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Violence Verite: Gaming Controversies of the '90s

by: Shane Burley ; edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Congressional hearings, outraged parents, and serious warning labels. The 1990s were the era when graphics and gameplay came into their own, and with it a barrage of controversies that have become legend among players.

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    Remember When

    Just as I get excited when I hear "Gangsta’s Paradise" and love the theme music from Twin Peaks, I grin with subversive tantalization when I see the title screen from the Sega Genesis incarnation of Mortal Kombat. Yes, I am a product of the American '90s, and with the rest of the soon-to-be retro clichés I was privy to a slew of controversy around video games. The '80s had satanic cults, child abuse, and 2 Live Crew to worry about, so the up and coming graphical pastime harbored by Nintendo and Sega was ripe for prolific parents group and Baptist politicians to attack once the last decade of the millennium got into full swing. Today there is still the occasional controversy around gaming (mostly involving hooker sex or bi-sexual aliens), but nothing compared to the “hell in a hand basket” mentality of the last decade.

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    Mortal Kombat

    Mortal Kombat is the easy choice because it spawned such an epic book burning that I can scarcely believe the series continued on into the next century. The first game, released in 1992, made a splash both on the arcade and console market. The game was simply an attempt to capitalize on popular franchises like Street Fighter, but was a chance for Midway to up the bar in more ways than one. The game took the form of an ancient martial arts battle, where mysterious figures battled to the death in some parallel universe that mimicked a Thai whorehouse. The real issue came with the fact that buckets of blood were being tossed around and each character had the ability to do some kind of graphic “finishing move.” Nintendo backed away from most of the controversy by giving a censored version of the game, where instead of serious bloodshed it looked like every strong hit to your opponent tossed quite a bit of brown dirt off their shoulder. Today everyone can remember the famous “decapitation with hanging spine” that characterized Sub-Zero, which forced Tipper Gore to explain to member of congress exactly how a mystical ninja is able to freeze people. By the time the second game allowed people to transform into babies for infanticide the public had moved on to a new headline.

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    Night Trap

    The most underrated of all the gaming controversies has to be Night Trap, a relic from the cinematastic days of Sega CD. Its release date was so close to that of Mortal Kombat that it united the two in the gaming-scared publics mind, and allowed them to point to it as part of the supposed future of gaming. It was definitely not. The game stars Dana Plato of Diff’rent Strokes fame in a game that is entirely constructed out of video scenes. Essentially there are neo-vampires out to ruin the time of Freudianly repressed teenage vixens, and it is up to you to protect their chastity. The game itself is not notably violent or sexual, but the images of young girls being accosted seemed better left to splatter films in the minds of concerned parents. Major toy chains removed it from shelves, congressional meetings were held, and the radical feminist crowd jumped from their anti-pornography tirade to point out its obvious sexist undertones. Because of the ban in many stores, and most likely because it barely classified as a game, it was less than a successful endeavor. A few years later Plato died in a drug psychosis, proving once and for all that Sega CD had to be stopped.

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    First-Person Shooters

    One of the biggest media misappropriations of blame began at the end of the 1990s, but extended well into recent years. Columbine High School opened up the “school shooting scare,” where the public began asking why these kids would resort to such horrendous actions. Instead of looking at their home life, a culture of violence and revenge, or a social system that alienated them, it was obvious that Doom and Marilyn Manson had subliminally orchestrated the attacks. It was at this juncture that First-Person Shooters in general became the main focus of the media witch-hunt. Since the game themselves force you to take a personal role in the killing of characters it served to logic that this was a training device for those who wanted to storm the halls at the local public learning institution. Older games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were named most often because they graced the bedrooms of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. This sent parents around the countries to tear apart their kids’ rooms looking for violent training devices in the form of interactive entertainment.

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    The 1990s were also the first decade where people began adding video game addiction to the growing list of mental diseases clogging up the DSM-IV. This mainly came from a specific game, known to adolescent virgins as "Ever Crack". There were incidents of suicide stemming from gaming problems, murder between rival digital elves, and even a case where a father put his infant into a closet because the crying was bothering his leveling up. The gaming world itself was so vast that many considered it a superior alternative to regular life, where real women still wouldn’t talk to them. People began arranging boycotts of the Omens of War expansion pack and a full ban was enacted in Brazil. Thanks to this concerted effort we no longer have virtual gaming worlds that consume innocent teenagers life. For the Horde!

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    Thrill Kill

    Thrill Kill: The last game for the list is one none of you have likely played. Thrill Kill was one of the most hyped games of the year, only to be pulled for a combination of violent content and boring game play. The game was the first engine to allow four players to have a mêlée competition in one room, but that still was not enough innovation to save the blocky graphics idiotic attempts to employ any possible taboo to attract players. The roster included a corrupt judge who uses an electric chair, one half of a decomposing Siamese twin fiasco, a bay area serial killer who enjoys facial torture, and a cannibalistic hillbilly who is purging himself of tapeworms. Why did it get the Adults Only rating anyway?