Today on Atomic Kote, we’re gonna take a look at five controversial arcade games from the seventies and eighties, the blissful time where gaming was just really getting started. While there might not have been Grand Theft Auto or Torture Them Dead 2018 back then, there were definitely a few games that raised eyebrows.
Please note that there is some vaguely disturbing material in this article, particularly when I take a look at Chiller. Now that your stomach is prepared, let’s get started.
Gotcha is an arcade game made for Atari. It’s controversial for one real simple reason that doesn’t need any elaboration, really. The controllers for the game were supposed to be breasts. Yeah. There were, essentially, fake tits welded onto the front of the arcade machine. Seriously, I’m not fucking with you.
Now, I know what the most pedantic amongst you will be thinking.
‘Aw, c’mon Kote – those could just be pink globes that look like boobs. Doesn’t mean that they’re supposed to be them.‘
No, mate. Sorry. The fella responsible for designing the cabinet, George Faraco, confirmed in an interview conducted many, many years ago that, yes, the controllers were designed to look and feel like funbags. Anyway, it didn’t matter in the end, really, because the game was a complete and total flop. That’s probably because the game itself is pretty damn shit, rather than anything to do with mammary-related inputs.
Bear in mind that this was released not long after Pong. Less than a year, actually. The reason that Pong caught on so well is because it was simple, you could take one look at it and know that it’s an electronic representation of table tennis. Now look at Gotcha and tell me if you can figure out what’s going on. Go on, I’ll give you five minutes. Read the next paragraph when you’ve made a guess.
If you guessed that it’s a two-player competitive maze game where one player plays as the one smaller dot on the screen whilst the other player plays the larger dot, then pat yourself on the back and buy yourself a beverage. Anyway. The player that’s the larger dot has to catch the player that’s the smaller dot. Both players have to do this by squeezing stimulated sweater puppies masquerading as a control scheme. It didn’t catch on. Not even after Atari redesigned the cabinet so that it looked more conventional.
I don’t think that this thing tanked because of any titty-related controversy. I think it tanked because it looked impenetrable. These days, we’re more willing to experiment with video games and technology in general. Back then, again, you gotta bear in mind that this thing pretty much game out on the heels of Pong. Pong looked like something, this doesn’t. Nobody back then was gonna spend their hard-earned money on something they couldn’t understand, even if the experience did involve breasts of some kind.
Death Race (1976)
It’s fascinating! It’s fun chasing monsters. Exidy, you got that right. I’d just like to point out that I’m a big fan of this poster. I love how the words are oozing out of the Reaper’s cracked open brainhole like they’re his ghoulish thoughts. And just look at how he’s staring at that machine. He knows that it’s fun.
So why was this mired in controversy? Violent gameplay. You were a little pixel car that went around trying to run down ‘gremlins’. By the controls stuck to the front of the cabinet, I assume that you drove it around with that little wheel, even. Still. This was only released three years after Pong. They hadn’t even gotten colour down yet. How could they show off hyper violence in a black and white space?
Well, feast your eyes on this Mortal Kombat level shit.
That is scarring. No wonder people were trying to have this game banned. The National Safety Council in the US called it ‘sick and morbid’. On CBS, there was an entire sixty minute segment about how it could twist your melon and make you a violent serial killer. Other newspapers ran sensational stories about how this game was corrupting the youth, and all that.
All of the negative press worked, at first. Sales of the cabinet apparently quadrupled. It all went a bit tits up, though. Due to protests lead by some pretty high profile people, only about five hundred units were made. Apparently, tensions were so high that people would even drag these cabinets outside of the arcade and set them on fire in a circlejerk, arson style. Fuck. That’s like an old-fashioned witch hunt or something. All because of a collection of pure white pixels that vaguely resemble a tombstone.
Ah, Punch Out. A genuine Nintendo classic. Don’t get this confused with the Nintendo Entertainment System version – this is the arcade cabinet. It’s a particular blast to play in the arcade – it’s one of few retro arcade machines that I’ve managed to have a go on before. If you don’t know what it’s all about, well – it’s boxing. You have to box a bunch of people. Unlike a lot of boxing games, though, it isn’t all that realistic. The arcade gameplay lets you cut loose, have a blast, and push buttons, rather than worrying about whether to throw a left hook or a right hook or any of the other thousand boxing punches.
Like Death Race, you might think that Punch Out was vilified for it’s somewhat violent content. Nah. People had forgotten about that for now. Instead, Punch Out was controversial because of it’s, er, somewhat offensively stereotypical characters.
This is probably the most egregious example from the arcade game – ol’ Vodka Drunkenski, or, as they renamed him, Soda Popinski. I won’t go into why this is slightly problematic. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on ol’ Drunkenski above.
Moving on, then, we’re back to hyper violence with the light gun arcade game, ‘Chiller’. This was released by Exidy, who made the previously mentioned ‘Death Race’. A decade later, they were back up to their usual tricks. This time, though, technology was a little further along. What was the worst that they could do now that they had access to glorious colour? Well, it turns out that things were actually more than a little fucked up this time. I’m being serious. Here’s the first level.
Try staring at that for ten minutes like I had to while I wrote this here paragraph. It ain’t that pleasant. There’s something genuinely cold and creepy about it. You’re shooting these poor people strapped up in this torture chamber for no reason that I can ascertain. Your gun, or whatever it is that you’re using, is strong enough to literally flay the flesh from their bodies, exposing more and more muscle and bone with every shot. There isn’t any real music of note – just the cold crack of your pistol as you use your bullets to torture people.
The rest of the levels feature follow the same pattern for the most part. You’re, er, ‘helping’ people along to their deaths, playing the part of some unnamed psychopath as you go through a romp through various torture chambers. It’s senseless, sociopathic violence, and, well – I kinda admire it. I didn’t know that this game existed. You think that people would’ve been crying out for proper censorship long before Mortal Kombat with shit like this. Hell, it’s way worse than that game, as a matter of fact. At least the people that you mutilate in that game can fight back.
There’s a good reason that there wasn’t an enormous outcry about this game. This one didn’t get burnt in any arcade parking lots, mainly because arcade owners at the time refused to buy it for obvious reasons. On the upside, Exidy managed to market the game pretty well in various third world countries. There was an unlicensed copy of the game made for the Nintendo Entertainment System, though there wasn’t an uproar about that. Probably because nobody bought it and the worst parts were censored.
I think I’ll cover the rest of this game in another article, honestly. Until I wrote this, I wasn’t aware that this nightmare existed. When/if I write it, I’ll update this article.
Aw man, Splatterhouse. I love Splatterhouse, even if it is kind of a shitty game. The violence in it is so incredibly satisfying, though. Aesthetically, it’s great. Gameplay wise, it’s pretty standard. Still, here’s a few highlights of said aesthetic.
That should give you a good picture. Sometimes, I like to let the games speak for themselves, and this is one of those times. Plus, I am definitely writing a feature on the Splatterhouse series at some point. There’ll be a link here when it exists. The controversy here is obvious – ‘violence is bad and you should feel bad if you play this.’ Uh, excuse me, but this game doesn’t have shit on Chiller. At least I ain’t making torture victims lives more of a misery than they already are.
Anyway. There’s five controversial arcade games for you. That was great, right? Yeah, we all enjoyed that a lot. You enjoyed it so much that you’re gonna follow me on Twitter so you can keep track of future updates to the website.. Aren’t ya? Yeah, you are.