It seems like controversy tends to follow video games around like a plague, be it for violent content or otherwise. The industry as a whole seems to be at odds with parents and politicians on a daily basis, with barbs being tossed its way from every conceivable corner.
So it's rather refreshing when a game chooses to ignore those cries of foul play, forging its own path as a way to stand up to the detractors. It took a whole roster of famous games to create the ESRB, an event that more or less defined an entire generation.
There are games that seem to know the rules, but do everything within their power to break them. They didn't care about the rules, and flaunted their brash attitudes right in your face. They might not all be game of the year candidates, but they made every effort possible to stick to their guns.
The ten titles below understood that there were rules and regulations when it comes to games, but just went ahead and broke them anyway.
Let's be clear; it's not easy to like Postal. It's crude, insanely offensive and worse yet, it's just not a very good game. But underneath all that, there's a game that just doesn't care. It knows that you don't like it, that you crucify it for being one of the worst offenders in history, and revels in that.
Postal knows where every line is and steps over every single one, probably saying something outlandish in the process. No one would put Postal on a pedestal as a beacon of clever design, but in spite of its reputation, the premise of a "madness plague" does give some much-needed context to your spree of terror. Even so, it's hard to argue its brazen attitude that never quits.
As one of the forerunners to the creation of the ESRB, Splatterhouse is a game that has something of a heinous reputation. Though it looks quite tame by today's Bloodborne standards, this was quite an experience when it was released in 1988. One look at the game in action gives away what inspired it, as the character of Rick Taylor gets a Jason Vorhees-esque hockey mask fused onto his face.
From here, it's a glorious 16-bit festival of gore and barbaric combat. And one thing that Splatterhouse does well is its combat, as it manages to make the minute-to-minute slashing feel quite satisfying. And while Splatterhouse was eventually remade in 2010, it didn't quite have the spark that the '88 original did, as it came out during a time when this type of game was unusual. Splatterhouse had to come out in 1988, and we're glad that it did.
8. Wolfenstein 3D
It's important to put into perspective that Wolfenstein 3D launched on May 5th, 1992. That's forty-seven years after the end of World War II, meaning that while the wound was healing, it was still relevant in a number of ways. Wolfenstein 3D was putting Nazi imagery out there at a time when it could be considered a touchy subject, even if the game approached it with a dash of humor.
Beyond the controversy and claims of disrespect, Wolfenstein 3D was breaking the rules in a more interesting way. It started the first-person shooter revolution, establishing many of the recurring motifs that go along with the genre today. Wolfenstein 3D had no business existing in 1992, what with its straight-up ban in Germany and refusal to adhere to video game design conventions. But thankfully, it did, and the industry has been better off as a result.
7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
While it may be hard to believe that Call of Duty once took a year off, it did so in 2009, two years removed from the release of the first Modern Warfare game in 2007. The sequel continued the Modern Warfare story arc, all of this in spite of claims that the franchise was sensationalizing war, continuing to create its own brand of unique, Hollywood-style action game.
But Modern Warfare 2 didn't think that was enough, crafting one of the most notorious video game levels of all time; "No Russian", a haunting moment where you are asked to mow down countless innocent civilians. It's shocking and truly frightening, something which unsurprisingly lead to it being banned in Australia and heavily censored in Russia, Germany and Japan.
6. State of Emergency
There's nothing necessarily crude or offensive about the Rockstar Games-published State of Emergency, especially surprising considering that it comes from the same studio who offends on the regular with its Grand Theft Auto series. Instead, State of Emergency chose to show its world as a chaotic mess, taking place in the fictional setting of Capital City. It was filled with riots, violence, attacks on police and political revolution.
State of Emergency was presumably based on the WTO riots of 1999 in Seattle, meaning it was fresh a subject as you could imagine. It was a harsh critique of governmental organizations, even going so far as having assassinations of high-ranking officials. As an enjoyable video game experience, it's somewhat repetitive nature leaves it in an awkward position, but it has an undeniable attitude that more games should strive for.
5. Grand Theft Auto III
And speaking of Grand Theft Auto, it would be disingenuous to not mention this storied series when talking about rebellious video games. And it's not just the violence or adult content at play here, but rather the complete package. GTA 3 broke every conceivable rule possible, all with a smile on its face.
Blood, adult language and mature themes? Check. Putting you in control of a character who isn't a good guy? Check. It has a somewhat cynical world view, played in sharp contrast to the outrageous characters, all of whom tend to end up dead by your hand. GTA 3 is Rockstar's magnum opus, the absolute height of this magnificent franchise, breaking down the barriers of the industry like it's nothing.
4. Duke Nukem 3D
Duke is an interesting protagonist in the sense that it's hard to like him, what with his backwards views on women, crass sense of humor and violent streak. And by the time you've finished Duke Nukem 3D, it's still likely that you won't have become his biggest fan, but boy is this 1996 classic a heck of a game.
Taking a page out of the Wolfenstein and Doom playbook, Duke Nukem 3D tapped into the youth culture of the decade and ran with it. It was boisterous, bloody and perfect for the decade it appeared in. This game had to be made in 1996, because it just can't exist anywhere else. There were no laws and no rules after the Duke came to town.
3. Silent Hill
Survival horror dominated the '90s after the launch of Resident Evil, having created an entire genre that influenced the likes of Parasite Eve and this lovely little game; Silent Hill. But where games like Resident Evil teetered on the edge of B-movie silliness, Silent Hill decided that you needed to be tortured. It wasn't time to laugh, it was time to be afraid.
Silent Hill wasn't concerned about cheesy dialogue or having fun. It was about tension and a raw sense of horror, something previous entries in the genre just weren't doing all that often. And thankfully, Silent Hill succeeded in its mission, ignoring what people said horror video games can and can't do.
Along with Splatterhouse, Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, Doom was one of the big turning points that lead to the creation of the ESRB. Doom was such a monstrous hit, that it was the most installed piece of computer software in 1995, eclipsing Windows itself. Not only did Doom continue the first-person revolution started by Wolfenstein 3D one year earlier, it turned the dial up to eleven and didn't look back.
This was every parent's worst nightmare; it was loud, violent, filled with demonic imagery and had no intention of taking its foot off the pedal. And it wasn't just about a video game that had violent scenes, Doom also upped the ante by featuring a blaring heavy metal soundtrack in the background, completing the pitch-perfect identity that this historic game was going for.
1. Mortal Kombat
It wouldn't truly be a party without the granddaddy of all video game rule-breakers, the one that caused more controversy and paranoia in the '90s than anything else; Mortal Kombat. It was bad enough that MK featured gruesome displays of violence, complete with the franchise's claim to fame in fatalities, but it was also open in public arcades to anyone with a quarter or two.
Mortal Kombat created the identity of the decade more than any other, the decade where nothing was sacred anymore. Everything from the vicious uppercuts to the bloody finishing moves, Mortal Kombat took no prisoners. Characters could rip an enemy's spine out of their chest, a rallying war cry that galvanized this new generation of games and the players who lived them.
But now it's your turn. What's your favorite game that didn't obey the rules? Got one we didn't talk about? Let's hear about it in the comments!