In 2008 the NPD Group did a survey showing that 72 percent of Americans have played video games. It was up from 64 percent in 2006, and it's probably even higher now. Video games have gone from a novelty to being recognized as a legitimate art form, and their influence can be seen throughout the world.
And yet, to this day there are still wide swathes of people who simply do not understand anything about them. The medium is seen as having mystical powers of persuasion, voodoo technology capable of mind control, or even as weapons.
The result is that there have been some absolutely ridiculous moral panics centered around video games over the years, and here we expose the four stupidest ones.
You can be as optimistic as you like, but Greece is in trouble. Right now their financial situation is so bad that their exit from the Eurozone is edging from possible to likely. Massive debt, record unemployment, and a host of other problems plague the nation.
Some have called it a failure of leadership and here's a very good example for that argument in the form of a law in Greece banning all video game systems. You might think that this would be in response to the portrayal of Greece in the God of War games, although it'd hard to imagine people being upset over being compared to Kratos, but the truth is a lot more harebrained than that.
Greece was apparently worried about electronic gambling, that poor impulse control and bad financial management was a threat to the common people. So in 2002 they passed the vaguely-worded Law 3037/2002. This ruling not only eliminated all the electronic gambling machines, but all arcade machines, and even levied a fine for people caught gaming at internet cafes. The internet café industry was crippled and the arcade industry completely destroyed. All because the Greek government was too uninformed to know the difference between video poker and Starcraft.
The EU itself had to write the Greek government a letter letting them know that A) the law was actually in violation of the European Community Treaty, and B) they were dumbasses. As of 2009 the ban was still in effect, even though the European Court of Justice was fining Greece EUR 31,536 a day ($40,000) until lifted. At least Greece didn't gamble the money away.
It's a fair bet that September 13, 1993, otherwise known as Mortal Monday, is the only video game release date any gamer can remember off of the top of his head. That's because it marked the release of the popular arcade fighter on the SNES and the Genesis. The release was fraught with controversy because the Genesis, while being a technically inferior port, was to be uncensored, while the slicker SNES version would remove blood and heavily alter the famous fatalities. It was the Sophie's Choice of the 16-bit era.
The controversy over the violent content led to hearings chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman, and eventually would result in the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The Board handled ratings for games the same way the MPAA did for movies, and Mortal Kombat was the first game given a mature rating.
The thing about the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat was how tame the game itself was. Time Killers came out in the arcades at the same time as Mortal Kombat, and yet received no Senate hearings despite the fact that it too had death moves, and it was possible to chop your opponent's arms off in the middle of the match and still fight him like he was the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Before either game was Chiller, an arcade shooter from 1986 that got an unlicensed port to the NES in 1990. The game makes Hostel look like the Others. The whole purpose of the game was simply to shoot bound human beings until they bled to death or their limbs were completely ruined. You could also trigger torture devices that would crush heads and do other gruesome things.
But the most hypocritical aspect of the hearings was the fact that Mortal Kombat ended up with a mature rating. Here's Kano's heartrip fatality...
And here's another scene you might recognize from a PG-rated blockbuster that predates Mortal Kombat by almost a decade.
Good work, Senator.
Earlier this year we reported on efforts by the Florida Family Association and the Family Research Council (A recognized hate group), to harass video game publisher EA into bowing out of its move to include optional same-sex romantic relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic. EA has already done so in their Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, but detractors worry about the popularity of Star Wars with young children making the inclusion of positive homosexual portrayals a deadly threat to traditional morals in minds too young to know better. To quote FRC's Tony Perkins, "In a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists!"
Once again the Houston Press would remind Perkins that the Galactic Empire was the villain in Star Wars.
LGBT themes in video games are at least as old as Super Mario Bros. 2, which featured Birdo, a transgendered dinosaur boss. This was explicitly spelled out in the original game booklet, where the character description said Birdo thinks he's a girl. Birdo has since been romantically linked with Yoshi, and while Nintendo of America has downplayed the transgendered angle, the Japanese version makes no quibble with the issue. Birdo is cross-dressing male and is the male Yoshi's boyfriend.
In the '90s Final Fantasy VII also had an optional gay relationship. Throughout the game various answers to questions would alter a hidden algorithm which was used to determine which characters would participate in a particular date scene on the second disc. Most the time you'll get one of the three female leads, but if you play it just right your date will be a burly, hard-talking single father named Barrett.
It doesn't affect the game in any way, but being gay actually adds a lot of character to Barrett. It sheds new light on his relationship with his friend Dyne, his guilt over his death, and the bond he forges with Cloud. This wouldn't be the last non-traditional marriage in the series either.
So all this uproar about games that appeal to young children having LGBT characters and relationships is a bit late. Two of the most popular series to ever dominate the minds of children, Mario and Final Fantasy, both did it years ago. In 1998's Fallout 2 you could even arrange a whole lesbian wedding if you liked. Of course, if your kid was playing Fallout 2 they were probably already a little messed up anyway.
Like all poorly understood technology, video games have had their share of urban legends. For instance, when Eric Harris went on a shooting spree at Columbine high school the rumor got started that Harris had designed Doom levels laid out like the school to practice in at home. While it's true that Harris did design levels, none of them resembled the school.
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More terrifying was the assertion that using the Nintendo 3DS would cause your eyeballs to explode. Literally. Nintendo doesn't recommend children under the age of six playing with the system in 3D mode because it could damage their still-developing eyes, but no, there were no reports of actual exploding eyeballs. On a similar note, no, the Virtual Boy did not cause color blindness.
On the other hand, the army did really use video games for training.
The mother of all technology gone mad stories involving video game is that of Polybius. Supposedly the game was released in Portland, OR arcades in 1981. The gameplay was similar to Atari's Tempest, but added some bells and whistles like mazes and logic puzzles. It also drove players mad. Side-effects from prolonged exposure included nausea, sleep disturbance, aversion to video games, selective amnesia, horrifying nightmares, suicidal tendencies and "the inability to become sad."
The legend goes on to involve the CIA doing some sort of bizarre experiment on kids, but in reality there was no such thing. There was a version of Tempest that was found to cause nausea due to a glitch in the programming, and the CIA did approach Atari in the '80s about developing games for training purpose, which they refused. But the mind-destroying game that was basically like an early version of the videotape from the Ring? It never happened, though that didn't stop nervous mothers from declaring that all video games were magical deathtraps employed by an evil government.