The small Himalayan country Nepal hit the headlines recently, after it announced a complete ban of the battle royale shooter game, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
The Nepalese government specifically targeted the mobile version of the game, claiming that it is “addictive to children and teenagers.” The Indian state of Gujarat has also banned the mobile game, citing similar reasons and has even arrested teenagers for playing the game.
These mobile-specific bans are certainly unprecedented, but video game bans have a long and storied history.
The video games banned around the world
As you can see, video game bans certainly aren’t ubiquitous and not all of the same games get banned around the world.
- United Kingdom
Carmageddon was one of the first notable games to be banned in multiple countries. Released in 1997, Carmageddon was a fairly typical racing game with one objectionable twist — players were rewarded for mowing down pedestrians.
There was swift backlash from media and pressure groups upon release, with many countries banning the title until the developers changed the game. In the UK, pedestrians were replaced with zombies which exploded into green goo upon collision. In Germany and India, meanwhile, the pedestrians were replaced with robots.
The game itself was poorly received — particularly on Playstation and Nintendo 64 with the Official UK Playstation Magazine noting “no amount of pureed pedestrian can cover its faults.” However, its notoriety proved a formidable marketing tool, and it sold well.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni was the video game spinoff from the Valkyrie Drive anime series. It was released on the PS Vita in Japan in late 2015, with a broader release in September and October of the following year.
The game’s plot revolves around a pair of school-age sisters suffering from a virus, who have to fight others suffers in order to cure their ailments. However, in order to unleash the most powerful attacks, the player has to, in the words of IGN Spain:
“stimulate the young woman sexually using the touch screen to touch her erogenous zones.”
The game caused controversy in many countries, but for different reasons.
In 2016 it was refused classification in Australia and Germany, with the Australian rating board noting that the touch interactions were often accompanied with dialogue — with English subtitles — saying “Don’t touch me there!”, “You can’t do that!” etc.
The board said this amounted to “a clear implication of ‘sexual violence’ [and] As the implied sexual violence is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context, and related to incentives or rewards, it is not permitted within the R 18+ classification”. The fact that the game’s protagonists were depicted as schoolgirls probably didn’t help, either.
However, in Russia, the game was banned for promoting homosexuality under the country’s bizarre Gay Propaganda Laws. Clearly, banning a game for the reasons cited by the Australian classification board is one thing, but banning a game for ‘promoting homosexuality’ is downright repressive.
50 Cent: Bulletproof
It’s 2005, and Curtis Jackson III (better known as 50 Cent) is dominating the rap game. His debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is 2003’s best-selling album, and he’s just had another number one hit with Candy Shop. What could be better than releasing a video game?
A lot of things, if we’re honest. 50 Cent: Bulletproof was released for the Playstation 2 and Xbox to very poor reviews. Eurogamer scored it 4/10 noting:
“It's superficially slick, with its bling'd up 50 Cent avatar and glitzy rap, but really it's a third-person shooter that stumbles well under the benchmarks set for the PS2. A host of better, brighter and more original releases in the past few years have already defeated any joy here.”
Despite being panned by critics, the Australian ratings board decided to go one step further — banning the game outright. The board cited the game’s “high impact violence,” in particular:
“Whilst the violence, coarse language and drug use in the main narrative and game play is justified by context, this cannot be said of that in “arcade mode”. This mode allows players to perform counter kills unremittingly without the benefit of context”.
Maureen Shelley, convenor of the Classification Review Board said:
“The counter kills are enacted in detail, they are prolonged and take place in close up and slow motion. The most impactful of the counter kills involve knives and on-screen blood splatter. The Review Board determined that the impact of this mode was high and could not be accommodated at MA15+ classification. Therefore the game must be refused classification.”
Other Banned Games
Of course, there are plenty of other banned video games. Notable examples include RapeLay — where the player has to stalk and rape a woman and her two children — or many games in the Grand Theft Auto series, targeted for their for excessive violence.
However, many countries also choose to issue localized versions of games, in order to meet classification requirements. In Germany, for example, any games featuring a Nazi flag, or swastika, must replace it with a symbol less overtly related to the Third Reich. In 2017’s Wolfenstein 2, Hitler loses his trademark ‘tache in the German version, and is referred to as Mein Councillor, rather than Mein Fuhrer. While in China, many games are issued with references to Tibet and Taiwan removed, even games as seemingly harmless as Football Manager.
While many may see the banning of video games as an assault on free speech, others maintain that some aspects of the most violent or reprehensible games — Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni and RapeLay being two examples — need to be removed for fear that they normalize the actions depicted in the games.
There are also occasions when games aren’t necessarily banned by countries, but are instead removed from distribution platforms, such as the Steam Store for PC games. In 2018 Valve, the company behind Steam, announced it was removing all games that feature “child exploitation” and notably removed the Active Shooter game which was, in effect, a school shooting simulator.
Naturally, one could argue that banning and removing problematic games gives them greater exposure than they otherwise deserve — see the middling reviews for Carmageddon and 50 Cent: Bulletproof. But there are lines that shouldn’t really be crossed.
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