The ever popular Mortal Kombat has always been a source of controversy, and is by now infamous for its gut-wrenching fatalities and brutalities. The gory cartoon violence displays some ingeniously creative ways of killing your opponent; this is the only game in which you can take a selfie with your defeated opponent’s corpse. With each new title in the series, the effects get more and more gruesome, and yet it was the original Mortal Kombat game that caused the greatest uproar.
Released in 1993 as an arcade game, the original Mortal Kombat sparked fears that gaming was becoming an increasingly unacceptable pursuit for young people. Developers Midway Games were accused of glorifying violence and murder, and scenes from the game were even shown during a US congressional hearing into the video game industry. One big fear was that children could get hold of violent games, as age ratings for video games had not yet been introduced – in fact the game’s violent content paved the way for the creation of ESRB, the regulatory body that gives each game an age rating in the US. It could be argued that the founding of rating bodies such as the ESRB have enabled developers to target their games at specific age groups, rather than creating games that must be suitable for everyone.
Nope, this wasn’t David Cameron performing an unspeakable act on the severed head of a League of Legends fan. GamerGate was, ostensibly, a movement to establish an ethical code of conduct in games journalism, after accusations that game developer Zoe Quinn slept with a reviewer to get a higher score for her free game, Depression Quest.
Though that particular claim ended up to be false – they began a relationship after the review, for one thing – there are problems to be solved in game reviewing, mostly due to the influence of big corporations casually nudging aside that “impartiality” thing. However, the majority soon ignored this in favour of harassing anyone who wanted to review or develop games and be a woman at the same time.
Those who sent out the doxxing, rape threats and death threats ultimately ended up validating every stereotype from the last 20 years about gamers being psychopaths. The whole thing ultimately became a parade of hatred and misogyny, sort of like the parades they have at Disneyland, if Baloo the bear started screaming he was going to go to a female developer’s lecture and shoot it up.
The backlash was swift, and after a protracted struggle over several months, GamerGate was finished as a legitimate force. Though some say, if you go to the right subreddit and the moon is full, you can still hear the whispers of “ethics” in the wind…
Cast your mind back to 2005, perhaps while playing some dreamy harp chords if the flashback music helps, and to a little game called Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In it, your character CJ could get himself a girlfriend inbetween fleeing police and murdering prostitutes, and take her out on romantic dates! She’d then invite you to her house for “coffee”, and then the camera’d wait outside while they went inside and made vaguely-risqué moaning noises.
BUT! Enterprising hackers found a hidden mini-game where you could go inside and tap a button to the beat to control CJ’s thrusts, like a Guitar Hero porn parody. Though the PlayStation 2-era graphics made it look about as sexy as watching two triangles try to mate, lawmakers and politicians had a field day (which you might already know from the BBC’s Daniel Radcliffe docudrama, The Gamemakers).
The game was pulled from shelves, switched from Mature to Adults Only in the US, and even Hillary Clinton weighed in to suggest new regulations on video game sales. A bill was soon passed that made the ESRB’s ratings for games backed up by federal law.
But this was all in America, incidentally. The UK didn’t mind much, since it was already 18+ over here: we were probably just a bit annoyed she didn’t have any tea.
If racing games are fun, and if violent games are fun, then surely it makes sense that a game which combines the two genres would be double the fun? Carmageddon works on this presumption, with manic races in which points are awarded for causing as much havoc as possible. This involves destroying your opponents’ vehicles, as well as running over as many pedestrians as possible.
The developers only had themselves to blame when the game caused a furore across the globe. The BBFC initially refused to give Carmageddon a certificate, effectively banning it from the UK unless the game’s content was altered. In the version that was eventually released in the UK, pedestrians were replaced with zombies and red blood was swapped for green goo. It’s fair to say that upon its release in 1997, the press went to town with Carmageddon, criticising the makers for fouling the innocence of children the length and breadth of Britain. Despite seeming timid by today’s standards, the game sparked a debate as to whether violence in video games was having an unhealthy effect on the country’s young people.
Cod: Black Ops III
In a recent attempt to promote the upcoming first-person-shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the game’s publisher Activision made the foolish decision to live-tweet a fictional terrorist attack. According to the Call of Duty Twitter account, the island city-state of Singapore was the scene of massive explosions as well as widespread rioting. While the tweets weren’t supposed to fool anyone, you have to question the judgement behind the stunt – in an era characterised by the lingering shadow of ‘The War on Terror’, a publicity stunt such as this is at the very least crass, and at most downright offensive. The idea of using people’s fear of terrorism to promote a video game seems like a strange one – personally, I’ve never encountered any marketing phrase such as ‘terror sells’.
To add insult to injury, images of flooding in the North Walian town of Rhyl were used in a promotional video, during a sequence that was supposed to depict a dystopian vision of the future. Having visited Rhyl in the past, I can confirm that while it may be grim, it is far from post-apocalyptic.