|"You Don't Need Violence in Your video Game to Make it Sell" by BagoGames|
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Many of these boundaries are very thin and can determine whether a game is just stylized or whether the content is not okay. Disclaimer: The point of this article is NOT a rulebook on what games are okay to play and what is not, but the point of this article is to point out controversial topics in gaming and how they influence the game as a whole. Let’s begin…
Nuts and Bolts
The level system describes the level of controversy of each game. Level 1 is the most extreme, with the game being banned, and as the levels increase, the controversy becomes more minimal. This also applies to 'sub-levels', where some games with similar controversial content (like violence) may be less controversial than others, like a level 2-2 Call of Duty to a level 2-1 Mortal Kombat. Here's a rough diagram of controversial video games:
/ Level 1: Banned or Adult Only ESRB \
/ Level 2: Extreme Violence and Sex \
/ Level 3: Religion and Mild violence and sex \
The 'Pyramid' represents a chance of redemption for these games. The higher the game is, the harder the game has to work to redeem themselves in the eyes of gamers. For example, there are plenty of Level 2 Violent games like 'The Last of Us', but there are enough redeeming qualities to the game that it has won multiple 'Game of the Year' awards.
Level 1: Blocked?
To say that some games have garnered a lot of negative from the government and the public would be an extreme understatement. While close to no games has been banned from the U.S in a federal sense, plenty of other games have been banned from other countries like New Zealand, Germany, China, and Australia. These games are the best games to start with because they have garnered federal attention and have literally crossed the federal line. Here is a brief overview of the worst offenders:
Warning: There is a reason that these games have been banned in countries, and the content of these games has sexual violence, extreme physical assault, and other potentially disturbing content. If you are sensitive to these games, then feel free to skip this section and read Level 2 games.
For modesty, the games with the content will not be listed, but the content that caused the anonymous game to gain controversy will be discussed.
[Sexual Violence] Almost all games that have shown nonconsensual sex and other forms of sexual violence have been either banned or taken down from the markets. For example, games that have featured rape have been banned in countries like Australia, Taiwan, and Germany, but not America. This is an indicator that there is a consensus against games like these, and that nobody wants to play these games because they are only found in the dark side of the web
[Illegal Violence and Activity] Another common theme in banned games also involves any game that includes illegal activity. What is Illegal Activity in games? Illegal Activity is an action that the player can do in the game that is illegal in real life. For example, games like GTA are banned in other countries because of the player's capability to murder, steal, and do other activities that could get them arrested in reality.
|"Grand Theft Auto V headed to the PlayStation 4 Fall of 2014" by BagoGames|
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Level 1 Summary:
A lot of these games that were banned included sex and violence. Specifically, the type of sex that was banned was non-consensual or was a form of assault. The violence that usually ended up getting banned was violence that would show the breaking of a country’s law. You may be asking, ‘Why did only one game get banned in the U.S?’ That takes a somewhat brief explanation…
In order to protect free speech, the U.S government has no laws on games. The Guy Game wasn’t banned because it of the message, but it featured real people and was therefore under the liberties of federal law. However, there is the ESRB that takes care of controversial games to maintain some degree of restraint. The reason ESRB exists is that the government doesn’t want to take control of the gaming market and censor an area of free speech, so the ESRB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping games under control in place of the government. To contest the games that are normally censored, and AO (Adults Only) rating is given and few stores retail those games. You can technically find the games, but you would have to actively pursue the game to play it because of the connotations associated with owning the game.
Level 2-1: Modern Controversy of Violence
Yes. The age-old fight against violence…
This isn’t going to be an argument over if violence is okay in video games because there are hundreds of other articles basing the argument on the morality of violence in video games, but the article will compare violent games and explore why some garner backlash and others don’t. First, here are the controversial kings of violence:
"A New Generation of Kombat| Mortal Kombat X Review" by BagoGames
[Grand Theft Auto] has already been mentioned once, but this game is very controversial no matter how you look at it, and this game isn't banned in America. The main complaint about this game is that the violence depicted is glorifying the illegal activity and is, and the main defense of the game is that there is no correlation between violence and video games and that GTA is a game that doesn’t necessarily create an intimate connection.
[Doom], besides Mortal Kombat, is another one of the notorious video games. With Satanic References, lots of blood, and violence galore, this game, while gaining a devoted fanbase and somewhat favorable reviews critically today, garnered a lot of negative attention upon its release. In fact, this game was the forefront of anti-violence games when it was released because of one of the high schoolers’ relations to the game during the Columbine Massacre.
And less known:
[JFK: Reloaded]. A JFK assassination simulator with you as Lee Harvey Oswald. This game, unsurprisingly, was denounced by Kennedy’s family, along with the general public.
[Postal] is a game series in which you kill as many people as possible in an arcade fashion. The controversy stemmed from whether the violence was excessive or not. The arguments intensified with its sequel because of how the violence was taken to the next level.
Level 2-2: Not as Violent Controversy
Unsurprisingly, some games are violent, but they don’t garner as much controversy as others for various reasons. Here are some of the examples of such games:
[Gears of War] is a critically acclaimed game about an alien invasion. The game features gory kills via chainsaws and blowing aliens into a bloody mess. While there was minor controversy upon its release, the series has gone strong averaging 91 for their 4 games on Metacritic and a 5th game being announced.
[Call of Duty] is another popular video game series that has made dozens of games. The controversy over this game is well known, and ironically, it’s not because of the occasional violence that earned its M Rating from ESRB. The series is known for a toxic community of players that perhaps gives the series more hate than it deserves.
|"The Last of Us Concept Art" by Skush|
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Various Horror Games are also receiving less controversy, whether that is Resident Evil, Until Dawn, Dead Space, Outlast, Silent Hill, (Okay, maybe not Silent Hill). The common theme for the horror genre is that it is okay because the player goes into a horror game to see gory violence or psychological tension because horror games are notorious for that. The only controversy involving horror involves religious references because they can be offensive or obscene to religious groups, like Silent Hill and Outlast 2. (More on Religion later).
The common themes for games with violence stem from a few basic rules. For starters, like in JFK: Reloaded, backlash usually stems from games that involve real people being portrayed as victims of death or a glorification of similar ideas.
Also, what separates games like GTA and Gears of War is the fact that games like Gears of War have an element of disbelief to them. For example, it is more acceptable to kill something foreign, like an alien or a monster, because those aren’t real. However, games like Grand Theft Auto or Postal faces backlash because the people you fight aren’t alien, but they are human, and in most occasions, innocent. Call of Duty doesn’t give the option of killing innocent people,(except in one game, which got the mission taken down), but fights aggressive people. Also, Call of Duty contains a zombies mode that falls under the monsters category from earlier.
Other forms of controversial violence usually involve religious violence. The main offenders of religious violence involve horror games more often, and that sort of religious violence is usually similar to the forms of religious violence in film or media.
However, many of the video games that are violent are popular to some extent, and a lot of the games are critically and publicly praised for different reasons. Even Mortal Kombat (11) and GTA have been considered good games in their own rights.
Level 2 Recap:
- NO killing of innocents
- It is generally okay to fight the unknown or inhuman
- NO killing of real people
- NO religious violence
Level 3-1: Censorship of Religion
Although there has been censorship in America by private companies, not all companies censor their subject matter in regards to religion. In fact, games like 'God of War', 'Dark Souls', and 'Assassin's Creed' have religious undertones both subtle and obvious. Some games have garnered praise (non-religiously) and continued strong, but almost every religious game has gone through some form of controversy with religious groups. While most games rely on fictional religions, some make references to real religions, usually Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Here are a few small examples of games with religion:
|"Little Big Planet - HD - Sackboy" by SobControllers|
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[Assassin's Creed] The original Assassin's Creed had small undertones of Anti-Catholicism with the premises of the Assassin's fighting the corrupted Catholic church via the Templars. While there isn't overwhelming controversy over the game, there are some questions as to whether this is appropriate for religious groups. However, the legacy of this game series is still strong, with the series leaving the traditional Renaissance atmosphere towards an ancient Greek and Egyptian feel.
[God of War] The game literally has the word God on the cover, so this game is bleeding with religion. The religion in God of War, though, is really Greek Mythology, which is an outdated religion with an extremely minimal if existant following. In fact, the controversy lies with not the religion, but the violence associated with the series. However, with the new God of War game taking on Norse Mythology with reduced violence, the new God of War game has been regarded as a masterpiece because of its story of a father and his son.
Level 3-2: Pre-2000 Censorship
Although there has been censorship in America by private companies and in smaller scales, not all companies censor their subject matter in regards to religion. In fact, games like 'God of War', 'Dark Souls', and 'Assassin's Creed' have religious undertones both subtle and obvious. Some games have garnered praise (non-religious praise, that is) and continued with new releases constantly, but almost every religious game has gone through some form of controversy.
To begin, religion has been censored a few times from Japan to America, and there is almost without fail controversy over any game with religious undertones. Although America doesn't actively have a law restricting religious references, the backlash from the public over certain religious ideas usually end in the company censoring a part of their game. Specifically, Nintendo has had a history of censoring content for a family-friendly system, especially with the Nes, Snes, and Nintendo 64. Here are some of the examples of Nintendo's censorship:
[Legend of Zelda] The original three games before Ocarina of Time had censorship over the main Protagonist Link and his equipment. The original Legend of Zelda for the NES had the Bible changed into the 'Book of Magic' and the cross on the shields has also faced backlash. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was originally called Triforce of the Gods, but the name was changed in North America to avoid backlash and be more palatable for religious audiences. Ocarina of Time originally featured a shield with a resemblance to the religious symbol of Islam, but that was changed to a random embellishment design. Also, like with Little Big Planet, the music of the original game had some Muslim chanting, and for the 3DS release of the game, that chanting was taken out.
|"Final Fantasy VI Box (Front)" by Bryan Ochalla|
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[Games with Crosses] Since Crosses are associated with Christianity, any cross seen in a pre-2000 would be either omitted or altered. For example, the crosses on the coffins in any game like DuckTales or Ghouls and Ghosts would be changed to RIP signs or ankhs for Ghouls and Ghosts. Even the Red Cross sign associated with medicine and health would be omitted from health kits and replaced with hearts.
It seems that the most controversial games with religion are the games with references to the most popular religions. Most game companies censor their game before they reach the public, so the conflict over religion isn't as intense as the conflict over violence. This could be due to the taboo that religion has in American culture and the hope of accessing a wider audience that is inoffensive. That said, there also is a very thin line between
Level 3 Recap:
- Mythology is okay
- don't use sacred texts or symbols
- Don't condemn or have negative messages about religion
Note: Like all forms of controversy, this part contains my personal opinion on the subject, and you may not agree with my points. Some of the games listed are well-known games, and although some of these games have garnered controversy, most of the specific titles have been successful despite some heated controversy. For example, GTA 5 had earned 1 billion dollars in 3 days and becoming one of the best selling games of all time. In context, the only games to have made more money than GTA 5 would be Minecraft and Tetris. Zelda has still gone strong with Breath of the Wild becoming one of the best selling games on the Nintendo Switch. So, controversial games don't necessarily make a game bad. In fact, to the contrary. Most games with controversial content are either really good or forgotten by the public and gather dust in the bottom of a clearance pile along with other games regardless of controversy. That may be because games have evolved into an art along with books and paintings.
People may be willing to suspend judgment when they read an engaging book or a fascinating painting, and they can be willing to accept certain standards. In fact, the only games that have been unacceptable were the level 1 games, and that was because the games were very intense with insufficient content to justify the content. This can be similar to a book of gratuitous violence or other... provocative content. Most of these books are avoided because there isn't character development to engage the player to be able to morally justify why they should read the content. You may ask, "What's the takeaway for this?" The best lesson from this project would be that you shouldn't necessarily shy away from a game simply because there is controversy over the game, but you should be wary of the level 1 games that have been censored for illegal activity or content. I can't tell you to not play the game, but some of these games need to be played with skepticism or a mature mindset to handle the content. Most importantly, don't be afraid of trying games simply because people argue over certain aspects of the game. It's okay for a game to have negative feedback and still be good because people don't play games necessarily for political validation, but they play to escape into an experience, whether it is attempting to get 5 stars for as long as possible or running and jumping through colorful landscapes.