It’s been a politically dubious couple of weeks in the gaming world. Police management sim This is the Police ruffled feathers by making ham-fisted commentaries about racism in US society, while Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is continuing to, well, divide mankind with its maybe well-meaning but naive nods to the Black Lives Matter movement.
For some better examples of the medium, check out the best PC games.
But these are mere mishaps compared to some of the controversies PC games have courted over the years, so we thought we’d sort-of celebrate that with a chronological list of the ten most controversial games throughout PC history.
Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (1987)
Having originally come out on the Commodore 64 and later made it over to the flashy new MS-DOS platform, it’s fair to call this a PC game, even though the term didn’t technically exist at the time.
You might not think of the cover pictured above as being particularly lewd (and rightly wonder whether the barbarian pictured is in fact Wolf from Gladiators), but the side-boob (ok, and cleavage) flashed by page 3 model Maria Whittaker was enough to trigger public outrage.
Barbarian benefited from the publicity. The controversy, combined with the fact that it was actually a good proto-Mortal Kombat beat-’em-up, ensured its success, leading to a sequel that once again featured Wolf and Ms. Whittaker on the cover, and looking no less scanty than before.
The first FPS to truly hit the big time, Doom introduced players to a new camera perspective that offered an unprecedented level of involvement with the violence on-screen.
The satanic imagery upset Christian groups, army colonels described it as a “mass murder simulator that provides military-type training” and “is used in the military itself to teach soldiers how to kill”, and it was one of the first games to get an ‘M for Mature’ rating.
The moral panic surrounding Doom (and its sequel) came to a head when, in 1999, it was discovered that Eric Harris, one of the Columbine High School shooters, was a big fan of the series and created his own Doom levels (though the rumoured map based on Columbine was never found).
Not that all the spurious accusations against Doom have stopped it, with the latest entry being a critically lauded dance of dismemberment.
Night Trap (1994)
With the brilliant Her Story having come out last year, FMV games could see a bit of a resurgence. But back in the ’90s, they were associated with awful things like the Sega CD, hammy acting… and Night Trap.
The game was ported to the PC in 1994, but before that was deemed so abhorrent for its video depiction of attractive young women being killed by masked goons that it was discussed in the US Senate, and along with Mortal Kombat and Doom triggered the implementation of the ESRB rating system in America. The scene below was particularly shocking at the time, as a woman in a nightgown gets her blood drained by four assailants using what appears to be a litter-picker.
Yep, once upon a time this was actually deemed shocking, and today we just laugh. What monsters we have become...
Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
Everyone’s favourite crew-cut chauvinist would likely have been in for more of a grilling had Doom not already become the posterchild for the corrupting influence of videogames. But by taking place in an approximation of the real world replete with video stores, porn cinemas, and scantily-clad women, the Duke still managed to carve out some controversy.
The role of women - collectively known as ‘babes’ in the game – as vapid trophies for Duke was (and still is) condemned, and its violence got it banned in several countries, most notably Brazil in 1999, where a mass shooting in Sao Paulo was purportedly inspired by the first level of the game.
What was shocking, edgy and kind of cool in 1996 doesn’t apply 15 years later however, and the decision to stick with the original’s bawdy humour for Duke Nukem Forever condemned the belated sequel to mockery and ignominy.
Probably the first videogame with mass appeal that made no excuses for the extreme violence it depicts on-screen. Running people over in Carmageddon actively rewarded the player, earning you credits and extending the race timer, and it was damn fun doing it.
The grindhouse tone of the game meant it felt comical rather than gratuitous, but such nuances were never going to convince the censors. In the UK, the pedestrians were changed to green-blooded ‘zombies’, whereas in Germany the killjoys went even further and used robots instead (which were essentially unmoving bollards that emitted a siren when you destroyed them).
Thankfully, a Blood Patch was released in the UK to turn the zombies into nice, squishy human beings.
Soldier of Fortune (2000)
There was a point in the early 2000s when videogames’ increasing ability to depict the brutalisation and dismemberment of the human body was almost celebrated. Manhunt and Postal 2 led the charge, but neither had anything quite as accomplished as Raven Software’s GHOUL engine.
GHOUL was the driving force behind gritty FPS Soldier of Fortune. It meant you could shoot individual limbs off enemies, slice up their heads piece by piece to reveal the polygonal lump of brain matter contained within, and disembowel people with a well-placed shotgun blast.
Its disturbing (yet kind of impressive) realism led to Soldier of Fortune being oddly classified as a porn film in British Columbia, and getting on the index of ‘Media Harmful to Young Persons’ in Germany. Amusingly, the German version of the sequel had to change all humans in the game into oil-leaking robots.
Postal 2 (2003)
A game seemingly designed for the demographic that defines itself by giving the finger to political correctness, Postal 2 pulls out all the stops, as you control Postal Dude, a trailer-park loser who gets assigned ordinary tasks by his wife (or “Bitch”, as he oh-so-edgily calls her) but along the way causes all kinds of carnage.
Postal Dude’s repertoire includes actions like setting people alight, urinating on them, and dismembering them with shovels. It got the desired reaction, picking up plenty of bans, including in New Zealand, where even possessing the game is a criminal offence carrying a possible prison sentence.
For all its mediocre reviews and bad press, Postal 2 has something of a cult following, and the fact that its latest expansion pack, Paradise Lost, was released only in 2015 is testament to its weirdly enduring popularity.
Manhunt 2 (2009)
Many gamers would agree that the endless accusations orbiting GTA were half-baked, rarely amounting to more than a few tabloid headlines. But another Rockstar game, Manhunt 2, finally seemed to find the limits of how much censors were willing to take.
The game, which sees you sneaking around a city full of criminals and lunatics, rewards you with increasingly brutal execution cutscenes for stealth-killing enemies. It was initially refused classification in the UK and Ireland, forcing Rockstar to censor some of the more shocking scenes (ripping off teseticles with pliers, a few decapitations – y’know, standard Manhunt stuff) so it could get a release
The version that came to the PC in 2009 was actually the original, uncensored one, though it wasn’t picked up by many digital retailers. As of 2016, the game is only available to download at Amazon.
Pretty much all the controversy here stems from the game’s trailer, which depicts an awfully-written, trenchcoat-wearing mope snarling about how much he hates the world before going out into the streets and committing monochrome mass murder – stabbing civilians in eyes, sticking guns in mouths, and causing general mayhem.
The trailer was so violent that Hatred was removed from Steam Greenlight, before being reinstated the next day following protests from its advocates.
It’s telling that not much press attention was given to Hatred once it came out. Its repetitive shooter gameplay failed to maintain the crudely fabricated shock value of the trailer, though its anti-PC, anti-games-as-art ethos has still made it a champion for certain, sullen corners of the videogame community.
GTA series (1997-present)
Spin a bottle with all the GTA titles in a circle, and whatever you land on will have seen its share of ire. From its very beginnings to its latest release, the series has been a go-to for lawsuits, moral panics and scorn of conservative media and groups.
The controversy surrounding the original game was manufactured by PR guru Max Clifford, who exploited the tabloid press to generate sensationalistic headlines about the game’s violence, and even got it condemned in the House of Lords.
All of this worked in the game’s favour, making GTA a household name. As the series grew in popularity, Rockstar fended off several lawsuits from zealous lawyer Jack Thompson, who accused it of brainwashing kids into murder, had to recall San Andreas after the Hot Coffee sex minigame was discovered in its code, and caused outrage with the torture scene in GTA V. These, and many more headline-grabbing moments, arguably helped the series get to where it is today.
Any other offensive monstrosities that we've missed? You know you're begging to tell us all about them in the comments…