"Won't somebody think of the children!"
It's become a wearyingly familiar cry, as everyone from parents' groups to politicians lines up to scapegoat the video games industry for all of society's ills. Murders, juvenile delinquency, truancy; you name it, video games have been blamed for it. Though to be fair, the games industry has done its fair share of baiting the moral majority, courting deliberate controversy to drum up sales.
We've rounded up some of the most contentious games in history – the ones which, if outspoken pundits are to be believed, should already have led to the collapse of society.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992 – PC)
The game that kicked off the FPS boom, Wolfenstein 3D defined the 3D blaster template that still dominates today. It was also the first FPS to feature liberal amounts of gore, which was deemed almost as shocking as its use of Nazis as villains and Swastikas as set dressing.
Indeed, the game fell foul of Germany's laws, which ban the use of Nazi imagery – something of a problem when the game's final boss is Hitler in a mecha suit. Similarly, Nintendo opted to avoid controversy with a Bowdlerised port of the game, replacing Hitler with the less contentious "Staatmeiste," and swapping out the killer dogs for mutant rats. Because mowing down hordes of people with a chaingun is beyond the pale, but Fido is sacrosanct.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001 – PS2, Xbox 360, PC)
The original top-down PC crim-sim sparked a minor media firestorm on its release in 1997 (largely thanks to the efforts of publicist Max Clifford). But it wasn't until Grand Theft Auto III that the series exploded into the popular consciousness – and politicians, lawyers and the mass media started taking notice.
Partly, that was down to the series' increased realism; in place of faceless 2D sprites, you were suddenly hiring prostitutes and gunning down civilians and cops in full 3D. Many pundits clung to the misconception that the game actively rewarded criminal acts such as running civilians over; in fact, while the original 2D game did reward points for dead pedestrians, GTA III didn't dole out points for random acts of murder (though dead NPCs could drop cash).
Since then, the series has been blamed for everything from real-world murders to release day muggings, with politicians routinely reaching for GTA to hang today's societal woes upon. Of course, the game remains as popular as ever 10 years on, and now you can slaughter indiscriminately on your morning commute, with Android and iOS ports available for pennies.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare startled players with the "Shock and Awe" mission, in which (spoilers!) the player's character perishes in a nuclear explosion.
In a bid to create a similar attention-grabbing moment in the sequel, developers Infinity Ward created the infamous "No Russian" mission, in which players take part in a terrorist massacre of civilians in an airport. Hugely controversial, Infinity Ward's protests that the player had the option of standing back and not participating in the massacre – or even skipping the mission entirely – fell somewhat flat. If the mission could be skipped, then surely it wasn't essential to the storyline, and was simply a bid to court controversy. In that regard, it certainly succeeded. A grim episode in an otherwise sterling shooter.
Bully (2006 – PS2, Xbox 360)
Built on the GTA III game engine, Bully saw Rockstar once more baiting newspapers with its customary anarchic glee. How Sam and Dan Houser must have chortled when the mainstream media took one look at the game's title and school setting, and grabbed the wrong end of the stick with both hands – claiming it was a bullying simulator.
In fact, the title referred to the game's fictional Bullworth Academy, while the game itself was actually a tame teenager simulator, involving Saturday jobs, fairgrounds and compulsory 'school lessons' in the form of mini games.
Postal 2 (2003 – PC)
With the tagline "It's only as violent as you are!" Postal 2 tasked you with carrying out a series of mundane tasks in a small town – and heaped endless provocations to violence upon you, from aggressive hate groups to obnoxious civilians.
The gonzo alternative to Grand Theft Auto, Postal 2 eschewed subtlety in favour of ludicrous levels of ultraviolence and obscenity, with little aim other than to shock. Crucially, it didn't really wrap all its adolescent sensibilities up in a compelling game; once you've peed on a cop and used a cat as a silencer, there isn't much to it.
Carmageddon (1997 – PC, PlayStation, N64)
Clearly owing a debt to classic cult racing film Death Race 2000, Carmageddon screeched onto PCs in a cloud of tire smoke – mowing down pedestrians on the way. A close cousin to Grand Theft Auto, the 3D racing game awarded points for vehicular manslaughter – prompting censors to demand that the fleshy pedestrians be replaced by zombies and robots in the initial release.
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