Not since heavy metal and rap music has a medium drawn the ire of the world’s moral watchdogs quite like video games (often saying very dumb things in the process). Maybe it’s because that so many early games were marketed squarely to kids and teenagers, or maybe it’s because they merely attack video games because they don’t understand them.
Whatever the reason, you can reliably multiply people’s outrage by a million whenever something truly controversial shows up on-screen. Here are a few games so provocative, they were almost banned (and, in some countries, actually were).
1. Mortal Kombat
Back in 1992, a fighting game featuring digitized actors, an unprecedented amount of blood and “Fatalities” that we’d still deem ultra-violent even in desensitized 2016 created a frenzy in arcades and in the media. Mortal Kombat spurred the United States Senate to hold hearings on the impact of video game violence on children and society, and the game’s home console release a year later stirred up even more trouble. The Sega Genesis version retained the gore of its arcade cousin, while Super NES-owners had to make do with a port that replaced Mortal Kombat’s signature blood with a mysterious white liquid that we can only guess was meant to be…you know what? Nevermind. We have no guesses as to what the mysterious white liquid was supposed to represent.
This controversy would eventually lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, a game industry-made regulatory board that decides whether a game is E for Everyone, or M for Mature.
2. BMX XXX (2002)
In the late-1990s and early-2000s, a new category of extreme sports games tore up the charts, all starting from the popularity of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It didn’t take long for imitators to start flooding the shelves, including BMX pro Dave Mirra. Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX did okay when it launched in 2000, but development on the follow-up title was, apparently, not going so well.
To ease the pain of slow sales, publisher Acclaim ordered the game’s developer, Z-Axis, to include sex jokes, strippers, naked ladies—you know, all the classic trappings of a BMX biking video game. When Mirra found out about the game’s direction, he took his name off the project and sued Acclaim.
Meanwhile, when the company released the Mirra-less game, which featured the eye roll-worthy title BMX XXX, it was, of course, immediately met with outrage. Stores across the United States, including Walmart and Toys R Us, refused to stock it, while the adult content was censored in the PlayStation 2 version. Meanwhile, all of the adult content was removed for its Australia release. And of course, since the main reason Acclaim added in the lewdness was that the game was a piece of junk anyway, its sales were abysmal. Needless to say, there has yet to be a BMX 31 (you’re into Roman numeral humor, right?).
3. Postal 2
Named for the unfortunate stereotype of postal workers losing it and shooting people, the two games in the Postal franchise were never going to win awards for good taste or subtlety. Taking the role of “Postal Dude,” players receive a series of tasks to perform before the end of the in-game week—and they’re presented with an ever-present arsenal of weapons lying at their feet for the taking. A sample of the kinds of shenanigans found in the game: escalating shoot-outs with townsfolk, setting elephants on fire, and literally using cats as gun silencers. It’s gross.
The game’s developer, Running With Scissors, liked to claim that Postal 2’s violence was at the player’s discretion, but that didn’t stop countries the world over from taking offense at its content. Specifically, countries including Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Germany, and Sweden banned the game’s sale due to reasons like “gross abhorrent content” and “very high impact violence” and “offensive depictions of cruelty.”
But really, the game’s biggest crime is laziness. Calling the lead character “Postal Dude”? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas stirred plenty of controversy for its depictions of crime and wanton destruction and violence. But in 2005, modders discovered some disabled code within San Andreas for a mini-game depicting the game’s protagonist while enjoying “intimate relations” with his girlfriend. Nicknamed “Hot Coffee,” the mini-game could be found inside PC and home console versions of the game, though it was completely inaccessible unless a user hacked his or her way inside.
Regardless of how well developer Rockstar Games had hidden “Hot Coffee,” the discovery made headlines and spurred the ESRB to re-classify the game from Mature to Adults Only 18+. Rockstar recalled the software from stores, and “Hot Coffee” was poured down the digital drain—but there was plenty of damage done. Legislators tried to pass a law for the federal government to enforce ESRB ratings, while Rockstar and the game’s publisher, Take-Two Interactive, were hit with civil lawsuits and a suit from the Federal Trade Commission—both of which were settled. Just goes to show you: sometimes hot coffee is a bit too hot.
5. Saints Row IV
The Saints Row franchise is basically what happens when you take every possibly offensive aspect of Grand Theft Auto and then multiply it to cartoonish proportions. We’d like to list some of what goes on in the game series, but rather than try and bend over backwards to avoid graphic descriptions, you’re probably just better off Googling it.\
With the fourth entry in the franchise, developer Volition gave players the chance to take the role of the President of the United States—albeit, a president with a nasty drug and alcohol problem, not to mention a proclivity towards sex and violence. Once perverted space aliens and certain kinds of examination procedures got involved in the game’s plot, the Australian Classification Board banned the game outright. Even worse, apparently, the Board took major issue with the fact that the game gave players power-ups in the forms of various kinds of “alien narcotics.”
When Saints Row IV’s publisher, Deep Silver, removed the offending content from the Australian version of the game, it boomeranged its way back onto Aussie shelves quicker than you can say “Vegemite.”