Five Ways That People Find Video Games Offensive | Fanatical Five

There’s a classic quote from Librarian Jo Godwin on the topic of controversy: “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” It’s a powerful statement because it refers to the concept of intellectual freedom, and also acknowledges that it is often very difficult to come to any kind of consensus about what constitutes offensive material. A couple weeks ago, some PlayStation 2 titles from Rockstar Games were brought over to the PS4. Bully (2006) and Manhunt (2003) came into being while riding the crest of its company’s Grand Theft Auto wave, and each made an impact of its own. The latter in particular had an effect on me, as it is the first time in my life when I played a video game that actually offended me to the point where I had to put it down.

I’ve played hundreds of violent games before and since, but the specific level of glee it took in showing its kills for no apparent purpose other than titillation really put me off at the time.

Revisiting the specific memory of playing Manhunt got me thinking about the idea of video games that have been tagged as offensive over the years. It occurred to me that there are a few categories where most of these games fit, and here they are.

Mainstream Media Mayhem

Mass Effect
If you spend any time on Twitter, you’ll see that there is no shortage of people who are offended by something in video games. Most of the time though, it flares up and dies down pretty quickly. When something hits the media however, that’s when things can get REALLY crazy, although more often than not it’s because they end up either misinterpreting something or straight up making up lies about supposedly offensive content. The incident with FOX News going after Mass Effect for its sexual content is a great example of this; characterizing said scenes as containing essentially being “Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas.” Of course, it all went away quickly when it was revealed (surprise, surprise) that none of the panelists had actually played the game.

WTF Were They Thinking?

resident evil 5

One common way that video games create controversy is when developers either make a boneheaded decision that undermines an otherwise quality game. Case in point, Resident Evil 5 is a really fun installment in the series that looks amazing and features some really outstanding set-pieces. It attracted controversy leading up to its release due to its portrayal of citizens of a fictional Central African country as a crazed mob. Capcom made some changes to appease those concerns (i.e. they made some of the crazed mob white), but ended up leaving in the section which featured villagers throwing spears at the player, which is kind of like putting out a fire by dropping napalm on it.

Hello, It’s 2016

Duke Nukem Forever

Another way that video games offend people is when they put forth attitudes that are no longer acceptable in modern mainstream society. This type of thing is sadly still pervasive in a lot of video game marketing and advertising, although developers and publishers are starting to change their tune.

In terms of actual games though, the poster child for this idea has to be Duke Nukem Forever. To be fair, if it had come out as-is in around 1999, it probably wouldn’t have been considered half as offensive as it was when it was finally released in 2011. Aside from the fact that the game was lackluster to say the least, its outdated and frankly gross treatment of women came across as a relic from a thankfully bygone era. Some have made half-hearted attempts at rationalizing DNF as ‘satire’, but even if that were true (it’s not, by the way), it serves less as a defense of the game and more as an acknowledgement that its developer and publisher don’t really understand what satire is.

Attention-Seeking Garbage


Most of the time, it really does seem that there are sub-departments in video game development dedicated to manufacturing controversy. For these games, the questionable content is draped over a poorly designed game like a blanket in hopes that it will cover up its ineptitude and attract a specific crowd who swears allegiance to it as some kind of rebellion. These are games like Postal, or Hatred, or RapeLay.
Lack of overall quality aside, these types of games are often destined to fail for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s similar to when marketing executives attempt to manufacture a viral video; it comes across as phony and contrived, and its lack of anything of value to say makes it easy to simply ignore. The other reason they fail is that they don’t have any serious advocates; the type of crowd who is really invested in defending these types of games only ever cares about getting a short-term reaction. As soon as the immediate controversy dies down because nobody cares about a bad game, that crowd has already moved onto the next thing that pushes the dial even further.

When Offensive = Effective

No Russian


It takes real skill to be able to unsettle an audience in a way that both serves the immediate story at hand and is able to resonate long after the initial shock wears off. There aren’t very many of those moments in video games that don’t either come across as gimmicky or dumb. One in particular that stands out for me is “No Russian” in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

If you’re one of the six people who hasn’t played it, this mission has you participating in an airport massacre while in deep cover as a CIA agent. While playing, you are unable to stop the massacre and are forced to slowly walk through the terminal as civilians are mowed down in swathes. Considering how over-the-top and ridiculous Modern Warfare 2 is, this is a truly astounding scene. What is most impressive is that, in arguably the biggest power fantasy that video games have ever seen, this one takes away all of your power at the moment when you would most want it. “No Russian” is a tough mission to have to play through (which is certainly acknowledged by Infinity Ward through the fact that they made it optional), and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone refusing to play it. As shocking as it is however, it is an important scene that dares to poke at our assumed notions of heroism and definitions of success within video games. It’s also chillingly resonant today.
Are there any scenes you found too offensive in video games to play through?

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