Big, Bad and Banned: Censorship in Gaming

Simon Blish

Censorship is always a tricky subject, especially in games. There’s an attitude – a very wrong one – that gaming is primarily for young people and that, therefore, we should be more vigilant of content because of that. Like TV and film, we also worry about how what we say (or play) changes our attitudes over time. In the past, some of the moral outrage that the gaming industry faces was faced by the music industry – and before that, the publishing industry. People always look for isolated causes to blame when things in society go wrong, rather than looking at what in society breeds those problems.

Developers, on the other hand, attempt to make their babies as immersive and compelling as possible, while also trying to tailor those games to the changing and diverse needs of the market. Sometimes the market seems to want more brutality and sex, perhaps because that market reflects or exploits festering sentiments out there in the wider world. Probably it’s something of a two-way street – with real-world problems feeding into games, and games feeding those problems to wider audiences.

Censorship really hurts some gamers but the simple fact is that censorship (and sometimes self-censorship) will continue as long as gaming is associated with a young demographic and while moral panics continue to arise to offer easy answers to more complex social issues.

Views differ as to the validity of censorship in general, but if we look at the types of games that have been banned in the past, a certain picture emerges. There are a few things like rape and really intense violence that do piss people off almost universally, although on the flip side there have been bans banged on games for some pretty strange reasons – as you’ll discover soon enough.

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Bad taste

For simple bad taste, the Postal series takes the cake when pushing it to the limit. In fact, New Zealand’s ban list on the game cites, ‘Gross, abhorrent content, including high impact violence, homophobia, racial and ethnic stereotypes, urination, animal cruelty.’ Sounds like your average night on the gay scene, then.

The penalty for owning a copy of Postal is a whopping $1,400 fine, so you have to decide whether you want to take the chance in order to be that ordinary Joe trying to run errands while being forced into a homicidal rage. To be honest, there are a tonne of better games out there but slapping a ban on anything tends to send it underground.

Racism and rape

For complete seediness, Custer’s Revenge is high up there, and when the game was first released it was targeted as the cause of gang rapes of Native American women.

Custer’s Revenge hit the market via the Atari 2600 way back in 1982. It was produced by Canoga Park developer Mystique, a subsidiary of an adult movie company. The main gameplay is for Custer – who has a massive pixellated boner – to get to the Native American Indian woman through a hail of arrows and nail her (she is tied to a pole).

Such classy stuff was banned by Oklahoma City while several others floated laws to prohibit the game’s sale.

Then there’s RapeLay. It’s one hell of a title, eh? But there’s no cultural misunderstanding here: you are in the shoes of a sexual predator and your aim is to rape a mother and her two daughters.

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This game was developed by Japanese studio Illusion and released back in 2006. It remains banned in a host of countries, although you can still buy it online in the US, which is weird in itself. Imagine buying a game with such a graphic title alongside Grindr!

Violence and crime

Interestingly, the GTA series has only been banned by Thailand. This was mainly because, back in 2008, a young man called Polwat Chino caught a taxi and didn’t pay for his ride. Instead he stabbed the driver to death. When he was interviewed, he blamed Grand Theft Auto, saying that killing seemed easy in the game and that he needed to save the taxi money to play the game. (Honestly, you don’t wanna share a cab back from G-A-Y with this guy!)

The murder of the taxi driver brought on a blanket ban on all of the GTA games. Meanwhile, Thailand also bans games with adult sexual content – probably because many Thai people do not own their own consoles or PCs and instead will use an internet café. Have you ever tried playing interactive porn with an audience?

Pocketsized monster conspiracies

Considered a threat to national security, Pikachu and all the other adorable pocket monsters were banned over in that bastion of tolerance: Saudi Arabia. Pikachu and chums are currently hanging out with Salman Rushdie (who has a fatwa on his head from nearby Iran for writing the magic realist novel The Satanic Verses) because both the electronic and physical versions of the Pokemon game are banned in the country.

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To the Saudis, the game promotes gambling and, according to mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the symbols used in the game apparently resemble crosses promoting Christianity, triangles promoting Freemasonry and the Star of David promoting Judaism, the state of Israel and international Zionism.

I’m literally so speechless at the stupidity going on there that I suggest you defy the mufti right now and play Sky Bingo while wearing your rosary beads and pentacles, in order to initiate new Pokemon fans into your secret society of flaming gaymers. Then you can drink booze from your Banned Book Mug while reading The Satanic Bible and The Book of Lies. That’ll cause trouble!

Where there’s a blame…

Video games have been linked to a number of high-profile murders, although usually only as one factor in an otherwise disturbing lifestyle. Sometimes games are banned as a scapegoat for dealing with the real issues behind crime – with everything from Dark Souls, The Dark Knight Rises and World of Warcraft all being linked to series murders.

But it’s not just videos games that have been banned, as our friend Pikachu can attest. The pen-and-paper roleplaying game Kult was blamed for a string of murders by young people, and was latter banned by the Pope for its exploration of supposedly ‘blasphemous’ Gnostic concepts (popularised in more recent times by films such as The Matrix trilogy).

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG (before it became a kids’ franchise) was also censored for its inflammatory treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness. Meanwhile, F.A.T.A.L. (which appears to have been banned from Amazon) is notorious among tabletop roleplayers for being so badly written, and so offensive, that it’s literally not worth wiping your arse with.


About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.