decapitation, and other gruesome techniques which are very graphic in nature since there’s a lot of blood shown.
As a matter of fact, it was the series’ controversy regarding the game’s Fatality system which led to the formation of ESRB and other video game rating boards during that time. The SNES version of the original Mortal Kombat, was heavily censored; showing sweat instead of blood and replacing the animations of Fatalities with less violent moves. Various other titles in the franchise have been censored or banned across various locations around the globe, due to the game’s overall violent nature.
Apart from the above three, there are numerous other controversies surrounding major video games. As I’ve stated earlier, video games are more prone to controversies and censorship than any other form of entertainment. While various authorities have managed to ban or censor certain video games from their respective regions, gaming as an industry is an ever expanding phenomenon, a power of good that cannot be stopped by means of restrictions.