Art is able to evoke strong emotions in those who consume it. Consequently, it is not unexpected to find that art and controversy often go hand in hand. This is true even within the realm of video games. The history of the medium is littered with moments where gamers, and sometimes even the non-gaming public, were outraged, disappointed and offended by video games. The following five moments are some of the most memorable times video games caused an uproar.
Warning: Some spoilers are detailed in this article.
5. Night Trap
Night Trap is an interactive movie game released in the ’90s. You, the player, are put in charge of protecting a group of teens as their home is infiltrated by waves of invaders. To do this, you must pay attention to the surveillance cameras and activate traps when the time is right.
The game makes liberal use of full motion video, which makes it stand out even decades later. Its cheesy horror film aesthetic gives it a charm that makes it worth playing despite its sometimes confusing gameplay.
Upon release, Night Trap drew plenty of negative criticism due to its depiction of violence. Critics claimed that the game was offensive and promoted violence against women. It was the focus of the 1993 US congressional hearings on video game violence, where senator Joe Lieberman used Night Trap as an example of a violent video game being sold to children.
Despite all the controversy, Night Trap went on to receive a 25th Anniversary re-release in 2017 for modern systems including the PS4 and PSVita. Amusingly, the game is also available on the Nintendo Switch, despite Nintendo testifying against Night Trap during the aforementioned congressional hearings.
4. The Last of Us Part II
While many of the video games on this list are controversial for containing explicit content or offensive material, The Last of Us Part II drew outrage for entire different reasons.
Developed by Naughty Dog, The Last of Us Part II is the sequel to 2013’s The Last of Us, which has since become a cult classic. The first game centers on a man named Joel, whose life is permanently changed following a fungus-caused outbreak that turns humans into bloodthirsty monsters. He flees from the suburbs with his brother and his daughter, Sarah. Unfortunately, Sarah is shot and killed by a soldier.
In the years following the outbreak, he works as a smuggler and survives using his capacity for brutality. When he is tasked with transporting a girl named Ellie to a rebel group known as the Fireflies, he slowly forms a relationship with Ellie as she fills the gap in his heart left by Sarah.
Joel, though violent and ruthless, managed to capture the hearts of many gamers and has since become one of the most iconic anti-heroes of gaming. Love him or hate him, it is not hard to empathize with his perspective.
The Last of Us Part II, having lofty expectations to meet, makes lots of risky narrative decisions. Of these decisions includes the death of Joel. Not only does the death occur during the early hours of the game, but it is also nauseatingly gruesome and topped off with an insulting spit in his face. While this moment was meant to serve as the catalyst for Ellie’s rage, it also succeeded in enraging many gamers. Some took to social media to send vile messages and death threats to those involved in the making of the game, while others have set up petitions to have the story changed.
Despite the controversy the death of Joel has triggered, The Last of Us Part II has still sold exceptionally well and has once again proved that the developers at Naughty Dog are some of the best in the business. Whether you agree with the shocking death or not, it is clear that much like its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II is a game that will be discussed for many years.
3. No Man’s Sky
Open-world video games have become a staple within gaming. There is an ever-present thirst for bigger and more immersive digital worlds to explore. When No Man’s Sky was released, there were high expectations that the game would provide a revolutionary new open-world that would allow players to explore a universe that feels infinite.
The release of the game came with heaps of disappointment. Many gamers felt cheated and believed that features promised had not made it into the final product. Gamers were particularly disappointed by the lack of multiplayer features they expected.
The outrage prompted even Sony president Shuhei Yoshida to admit that Hello Games, the developers of No Man’s Sky, did not have a good PR strategy.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this cautionary tale. Since the release of No Man’s Sky, Hello Games have continued to support the game and have since added many of the features that gamers had expected. However, No Man’s Sky did teach gamers to be far more critical of hype caused by the press and to keep their expectations reasonable.
2. Star Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Battlefront II is an action shooter that, on its surface, appears to be relatively generic. However, the game holds the unenviable record of being responsible for the most downvoted comment on Reddit.
Star Wars Battlefront II managed to earn the scorn of gamers through its inclusion of microtransactions, which locked out many gamers from key characters.
The offending Reddit comment came as a response to a gamer who complained that though they had purchased the Deluxe Edition of the game, unlocking Darth Vader required microtransactions or excessive grinding. EA responded with the following comment:
The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.
Gamers did not take kindly to this, and proceeded to downvote the comment as much as possible. The outrage caused EA to make changes to the game and lower the cost of unlocking characters. While lootboxes and similar systems still plague many video games, the outrage surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II was important, as it alerted developers that anti-consumer practices run the risk of turning your customers against you.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
If asked what makes the Grand Theft Auto controversial, the truest answer would be the simplest one: everything. Since its beginnings, the franchise has been lambasted for its depictions of violence and the sheer amount of agency given to players to orchestrate their urban mayhem.
With every release of Grand Theft Auto comes a new controversy both from gamers and the wider public. Although Grand Theft Auto is the king of causing outrage, it also stands at the top of the hill as one of the most successful video game franchises of all time.
It comes as no surprise that Grand Theft Auto V, released in 2013, brought with it a host of issues. One of the biggest controversies which stemmed from the game was the torture scene. Playing as Trevor, players are tasked with torturing a hostage. The torture implementation at your disposal include pliers, a wrench and a car battery.
Although Trevor’s commentary following the torture sequence attempts to critique torture as an interrogation method, it was not enough to stave off harsh criticism from the public. Anti-torture groups expressed their disdain for the game, and even video game critics described it as pushing “the boundaries of taste“.
Regardless, Grand Theft Auto V has gone on to remain on top 10 charts years after its release and has received a remaster for PS4. There is also PS5 remaster due for release in 2021.
Do you believe the listed video games deserve the outrage they received? Have any other controversial games you know of? Express your thoughts in the comments below.