Violence and video games go together like America and apple pie, Germany and beer, or YouTube and sexism. The past several decades have seen legal battles and boundary pushing in proportion with major technological leaps, with creative types and marketing people trying to be as eye-catching as possible while confused politicians and uninformed parents fuel the fire with waves of moral panic. Then the industry started to grow up over time, and people within it started side-eyeing violence as well, making video games the bizarre epicenter of cultural clashes. But because lists are silly, let’s take a look at some of the most egregious examples of violence in videogames.
Namco’s Splatterhouse has always been violent, from the grindhouse crass of the 2010 remake to the thoroughly Japanese arcade original. In fact. picking up the remake lets you play the original arcade trilogy as well, so all the gore comes wrapped up in one neat, bloody package. For something more recent, an excellent port of the original comes packed in with the latest Nintendo Switch iteration of the Namco Museum.
Inspired by the cult classic Death Race, Carmageddon brought with it controversy by being a racing game that just so happened to reward players for turning pedestrians into street pizza in the middle of a course. The clashes were violent and gory, so much so that the game was straight-up banned in several territories and heavily censored in several others. If you can find it, prepare for tons of gore!
This bizarre, somewhat obscure arcade game was a lazy light gun shooter that must have come from the mind of a wannabe serial killer. The game consisted of rooms of torture victims hanging on walls and strapped to various cartoon dungeon devices. The goal was to shoot them to pieces, and that was about it. Even more bizarre is Chiller saw an NES port, although the game was obviously never officially licensed.
God of War
As the God of War series progressed, it dug its heels in more and more on being as shocking and violent as possible. It got to the point where Kratos was ripping dudes’ heads off and disemboweling monsters in explicit detail. This would eventually blow up in the creators’ faces, when a tone-deaf attempt at comedy saw the game essentially making light of domestic violence. Some people just have no chill.
Just because a game uses pixelated graphics doesn’t mean it can’t be disturbing. The violence in Hotline Miami is quick, detailed and surreal. Its nightmarish coating makes the unsettling acts commited by various characters affect the player that much more than a violent game normally would. I found my jaw hanging open in response to events in the Hotline Miami on more than once occasion, and before then I considered myself pretty jaded.
Let’s lighten up the mood a little bit. Madworld isn’t violent in a serious, unsettling sense. It’s violent in an over the top, hilarious cartoon way. Madworld is all black and white, cel-shaded, and very much manga-inspired, with the only color in the world being the blood that spews from bodies like their veins are pressurized fire hoses. It’s an arcade-style beat em up all about causing as much bodily harm as possible in grand fashion.
Manhunt 2 is another game that was so hamfistedly violent it had to be censored to be released anywhere, lest it have an Adults Only rating slapped on it rendering it unsellable almost anywhere. This game came out during the Jack Thompson days, and if you’re too young to remember those, hoo-boy. Look that dude up and get ready for a ride. Ultimately, Manhunt 2 needed to be altered in several different ways in order for the ESRB to willingly knock it down to a Mature rating. An uncensored version of the game later emerged on PC, only available in certain regions.
The strange world of FMV games was a flash in the pan, but what a flash and what a pan. In addition to bizarre music video tools starring Marky Mark, tons of schloky, sleezy and violent games, such as the infamous Night Trap, were a natural fit for the genre. Phantasmagoria was an exceptionally violent example, and one that sold well enough to warrant a sequel as well. If you’re into stuff like Roger Corman flicks, Phantasmagoria is worth looking into.
Thrill Kill used to be legendary, a long time ago. PlayStation-era kids spoke about it in hushed tones, like it was the holy grail of Things You Shouldn’t Know About. In reality, it was a bad, trashy fighting game that EA somehow ended up with and tossed it in the trash. Hilariously, the engine Thrill Kill was built on ended up powering a Wu-Tang Clan game, with a similar premise, original tracks, and slightly less offensive roster. It was the Shaq-Fu of the late 90’s.
Mortal Kombat X
Violence in modern video games is so passe at this point it really isn’t a big deal, especially since many gamers don’t really get off on intestine-flavored boundary-pushing anymore. But when the Mortal Kombat series introduced X-Ray moves, heads turned. Intended as a Street Fighter -like super move system meant to give a more accessible alternative to the iconic Fatality moves, X-Rays are all about hilariously over the top violence in slow motion and gruesome detail. Mortal Kombat X perfected the system with the game’s legitimately impressive visual tech, as you can see in the screenshot.