The controversies that directly influence how games are made and sold are those involving lawmakers and retailers. These bodies have the power to affect a game developer or publisher's bottom line, and that's what they listen to most--it's a business. Beyond these hard-hitting, name-making cases are the games that received minimal, usually local, press because particular groups took offense at a game's message and wanted to call it out to the public. These games usually remained on store shelves, with minor blacklisting among the groups that found them disturbing.
Many of these complaints are valid. Some come from groups who are undeniably pro-censorship and want to control and expurgate all media. Borland and King addressed this type of controversy in their book, Dungeons and Dreamers: "Creative readings of Ms. Pac Man and Donkey Kong found rape metaphors hidden in the games' subtext." Anyone who's ever taken an art class will say, sometimes if you're looking, you'll find it. But it's also true that some absolutely ridiculous situations have appeared in video games over the last 30 years. Here are a few of the more notable ones. You decide.
Platforms: Arcade, NES
Publisher: Exidy, 1986
Ten years after Exidy released and consequently revoked Death Race, the company offered another game that select detractors found to be off-taste--Chiller. Web postings for Chiller reveal great fanfare and praise for the "best gore ever." The game was equally celebrated for its unrealistic silliness. The goal in Chiller was to help victims chained to torture devices out of their skin--literally. Shooting at them activated various features on the torture machines that would tear people in half or, at best, dismember them. You could also shoot at the people directly, which would take large chunks of flesh off their bodies.
Chiller did not reach the censorial pandemonium that Night Trap saw, but it raised a few eyebrows for its brazen style. In its wake, games such as State of Emergency, Splatterhouse, Metal Slug, and Soldier of Fortune all dished out serious amounts of gore yet remain available for purchase. These games, by most standards, are far bloodier and more gruesome than Night Trap, for example.
Steve Kent suggested that what makes Chiller interesting is that it did not receive as much negative attention as Death Race, for example, because "nobody would buy the damn thing." Kent noted that Chiller sold well in third-world countries but that arcade owners in the US said the game was too much. "So there's a case of self-policing," Kent said.
Chiller was one of a series of "C" games Exidy published, including Crossbow, Crackpot, and Cheyenne. Cheyenne came out, Kent said, "and you'd shoot these girls, and they would go 'Ahhhhhh.' Then you'd shoot Mexicans and they'd go 'Ay yi yi,' then you'd shoot these American Indians and they'd say, 'Pale face.' There wasn't a peep of trouble for any of that. But then the next game that came out was Crossbow, and parrots would try to fly over you and drop coconuts on your head, and you'd shoot the parrots with your crossbow, and the SPCA complained." There is little formula to understanding why some games trigger negative attention and others go unnoticed.
Platforms: 3DO, Game Gear, Genesis, PC, Saturn, GameCube, PlayStation, N64, Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Electronic Arts (various), 1994
Developer: Electronic Arts (various)
Getting banned from retail stores and being driven out of entire countries is one thing, but being barred from Australia's prisons doesn't exactly earn Road Rash a spot in the Major Offenders category. The Road Rash series is not one with an epic history or storyline. It was a relatively clear-cut motorcycle racing game that had risen and fallen and risen again in fashion. And, well, there was a bit more than just racing going on. In the game, players could kick other riders off their bikes and use weapons such as chains and crowbars, as well as good old-fashioned fists and boots, to create melee on the course. All in good fun, naturally.
It's doubtful the public would give game developers flak for making a game in which bikers beat other bikers off of their rides. The criticism came because bikers could beat cops off of their bikes--a decidedly more controversial feature.
In July 2002, Road Rash was among several games banned from Australian prisons after officials determined that some of the games emulated activities for which the prisoners were incarcerated. Grand Theft Auto, Street Fighter, and Evil Dead were included on the OFLC's list.