5. Mortal Kombat
How outrageous a video game is changes over time – some of the games that seem fairly innocuous today would have shocked an audience in the 80s or 90s. So it was with Mortal Kombat which provoked outrage on its release in 1992, thanks to unprecedented levels of violence. One particular feature was the finishing move, which was called a Fatality – once you’d defeated your opponent, you could use a special move to kill them. It was this mercilessness that marked Mortal Kombat apart from its competitors, and brought the phrase “Finish ’em” into everyday gamer parlance. It was the first game to ever be given a mature rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and was banned in several countries, but has gone on to become one of the most enduring franchises of all times, with many different versions of the game, along with TV shows, books and even a movie or two.
4. Dead Space
Another successful franchise is the Dead Space series, which was released in 2008 and has had two sequels since. PlayStation World described it as the “world’s scariest game” and it channelled the movie “Alien”, with survivors of a monster attack wandering around an abandoned mining ship. It involved reanimated corpses called Necromorphs, and the protagonist Isaac had to sever their limbs in order to stop them killing him (shooting them in the torso doesn’t kill them, so you just need to slow them down). It felt like a horror movie, full of atmosphere, and the mundane ship-fixing missions were livened up by the creepiness of the set up as well as all the violence. Detailed, terrifying and very graphic.
3. Mad World
When you think of blood-soaked games, you’d expect them to be made for the XBox, PC or Playstation, wouldn’t you? The last console you’d associate with violence is the family-friendly Wii, home to mild-mannered cow racing and golf games. But Mad World broke the mold, with its black, white and red palette as well as its high levels of violence. The plot was along the lines of “Battle Royale” or “The Hunger Games”, where the characters have to kill each other in the name of entertainment and the deaths are inventive, like pushing your opponents under a speeding train. Predictably, groups like mediawatch condemned the game, saying “We need to ensure that modern and civilized values take priority rather than killing and maiming people”, however specialized gaming magazines laughed off the criticism, saying the violence was so ridiculous and over-the-top that no-one could actually take it seriously.
2. Postal 2
In 1993, a new phrase entered the American English lexicon It was “going postal” and it referred to a bizarrely high number of shooting sprees that had been committed by postal workers in the 80s and 90s. The games Postal and Postal 2 are based on that phrase, the concept being that an ordinary person can one day just snap and go on a murder rampage.The game itself is simple – players need to go about daily tasks, and they can either join the queues, take the abuse and stay quiet…or they can do things as violently as possible. The result is generally ultraviolence – otherwise, it’d be a bit dull, wouldn’t it? Postal 2 was particularly brutal and it was banned in New Zealand, due to “gross, abhorrent content” which included cruelty to animals (something to do with a gun and a cat’s bottom) and an emphasis on bodily functions. An oddity of a game, but a very successful one.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
If you’re going to keep getting publicity for new games, the shock factor has to increase every time. Eventually, it will probably be impossible to shock anyone so it’s impressive that GTA V still managed to cause outrage with its 2013 release, despite the fact that you would just expect sex, murder and violence from any GTA game. The mission that caused the controversy was “By the Book” where the player has to torture an Azerbaijani fugitive, followed by a monologue from one of the characters about how ineffective torture was. It was meant to be a satire on America’s methods of dealing with foreign prisoners but there was immediate outcry about the “poor taste” of the mission. Add it onto the usual GTA murder mayhem and you have possibly the most violent game ever.