Violence has always had some kind of place in videogame culture. A lot of the time you are either the hunter or the hunted; from the extermination of invading forces in Space Invaders, the prevention of the apocalypse in Missile Command, and even the mindless destruction of various fungal and animal creatures in Super Mario Bros (har har).
It was in the 90s, though, that the world really seemed to take notice of it. Whether it was the more realistic graphics, the increase in widespread popularity, or the fact that violence in other media had gotten stale to argue about (“oh look, another newspaper article about violent movies. BORING!”), it was in the 16-bit era that videogame nasties caused a stir.
It must have been hell for a parent. As a kid, though? It was pure, unadulterated bliss.
So, here’s my pick of some of the most important – and some of the best – ultra-violent videogames from the 1990s.
Like most kids of my generation, Mortal Kombat was the first real taste I had of a super-violent game. There was stuff in this game that was frickin’ awesome: ripping off heads (with spine attached), tearing out hearts, kicking people into spike pits, or burning your opponent to a crisp. Of course, knowing how to do those moves was entirely different to getting your ass kicked and having it done to you.
But Mortal Kombat was special for more than just the fatality moves. Every meaty punch and kick made a gush of ketchup-like blood from your enemy. It was ridiculous, marvellous, and amazingly realistic for a game of its time. It also rang alarm bells for concerned parents across the world.
This game taught me to respect the law. That is, if the law consists of two badass awesome dudes in a fast car who shoot up junkies in overcoats and mullet-bearing drug dealers. An interesting game mechanic was that you got more points for arresting a suspect than killing them outright. A game mechanic rarely used when one of the options is to ‘blow everything up with a rocket launcher’.
This game was originally released in 1988 but I didn’t see it anywhere until it hit home consoles in 1990. I’ve never completed this bitch of a game though, because of the hard-as-a-box-of-Danny-Dyer’s-nails final boss, Mr Big. Mr Big also happens to be Grade-A Nightmare Fuel:
Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style
Did you know that the Wu Tang Clan released a videogame back in 1999? Well, you do now. It is possibly the most concentrated mix of things parents hate in a single form: videogames, violence, bad language, dangerous weapons, and rap music.
Heavily controversial before its release, the game allowed for four players to pummel the crap out of each other on one screen. It lead to a game later on in this list, but most importantly probably paved the way for other ‘vanity’ projects like 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand.
Wait, is that a good thing?
I have lost years of my life to this game. Released in 1997 (the same year as the original Grand Theft Auto), it is still one of the most notorious videogames in history. You take part in a gladiatorial-future-nightmare-race in the style of Death Race 2000, and are given three directives: win the race normally, win by killing all your opponent racers, or win by killing all the pedestrians in the stage.
Yeah. You read the last one right. This point caused huge problems for certain countries, and in certain nations the game was either banned, or forced to make drastic changes, with pedestrians either turned into green-blooded zombies or into robots.
Interestingly, the game is coming back to us in the form of an Android/iPhone release in the near future. Hang on to yer helmet…
Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap
1992 was one of the most important years in videogames – if only for the constant debate over the classification of violent and ‘unsuitable’ games in an industry primarily aimed at children. It also led to the final classification of the two biggest competitors in the videogame market. In 1992, Mortal Kombat was released. Nintendo, for their Super NES console, took the blood and gore out of the game. Sega, though, kept it in.
Quite simply, Nintendo kept their foundation as the family-friendly company, whilst Sega came out as the ‘cool yet reckless’ option. What games were released on Sega consoles the same year? Well, Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap. Two incredibly different games that faced the ire of the tabloid press for their unsuitable content.
Lethal Enforcers was a lightgun game in the style of Time Crisis, whilst Night Trap was more of a point-and-click-thing that a) wasn’t really full of violence and b) was awful. But since it had video clips and kind-of-scantily-clad women, it was clearly much more dangerous than alcopops for British schoolchildren.
A game so violent, so controversial, that it was never even published. Thrill Kill was a four-player fighter with extreme violence and sexual content. The plot consisted of four damned souls fighting in a tournament to win reincarnation. So, what choice of character do you have?
Each of the characters has their own Thrill Kills, in the style of Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. So, the hillbilly who fights with the severed leg of one of his victims can use it to make his opponent explode. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the game was cancelled because of its content.
Interestingly, the engine for the game was used to create Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style. Only that had murderous plastic surgeons and dominatrixes replaced with rappers and stuff.
Let’s finish with the granddaddy of ‘em all, though. No Doom, no Call of Duty. No Unreal Tournament. No Half-Life. No goddamn first person shooters ever. It’s a beast of a game, one of the most influential games ever, and it’s brutal. It’s literally you versus the demons of hell.
One of the most modded games ever, Doom has made it onto pretty much every home console and still has a community to this day.
Not only that, but it’s had some great sequels and…erm…this:
So maybe not all great.
I’ll leave it there for now. Up next – some more horror movies you might want to see.