There was a time when gaming’s very existence was a controversy. Nameless concerned parents everywhere saw the medium as the ultimate evolution of rock and roll, television, and comic books. Surely, this brain rotting form of entertainment will be the brain-rotting form of entertainment that causes the youths of the world to do drugs, rebel, or do whatever it is that parents fear kids will do with too much free time. While that never actually happened – not yet, anyway – there have been plenty of video game controversies over the years that have forced developers to take action and quell the concerned masses.
While most video game controversies last about as long as the time it takes for someone to start yet another online petition that we’re certain is going to change everything, a few controversies have a much longer shelf life. They fester until the game itself becomes so closely associated with the controversy in question that those behind the creation of the game have no choice but to alter their product in a way that will hopefully ensure that people will just focus on the game itself. Sometimes it works, but many of the games in question simply go on to achieve fame as that title that was forever altered by controversy.
The are the 15 Video Games That Were Changed Due to Controversy.
15. Atari Changes Gotcha’s Breast-Like Controllers
This is the oldest controversy on this list and one of the most darkly amusing tales of PR terror. Gotcha was released in 1973 during the very early days of the arcade industry. It was a very simple game about a young woman trying to escape her pursuer through a maze. Were it not for the fact that the game shipped with breast-shaped controllers, Gotcha would have easily become just another forgotten video game from the ’70s.
Yes, a game about a young woman being chased by a mysterious man was originally controlled with pink dome-shaped devices designed to invoke thoughts of breasts. The rumor is that one of Atari’s designers decided to develop breast controllers in response to a joke regarding the phallic nature of traditional joysticks. His social commentary attempts did not go over well, and Atari was forced to redesign the cabinet to include the aforementioned phallic joysticks.
14. Tracer’s “Butt Pose” Is Removed From Overwatch
We go from the oldest controversy on this list to the most recent. Around the time of Overwatch’s official launch, a group of gamers took to the internet to register their disgust over Tracer’s “Over-the-Shoulder” victory pose. Their argument was that this pose took a female protagonist who had arguably become the game’s mascot and reduced her to a gratuitous butt shot.
The pose sparked a great deal of debate that was eventually ended by Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan. According to Kaplan, a few members of the design team weren’t really that crazy about the pose in the first place, and they certainly didn’t like hearing that some fans felt alienated by the pose. As such, they decided to change the pose to a similar, but slightly more modest version of the stance.
13. Nintendo Changes the Design Of A Pokemon Following Racist Allegations
Nobody could have predicted what a global phenomenon the Pokémon series would become. What started as a small project designed to recreate the thrill of bug catching soon became a blockbuster. Once Pokémon spread outside of Japan, however, Nintendo was suddenly staring down the barrel of a character controversy that seemed to genuinely catch them off-guard. (And they’re no strangers to public backlash, mind you.) According to some gamers, the Pokémon Jynx was a dead ringer for the blackface caricature stereotype.
Some even went so far as to say that Jynx was a parody of transgender people as well as the obese. However, the blackface allegations seemed to hit hardest. Some claim that Jynx’s design is based on a combination of mythological figures and Japanese youth culture trends, but the idea that Jynx was an inherently racist character had already taken root. Nintendo eventually changed Jynx’s base color from black to purple in an effort to quell the controversy.
12. A Single Word Forces Nintendo to Recall Two Games in the UK
While Jynx is one of the most notable examples of Nintendo getting blindsided by specific cultural differences, that is far from the only time that they and other development studios have had to modify a game in order to adhere to the cultural sensibilities of certain markets. It’s amazing to watch as the smallest oversight turns a simple design decision into a huge controversy.
One of the best examples of this phenomenon is Nintendo’s former fondness for the word “spastic.” They used this word in the 2006 game Mind Quiz and the 2007 title Mario Party 8. While 99% of the world thought nothing of the term, UK gamers were caught off-guard by its appearance in a Nintendo product. See, in the UK, the word spastic is a derogatory term that is used to insult someone by suggesting that they are mentally handicapped. These games were later recalled and, at least in the case of Mario Party 8, spastic was swapped out for the word “erratic.”
11. Left 4 Dead 2’s Original Cover Sends a Very Wrong Message in the UK
Just to show you that Nintendo isn’t the only company that has had to deal with cultural misunderstandings, let’s look at Valve and the curious case of the cover art for Left 4 Dead 2. See, the original Left 4 Dead’s cover featured a zombie hand holding up four fingers with its palm facing inward. This cover drew much more acclaim than controversy. Naturally, Valve decided to recreate the design for the cover of Left 4 Dead 2, but this time, they had the zombie hand only hold up two fingers.
As it turns out, that particular gesture has a very different meaning in the UK. For those who don’t know, the image featured on the original Left 4 Dead 2 cover is a dead ringer for a gesture used in the UK to express similar sentiments that those who raise their middle finger wish to express. Naturally, Valve decided to release an alternate version of that cover for the UK market.
10. Peter Dinklage’s Entire Performance is Removed From Destiny
Casting decisions are almost always controversial. When is the last time you remember the internet collectively deciding that a particular actor is, in fact, the perfect choice? Yet, very few people balked when it was revealed that Peter Dinklage was going to play your robot companion in Destiny. This announcement came around the peak of Game of Throne’s popularity, and gamers everywhere loved the idea of touring the galaxy with Tyrion freaking Lannister at their side.
Once those same gamers actually played Destiny, however, some of those same players were about as enthusiastic as Peter Dinklage seemed to be when he was recording his lines. While there are Destiny players who feel Dinklage did a fine job, many more players couldn’t help but feel that his slightly bored, very dry line readings hindered the overall experience. Eventually, Bungie decided to have veteran voice actor Nolan North re-record Dinklage’s lines and play the character moving forward.
9. BioWare Changes Mass Effect 3’s Endings Following Mass Disappointment
While most video game controversies are based on some kind of offensive material or cultural misunderstanding, this one (much like the Destiny design alteration) is based on crushing disappointment. To make a 100-hour-long story short, many players felt that Mass Effect 3’s endings failed to live up to the many of the promises developer BioWare had made. In fact, some felt that the oddly constrained nature of the game’s conclusion constituted false advertising.
In a shocking move, BioWare decided to actually go back and redesign Mass Effect 3’s endings. Well…kind of. What they did was release a DLC add-on for Mass Effect 3 that expanded upon the game’s endings and added some new story content throughout. The reaction to these alterations was a bit mixed. Some loved the new endings – some even loved the original endings – but a new contingent of players emerged who felt that the extended take on these conclusions created even more problems. You can’t please everyone.
8. Medal Of Honor Briefly Lets You Play as The Taliban
For years, Valve’s Counter-Strike series has amused some gamers who can’t help but chuckle at the celebratory voice line “Terrorists Win.” See, Counter-Strike’s multiplayer mode pits a counter-terrorist team against a terrorist team. When the latter team wins, the game announces their victory with the aforementioned dialog. Counter-Strike has featured playable terrorists for years and, for the most part, nobody ever really seemed to be too bothered by the feature.
2010’s Medal of Honor was not so lucky. Medal of Honor also let players choose a terrorist faction in the game’s multiplayer mode, but Medal of Honor went so far as to specifically identify the game’s terrorists as members of the Taliban. Many people – especially military families and military members – felt it was incredibly insensitive to allow gamers to achieve victory as a specific terrorist group who many military units were currently at war with. Eventually, Medal of Honor’s developers changed the game so that the former Taliban were now simply referred to as an “opposing force.”
7. Lines From the Koran Force Sony To Delay and Patch Little Big Planet
When you think of controversial video games, you don’t typically think of a title like Little Big Planet. For those who have never played it, Little Big Planet is a puzzle platformer game that is notable for its world-building system and generally wholesome nature. Despite seemingly being one of the most family-friendly titles on the market, Sony ended up having to recall millions of copies of Little Big Planet prior to the game’s launch.
As it turns out, the original version of Little Big Planet featured an uncensored version of a song that contained lines from the Koran. Why does this matter? Well, depending on who you ask, it may or may not matter at all. Some Muslim gamers – including a user on the Sony forums who first spotted the song’s inclusion – feel that using lines from the Koran in a song is akin to belittling the meaning of the Koran’s words. While not everyone holds to that belief, Sony decided to take the hit, recall Little Big Planet days before its launch, and modify the game’s music to remove all lyrics from the song in question.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ Hot Coffee Mod Causes Rockstar to Take Action
Here’s another one that we’re willing to bet many gamers remember well. It would be impossible to break down the full list of Grand Theft Auto-related controversies in this humble little entry. Needless to say, Rockstar’s open-world game about theft and destruction has ruffled some feathers over the years. Yet, there has only been one notable instance of Rockstar actually having to modify a Grand Theft Auto game post-release in order to quell a controversy.
At some point in the development of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar toyed with the idea of including a sex minigame that would allow you to interact with your in-game girlfriends in a fairly predictable manner. They ultimately decided to not include the minigame, but San Andreas shipped with the minigame’s assets still included. Some gamers found the assets, recreated the sex minigame, and activists everywhere lost their minds. Eventually, Rockstar decided to just remove the content from the game entirely via a patch.
5. Splatterhouse’s Home Version Is Basically An Entirely Different Game
Grand Theft Auto is a good example of a video game franchise that is both brilliant and controversial, but there are many more examples of contentious games which are not really notable outside of the public backlash they created. The 1988 beat ‘em up Splatterhouse isn’t entirely devoid of merit, but the game was clearly designed in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the slasher genre by allowing gamers to traverse horror environments and viciously murder their occupants. It was a gory love letter to the horror films of the era.
Well…at least the game’s arcade version was. When it came time to port Splatterhouse to the TurboGrafx-16 and PC, Splatterhouse developers were required to make so many content cuts that they basically had to create an entirely new game in the process. Meat cleavers were changed to wooden sticks; the Jason Vorhees-like hockey mask the main character wore was changed to a copyright friendly generic red mask; the blood was removed almost entirely; entire boss fights were redesigned; the game’s ending was completely rewritten. The North American version of the game got it even worse, as the developers were forced to remove every reference to anything vaguely religious.
4. Mortal Kombat’s Gore Is Removed From The Console Editions (Unless You Know A Secret Code)
Few games have ever generated the sheer amount of controversy that Mortal Kombat did. Mortal Kombat was released at a time when activist groups everywhere suddenly became very concerned about how violent video games might affect impressionable youths. Naturally, a game all about brutally beating up your opponent and dismembering them did not go over well with that particular crowd. As a compromise, Midway Games agreed to completely remove the blood from Mortal Kombat’s Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ports.
Unlike Splatterhouse‘s home versions, which were ironically butchered until they no longer resembled the base game, not all of Mortal Kombat’s ports were censored equally. While both versions of the game shipped with the blood replaced with sweat and the game’s most noteworthy fatalities removed, the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat shipped with a special cheat code that allowed players to experience the game in its unaltered bloody glory. This code achieved mythical status and helped the Sega Genesis version earn its reputation as the definitive way to play the game at home.
3. Thrill Kill is Cancelled Due to Overwhelming Controversy
Following the successful arcade release of Mortal Kombat, developers everywhere began making gory fighting games of their own. While most of these rip-offs have been rightfully forgotten about as time went on, there is one Mortal Kombat clone that history refuses to forget about.
Thrill Kill was an ultra-gory fighting game designed to replicate Mortal Kombat’s success. As is the case with many pieces of entertainment that are trying to build upon an established property, the developers of Thrill Kill decided to raise the ante. Thrill Kill made the arcade version of Mortal Kombat look like the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat. It was filled with BDSM, ultra-violence, extreme cursing, and every other exploitation film staple its developers could fit into the code. Before Thrill Kill was even released, it became known as the most controversial video game ever made. Eventually, publisher EA decided to pull the plug on the finished game and never release it. Since then, bootleg versions of the title have been released via various formats. Rest assured that if you have never played the game, you’re not missing out on anything special.
2. Propeller Arena is Cancelled Because of An Unfortunate Release Date
The AM2 division of Sega’s development team had a brilliant idea for a video game. They saw how successful competitive online shooters like Quake III and Unreal Tournament were and decided to develop a similar experience. The twist was that their online shooter game would be based on plane-to-plane dogfights. They got the green light to develop this project, spent months building a final version, and were prepared to release Propeller Arena on September 19, 2001.
You’ve probably just spotted the problem. Yes, Sega was about to release a game about plane combat just eight days after the 9/11 attacks. What really killed the project, though, was a specific multiplayer map called Tower City which allowed players to crash into buildings. It didn’t help that the game’s cover showed planes flying over an all-too-familiar urban landscape. Even though Propeller Arena was finished by the time the 9/11 attacks happened, Sega decided to cancel the game and never release it. It has since been leaked onto the internet and is considered to be a hidden gem.
1. 9/11 Causes Known and Unknown Changes To Grand Theft Auto III
The horrific terrorist attacks of September 11th changed the design of Grand Theft Auto III. That much is certain. What’s less certain is quite how much the game was changed by the attacks. According to Rockstar, they ended up changing the game’s box art, a mission that referenced terrorists, and a few minor cosmetic things in response to the fallout from 9/11. Officially, that’s everything that was changed.
Unofficially, gamers have long suspected that Rockstar altered much more than just a few minor cosmetic assets. The most fascinating rumor concerning 9/11’s effect on GTA III involves the functionality of the game’s one flyable plane, the Dodo. Those who played GTA III will remember that the Dodo was nearly impossible to fly. It was almost as if Rockstar didn’t want gamers to fly the plane at all. Actually, there are many who suspect that that’s exactly what they intended. The rumor is that Rockstar clipped the Dodo’s wings in order to prevent gamers from recreating the 9/11 attacks in the game’s fictionalized version of New York City. This rumor is seemingly supported by a hastily thrown together in-game explanation for why the Dodo’s wings are clipped and the fact that the Dodo is a perfectly functional aircraft in every other Grand Theft Auto game.
What other video games were changed due to public backlash? Let us know in the comments.