“What can be blamed for the corruption of today’s young people?” concerned parents always wonder. Is it drugs? Rock and roll? The new pool table at the billiard hall? No, of course not – it’s video games! Since it’s a relatively new entertainment medium, the world of video games isn’t fully understood by the general public. If a game seems to oppose the values of the society in which it’s released, it can be heavily criticized, censored, or even banned from sale entirely – whether or not the backlash is legitimate in the first place.
Today we’re going to take a look at the top 10 video games that have been banned or recalled from sale in certain countries around the world. Some have been hit with the ban hammer for extreme violence and sexual content, while others have gotten themselves tangled up in lawsuits for shady business practices. Rather than ranking the games based on their actual quality, we’ve ordered them based on how controversial, intriguing, and impactful their stories of banishment are. Let’s get scandalous!
10. EA Sports MMA
- System: Xbox 360, PS3
- Publisher: EA Sports
- Developer: EA Tiburon
- Release Dates: Oct 19, 2010
Mixed martial arts is possibly the most combat-oriented professional sport on air today; so naturally, some countries would be opposed to letting children play a game based on it, right? Well, that’s not why EA Sports MMA was banned in Denmark in 2010. The country bans all marketing for energy drinks, and since ads for drinks like Monster and Rockstar were plastered all over the game, EA decided to cancel its release in Denmark only.
So why couldn’t EA simply replace the ads (which are just in-game textures) with something more friendly to Scandinavians? According to a statement the company released, "Our game authentically recreates the sport of MMA in every facet, including energy drink in-game sponsorships on fighter shorts, gear, and in fight venues." Now that’s some stubborn commitment to authenticity! Or maybe they just didn’t feel like going through more trouble for a game that wasn’t selling well in the first place...
9. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (New Dangan Ronpa V3: Minna no Koroshiai Shin Gakki)
- System: PS Vita, PS4, PC
- Publisher: Spike Chunsoft, NIS America
- Developer: Spike Chunsoft
- Release Dates: Jan 12, 2017 (JPN), Sep 26, 2017 (NA), Sep 29, 2017 (EU)
The Danganronpa visual novels are murder mysteries about school kids who try to get away with homicide. The subject matter is certainly pretty twisted, but the gameplay is much more about investigating murders than committing them (plus, all of the blood is a lovely bright pink color). Despite that, South Korea has refused to give a rating to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which bans it from sale in the country. But all other games in the series have been released in South Korea with an Adults Only rating, so what’s so heinous about this most recent one?
Continuing on from our first entry, the ban doesn’t have much to do with the actual content of the game. In March of this year, a teenage girl was arrested for murdering and dismembering an 8-year-old child in South Korea. The girl allegedly spoke with a group on Twitter about things like how to remove human flesh from bones, which a widely viewed news report illustrated using Danganronpa-style visuals. None of the people involved actually play the games, but Sony decided to cancel Danganronpa V3’s South Korean release anyway for its perceived association with the crime. Since this is still a recent ban, it’s possible that it’ll be lifted eventually so that Korean fans can still get their fix of magenta-tinted murder.
8. Pokémon Go
- System: iOS, Android
- Publisher: Niantic, Inc.
- Developer: Niantic, Inc.
- Release Dates: Jul 22, 2016 (JPN), Jul 6, 2016 (NA), Jul 13, 2016 (EU)
Pokémon bans are nothing new. Its enormous worldwide popularity has made it an easy target for all kinds of regulatory groups. Jynx and gym leader Lenora’s designs were altered to avoid accusations of racial stereotyping, cards of Kadabra can no longer be produced following a copyright lawsuit from magician Uri Geller, and of course, Porygon and its evolutions have never been shown in the anime after the infamous seizure incident in its debut episode. So with Pokémon Go’s release on mobile phones in 2016 and the huge fad that followed, it was almost a guarantee that someone’s feathers would get ruffled.
Saudi Arabia banned the game when religious leaders decided to renew their fatwa (a non legally binding, but authoritative declaration by the high Islamic council) against the entire Pokémon franchise. It was first implemented in 2001 because of the game’s themes of evolution and gambling, as well as a six-pointed star in the trading card game resembling a Jewish Star of David. Other countries in the Middle East have also expressed concerns about Pokémon Go users entering sacred places like mosques to play the game. Despite the fact that Pokémon Go hasn’t been officially released in Saudi Arabia, many fans have illegally downloaded it onto their phones so they too can catch Pokémon in the real world.
7. Too Human
- System: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Developer: Silicon Knights
- Release Dates: Aug 19, 2008
Too Human is one of those games that’s plagued with endless development delays and then doesn’t amount to much once it finally limps its way onto shelves. Still, there’s nothing particularly violent or suggestive about it compared to every other generic action game in 2008. The real problem lies under the surface – notably in its engine, which uses thousands of lines of code pirated from Unreal Engine 3.
Developer Silicon Knights had sued Epic Games, the creator of the Unreal Engine, back in 2007 for supposedly using engine licensing fees to fund the development of Gears of War. But once the report about the stolen code came to light, Epic Games sued them right back and won $4.45 million in damages. In addition, the court ordered Silicon Knights to destroy all unsold copies of Too Human and a slew of their other games that used the same engine. Too Human was also wiped off of Xbox Live in 2012. Lesson learned: pay your licensing fees and never ever get on Epic Games’ bad side.
6. Silent Hill: Homecoming
- System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Double Helix Games
- Release Dates: Cancelled (JPN), Sep 30, 2008 (NA), Feb 27, 2009 (EU)
Silent Hill is considered to be one of the most important and influential series in the entire survival horror game genre. Its distinct dread-filled atmosphere draws on aspects of Eastern culture and religion that make it especially eerie and unfamiliar to Western players. But Silent Hill: Homecoming, the first console Silent Hill title to be developed by a non-Japanese studio, wasn’t even released in Japan.
Konami didn’t state any specific reason as to why they decided not to release the title in the series’ home country, but we can take a guess. Australia instituted a ban against the game because of its extreme violence, including decapitations and eye gore; so presumably, Konami picked up on the backlash and quietly dropped Homecoming’s Japanese release from its schedule. It seems like the bloodier Western style of horror that this game used didn’t resonate across cultures like the other Silent Hill titles did the other way around.
5. Postal and Manhunt series
These games might’ve been created for the sole purpose of being banned. The Postal series features outrageously violent scenarios like the schizophrenic protagonist shooting up an Air Force base, while Manhunt focuses on exterminating your fellow man in the most realistically gruesome ways possible. Both series have been connected to murder cases and banned in places such as New Zealand because of their gleeful attitude towards killing, although Running With Scissors and Rockstar Games have stated that they don’t support real world violence.
Postal’s developer, Running With Scissors, says that its goal is to “make action-packed games which are fun, funny and possibly even politically correct,” while Rockstar’s official site boasts slogans like “home to the great unwashed hordes” and “bringing gaming to the family since 1998.” They’re both very much aware of their reputations and even use that as a selling point, so banning their games may actually be the publicity they wanted in the first place.
4. Six Days in Fallujah
- System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Atomic Games
- Release Dates: Unreleased
A game set during the Iraq War, huh? That sounds interesting. Well, it’s possible that developer Atomic Games should’ve waited a few more than five years after the real Second Battle of Fallujah to allow people to reenact it in video game form. Even though it was developed in collaboration with war veterans and was meant to be a serious exploration of the events they went through, the game’s release was shut down in 2009 after criticism from the families of soldiers killed in that battle.
The short version of the game’s development and controversy is that publisher Konami dropped the project after the media rioted against it and Atomic Games weren’t able to defend their work alone. They have yet to find another publisher. It hasn’t been officially banned or cancelled, but Six Days In Fallujah is still a pariah in the video game industry because of its “too soon” content and it might never be released.
3. Spec Ops: The Line
- System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Yager Development, Darkside Game Studios
- Release Dates: Jun 26, 2012 (NA), Jun 29, 2012 (EU)
Spec Ops: The Line blew people’s minds when it came out back in 2012. At first, it seemed to be a generic shooter about American soldiers trying to save a stranded commander in a ruined Dubai. But once it got going, it revealed itself to be a sobering deconstruction of both modern military shooters and the ethics of war that nobody saw coming. It topped many “best of the year” lists in 2012 and remains a must-play for anyone interested in games as art.
The United Arab Emirates didn’t see it that way, though. They banned a preview of the game, as well as its official website. Upon its release, all physical and digital sales of the game were banned in the UAE because it showed Dubai in a state of unending war and devastation. The ban remains in place today, so Emirati gamers still have to cross international borders to play this game that’s set in their own country.
2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- System: PS2, Xbox, PC
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Release Dates: Oct 26, 2004
The Grand Theft Auto series as a whole has so many bans and censorship cases against it that Rockstar Games can practically wallpaper their office with the paperwork at this point. But, true to form, most of this is likely on purpose so that their games will get a counter-culture reputation and free advertising. But they may have gotten in over their heads in 2005 with the infamous Hot Coffee scandal in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Curious hackers found an unfinished minigame in both the console and PC versions of the game called “Hot Coffee”, which featured realistic interactive sex between the main character and his girlfriend. This led to lawsuits, after which the game was yanked off of shelves in America and its rating was changed from Mature to Adults Only. Rockstar eventually removed the minigame with a patch called “Cold Coffee”, but by that point the scandal had become one of the biggest tent poles for the “video games are corrupting our children” argument. Not that it’s slowed Rockstar down at all.
1. Night Trap
- System: Sega CD
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Digital Pictures
- Release Dates: Oct 15, 1992 (NA), May 1993 (EU)
This is the granddaddy of them all – the game that caused so much controversy that it resulted in the creation of the ESRB. Night Trap is an FMV game about trying to stop villains called “augers” from capturing a group of girls at a slumber party. In a 1993 US Senate committee meeting, opponents argued that the game featured “gratuitous, gory, sexualized violence against women at the hands of the player” and was “tantamount to child abuse.” Stores across the nation pulled the game from their shelves and Sega eventually took it off the market for good. For those who’ve never seen the game before, Night Trap’s most “violent” scene looks like this.
It’s incredibly tame by today’s standards, and probably even by 1992 standards as well. But both Night Trap and the original Mortal Kombat were deemed so harmful to children that the Entertainment Software Ratings Board was formed in America so that violent and suggestive content in video games could be regulated. For having such gigantic fallout against its barely objectionable content, Night Trap takes the top spot as the #1 banned video game at Honey’s Anime.
Whether or not you think these games deserved to be banned, they’re all intriguing examples of how video games and their culture have changed over the years. The controversies are bigger than ever now, but hopefully once the pearl-clutching parents and fist-wringing politicians have moved on to pointing fingers at the next new medium, video games will finally be able to catch a break. Just as long as they don’t pirate the Unreal Engine.
What did you think of our list? Did we miss any banned games that you want to hear about? If you’ve played any of them, do you think they deserved to get banned? Let us know in the comments and thanks for reading!