5 Times When Video Games Went Too Far

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Like any media/art form, video games have the ability to make the user feel emotions and expose them to things that during the normal course of their lives they would never encounter.  On most occasions, this is a good thing, transporting the user to another world or putting them in the shoes of characters from diverse backgrounds.  But just like other forms of art or media, video games can also go too far when trying to get the player to feel something.  Let’s take a brief look back at some of the more controversial moments in video games, and what impact they had on players, of course understand that this is an opinion piece, and is only my view of some games that had what I personally felt were moments that perhaps went too far.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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In 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released, with an optional level called “No Russian”.  In this level, players were in control of a deep undercover CIA operative, taking part in an extremist terrorist attack on an airport where civilians were gunned down by heavy machine guns.  Shooting the civilians was optional, as the level only required the player to follow the other terrorists from checkpoint to checkpoint.  Soon local authorities responded to the scene, and the level played out like a modern shooter with the player killing police and security forces while traversing the airport.  At the end of the level, the head of the terrorist group confronts the player and kills them, revealing that they knew he was an undercover agent and making the killing in the level completely pointless for the player.

Some were outraged by the blatant murdering of civilians in this game, and others were upset by the normalizing of terrorism.  Personally I thought the payoff was not worth putting the player through the experience in being complicit in such an act, video game or no, but I do admit that this level made me think a lot about the impact video games can have on someone’s ideas or morals.  It felt wrong, which is not something I had experienced very often in video games.

Bioshock

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The August 2007 2K game, Bioshock was widely acclaimed for the its novel setting and immersive storytelling.  Set in the 1960s, players assumed the role of Jack, a man whose plane crashed near the bathysphere entrance of Rapture, an underwater Utopian city built by billionaire Andrew Ryan.  The discovery of a genetic material capable of granting superpowers to humans, led to the city’s decline.  This material called ADAM, was created by sea slugs, and a gangster character in the game mass produced it by implanting the slugs into the stomachs of orphaned girls.  These girls called “Little Sisters” could be captured and killed by the player in order to get more ADAM which fueled the character’s plasmid attacks and skills.  While there were also other ways to get the material, this killing of children in a video game left a bad taste in many gamer’s mouths who thought that it was unnecessary.  The game even makes it an explicit choice whether to rescue the creature or harvest it.  Harvesting it would kill the child but give the player a full refill of ADAM, where rescuing them would “release them from their torment” and only give the player a small amount of ADAM.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain

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In September 2015, Metal Gear Solid 5 was released worldwide and was immediately met with criticism over its treatment of a female character named Quiet.  While the series and its creator Hideo Kojima have long been criticized over their treatment of female characters by zooming in on their jiggling breasts or panning across their rear ends, the graphic fidelity available in this installment as well as the scantily clad nature of the Quiet character made this juvenile oversexualization even more apparent and offensive.  The character’s lack of clothing is addressed in the game by stating that she absorbs light through her skin in a sort of photosynthetic process.  The frustrating part is that the character is actually quite interesting, but every time she is on screen I feel embarrassed.  Unlockable “outfits” for Quiet include one where she is covered in what looks like blood, one where she is completely silver, and another where she is completely covered in gold.  Despite being covered in metal, her “parts” still move in the same exaggerated way.  I should mention though that you can also unlock an outfit in which she is fully clothed.  As if the level of juvenile sexualization in the game itself wasn’t bad enough, the Quiet action figure also featured squeezable breasts.

The Stanley Parable

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In October 2013, The Stanley Parable was released by Davey Wreden, an indie game developer.  Originaly released as a mod for the Halflife 2 game from Valve, this 2013 stand-alone release was a first person perspective interactive story telling game.  The player controlled Stanley, a lowly office worker whose job it was to watch a stream of data on his computer screen and press the corresponding buttons without question.  One day the data stops coming into the computer, and Stanley exits his office only to find that the building was empty.  The game’s story was driven by a narrator, who suggested paths for the player to take.  It was the player’s choice whether or not to follow these suggestions.  The game featured witty commentary and humor to make a broader statement about the nature of choice in our lives.  Along the narrative of choice, an instructional video in the game posits a hypothetical scenario about a man named Steven.  The video states that Steven could spend his life trying to make the lives of impoverished citizens 3rd world countries, or systematically set fire to every orphan within 30km of his house.   The graphic for this part of the video is depicted by a cartoon of a very white man in a tie, giving a small black child a cigarette in one cell, and lighting the same child on fire in another cell.  There were some who saw this as a racist cartoon, and the developer agreed to remove it from the game.

Spec Ops: The Line

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This 2012 game takes place in Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates.  The player assumes the role of Captain Martin Walker to investigate and recon the post-catastrophe city.  He leads a team of elite Delta Force operatives into the sand storm destroyed city looking for a lost regiment of US forces called the 33rd Infantry Battalion who had been ordered to evacuate but had not done so.  Through a complex and twisting narrative of betrayals and shady politics, the player character begins to hallucinate and suffer from PTSD.  When you confront the 33rd Infantry, they confuse your team with rogue CIA operatives and open fire on you.  In a way like never before, I was personally disturbed by this.  These were not the nameless, faceless bad-guys I had been used to killing, these were US troops who thought I was the enemy.  But my only recourse was to murder dozens of them.  I couldn’t negotiate or evade them, because in certain areas you can only progress by killing them all.  Despite your character’s best intentions, a series of choices lead to worse and worse outcomes for the citizens of Dubai, as his mental health quickly deteriorates.  This game definitely has some serious things to say about war and its effects on soldiers, and I think it does these things well, but I think that for me personally it went too far when I had to kill scores of well-meaning American soldiers.

 

Jacob Hinkle on sabtwitter
Jacob Hinkle
Father of 2, Navy veteran, Cyber Security Consultant. Lover of games.
About the author

Jacob Hinkle

Father of 2, Navy veteran, Cyber Security Consultant. Lover of games.
  • LarZen

    I disagree on all of them. We complain that games as a media dont get the recognition it deserves and at the same time we have people who just like the games have not grown up as the rest of the entertainment industry.

    This article should never have been written.

    • Brian O’Blivion

      Agreed.

      I can’t speak about The Stanley Parable as I’ve never played it, but none of the other games “went too far”. None of them are for kids, and the elements (violence, sexuality, ethical decision) that the author is complaining about might only be too much for an under-age or immature person.

      Instead of implying that adult rated games with content designed for adult minds be censored to suit his sensitive disposition, perhaps Mr. Hinkle would be more comfortable playing on a Nintendo console.

    • MrVux007

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • ex fact0r

    Holy fuck, this is a terrible article.

  • PGR

    The Stanley Parable is least deserving. The colour of the character’s skins was not remotely the point, the game is designed to make you question the nature of your reality and your decisions.

  • B68W

    So, some of these games made you feel icky and therefore they went too far?

  • Danny MacGurk

    Great job

    • J.j. Barrington

      Sarcasm is sometimes hard to discern on the internet.

  • Limit Break

    The only thing MGSV should be criticized over is that it’s a constant shitty grind with a story which doesn’t end properly.
    I payed 60 bucks for this shit ? I remember clearing MGS2 and realizing that the game was just talking mind-blowing prophecies to me about the Internet and digital information… in 2002 !!!! And now, in 2015 comes along a sequel which has literally NOTHING of interest to tell me but give me a story with a start and without an ending.

    • Dylan Harris

      The tapes gave a lot of story, and makes the story really click with the rest.

      • Limit Break

        Video games are a visual media. Thus, their stories should be expressed through visual means, ESPECIALLY when we are talking about Metal Gear Solid which has a reputation of being filled with cutscenes so much that weaboos who don’t want to get into the story get nervous and try to mock the game for it. Either get with the program or step down, it is not your franchise of choice.
        Even Peace Walker, a PSP game, had much more story to tell and show then MGSV, a game with a budget of 80+ million dollars and 5 years of development time.
        There is no excuse to trash that was MGSV. Sorry, but it is the truth.

    • Brian O’Blivion

      I’m not sure what you played but the MGSV that I played (for 5 months) is an absolute masterpiece of modern gaming. The ending was fine. Not everything has to have a nice ribbon and bow to wrap it up.

      • Limit Break

        Not everything. MGS has to, though.
        Here, watch this and feel how completely right I am – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KO4Tusk_V2k

        “The best way to fail as a critic is to suggest that something is perfect without explaining why.”

        • Brian O’Blivion

          So I watched the above video and in no way does it sway my opinion.
          The long-winded over-analysis of the intertwining points in the storylines starts to become mind-numbing and the review of the gameplay devolves into a headache inducing drone of nit-picking complaints.

          Maybe the difference is that for me, the constricted gameplay mechanics of the early games in the series completely turned me off, so I don’t have a personal investment in the continuity of the storylines or the adherence to canon.

          I’ve been playing video games literally since they were invented and MGSV has proved to be one of a handful of the finest gaming experiences I’ve had.
          It was an intense, visceral, highly enjoyable experience that still, to this day occasionally draws me back in. I absolutely know I’m not alone in that opinion.

          It’s certainly a game that has proved to evoke far differing, almost polarized opinions.
          Ultimately, to each their own and for their own reasons.

          • Limit Break

            I’ll agree in one thing – “To each their own.”
            I once thought of MGS as “my own”.
            But now I see it has found a audience of people who never cared for it, but in order to find it it had to sacrifice what I loved so much about it, thus sacrificing me, a old fan, in the process. Story, style and exposition before all else.
            MGS was my last line of defense. Silent Hill was degenerated right after Team Silent shut down, Devil May Cry endured a horrendous reboot and currently still lies dormant, Resident Evil became a self-parodying third-person shooter, Dead Rising is about to become the new Saint’s Row, God of War – a The Last of Us wannabe and Final Fantasy embraced the action instead of proper turn-based combat for it’s numbered games. I hoped that at least MGS will stay true to itself, true to me. It has never betrayed me until September 2015, when I bought a copy of the game on my birthday on the fifth calendar day.
            And now I ask you:
            What is “mine” now ? What am I left with now that games I once loved for their unique pros and cons are trying to involve new people like you through stripping their original personalities away ?
            What am I to do now ? What is “mine” ?

          • Brian O’Blivion

            It would seem that for the most part, the types of gameplay that appeal to you are the types that I dislike. I prefer the type of immediate direct control where the physical interface virtually disappears and the character and I are symbiotic. Outside of strategy games, I think turn-based games are a relic of a thankfully bygone era.
            I know this is blasphemy, but the Final Fantasy series had no appeal for me until XIII. XV looks like it will be fantastic.

            Where we can agree is the Devil May Cry series, although I liked the most recent games as well. I want a game series to evolve and reinvent. Static can become stagnant.
            The Silent Hill Series has been my favourite series since the beginning (I haven’ t yet played any beyond the first four titles.)

            I say find your nostalgic happy place replaying the old games, but also learn to embrace the new realism.
            There are plenty of games with deep narratives and lore. I’m not interested in games that don’t have a good story either, but the marriage of strong artistic style, high fidelity visuals and fluid responsive gameplay = stronger immersion.
            There has never been a better time to be a gamer and it has always been that way a.f.a.i.c..

          • Limit Break

            That is the whole problem – replaying older games doesn’t make them any more new ! And once you realize that there is no more games like those you appreciated being made your only choice is to replay the old games. For-fucking-ever. And by the end of that you’ll suddenly realize that you are starting to hate them over being the only thing you play.
            Fuck the “evolution”, fuck the “change” ! What is the point of a franchise if it has respect for it’s own unique original format ?!
            You want to change something ?! Go and make another, new IP and you can do whatever the fuck you want !!! Instead these fuckers are transforming the franchises I once treasured into something I never asked them for.
            And you are exactly the reason for them to do so – they are trying to increase sales numbers.

  • Apocolyptica

    Why would the Quiet’s scantly clad body embarrass you? I guess if you were playing directly in front of your wife or children.

  • Homer simpson

    Look to “Custer’s Revenge” from the Atari 2600 for a game that goes too far. Naked Custer dodges arrows raining from the sky in order to have sex with a naked Native American girl.

    https://youtu.be/xTx4yYKfruY

  • iofhua

    What the Stanley Parable did disgusts me. Not the depiction of setting little black kids on fire, no. Removing it from the game disgusts me. Video games are art – and an artist needs to have the creative freedom to express themselves in their work. Removing something from a game for PC reasons means that the developers of the Stanley Parable are not artists. They are tools. No even worse that tools, they are stools that liberals can sit their ideology upon. Absolutely disgusting.

    As for the rest, it’s completely okay. I think all of these are great examples of games that should be embraced and valued by anyone who calls themselves a gamer.

    The author is a snowflake and should feel bad about their worldview.

    • Brian O’Blivion

      You’ve got liberals and conservatives mixed up… by both ideology and definition.

      • iofhua

        http://www.conservapedia.com/Liberal_censorship

        Don’t let reality hit you in the head on the way out.

        • Brian O’Blivion

          You cite a blatant conservative site as a “trustworthy” source of information in order to define political ideologies? You’ve had too much of that kool-aid and the poison has ruined your mind. You’ve got it all ass-backwards.

  • Derceto

    Um….. no.