A History of Violence: 6 Old School Games as Brutal as GTA


Violent video games were around long before Grand Theft Auto and Dead Rising showed kids the fun of drunk driving and hitting golf balls into a crowded food court.

Here are some early generation video games that set the bloody tone for today's games. Even if you're too young to remember these, your parents probably played them, whether they admit it or not ...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of the Atari 2600

Very few Atari games let you be the bad guy. Just about every game involved eating dots, dodging dots or shooting at dots with more dots in order to stamp out the face of evil. The unauthorized video game version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tied that unspoken rule to a tree and vivisected it with a circular saw in 1983.

Players took control of Leatherface, or in this case, a pudgy bobblehead version of Leatherface if he dressed in light-blue spandex and styled his hair like Coach Buzzcut from Beavis and Butt-head.

As Leatherfaces, your goal is to run around your never-ending front yard and kill people with a chainsaw, or what appears to be a large blue tumor sticking out of your abdomen.

The game sold poorly (basically no stores would stock it) and has since become a rare and highly sought-after title from game aficionados.

So How Bad Was It?

There isn't any blood to speak of, so apparently the developers wanted the violence to be more psychological than physical. Or maybe it was the fact that having to draw three more red pixels back in the '80s would have added an extra three months and $2 million dollars to the game's development budget.

The victims are among the more pathetic opponents in gaming history. Their only defense is to hope you trip over one of the obstacles that randomly pops up while you stalk them (mostly sections of white fence, for some reason). As Leatherface, you don't run out of life, your chainsaw just runs out of gas. After all, we wouldn't want kids having to think about mortality while they stalk unarmed victims around a steeplechase course.

Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior of the Commodore

The makers of Mortal Kombat took the brunt of the anti-video game violence brigade's fire catapults in the '90s for starting the violent fighter-game revolution, but Barbarian was doing it years earlier.

Barbarian took a page (ripped off) from the Conan the Barbarian series and featured two unnamed sword-wielding meatheads, swinging and slashing at each other until one of them died. That was it. Wow, what a long way we've come. Back then, you could buy a game and play the whole thing without spending two weeks vacation mainlining Red Bull.

The game did attract some controversy for its violence, but its critical acclaim overshadowed it. After all, how are you going to criticize a game with a cover that mechanics could hang in their garages.

You have to wonder how much of the game's budget went to chest oil.

So How Bad Was It?

The game could end one of two ways: Someone falls down with a single death-blow or someone's head gets cut clean off. Then to add insult to incapacitating injury, the head bounces off screen like a mound of bloody Silly Putty and the loser's lifeless corpse is carried off screen by a slave elf whose frowning face looks like he doesn't get the greatest health benefits for his hard work.

Death Race for the Arcade and the NES

Here's another title that takes a gory grindhouse classic and cuts to the good parts without pesky things like plot, exposition and dialog getting in the way.

This game, developed by Exidy in the '70s and loosely based on the Paul Bartel film Death Race 2000, appeared on two different systems, but had the same fundamental idea: Run over people with your car and score points.

The arcade version was a simple black and white screen that awarded players a single point for every gremlin they ran over and assigned them a rating at the end of the game of "skeleton chaser," "bone cracker," "gremlin hunter" or "expert driver." We're assuming skeleton chaser was the lowest ranking because in real life it's totally easy to catch a skeleton.

The NES version had a little more advanced graphics than its predecessor, which is like comparing New Coke to a lukewarm puddle of whale vomit. American Game Cartridges resurrected (ripped off) the original game with 8-bit color and the option to pimp your death mobile with weapons like guns, missiles and flesh mulching tires called "cutters," "slashers," "slicers" and "dicers" which we're guessing also gave much better traction in the winter.

So How Bad Was It?

By comparison, the NES version was more violent, but the arcade version became one of the first titles to cause public controversy. According to The Dot Eaters' website, the game's cabinet featured some gruesome artwork, plus the victims would scream when you ran over them and, in a classy touch, would turn into little crosses to mark the spot where they became one with the road. Presumably, somewhere a young, starry-eyed Jack Thompson was getting an idea.

The game got skewered in the press and eventually was pulled off the market leaving gamers to take on more wholesome, less controversial titles for kids like Combat, Rampage and Pete Rose Baseball.

Harvester for the PC

Live-action video started to turn up in games around the early '90s, introducing gamers to countless actors who weren't good enough to perform at their local renaissance fair. Harvester was one of the first to use those live-action graphics to depict ultra gory scenes in what seemed like almost every frame.

You play Steve Mason, a man with amnesia who wakes up in a small town called Harvest who has to figure out what he's doing there and what's behind the town's mysterious Order of the Harvest Moon. In order to get to those two truths, he'll have to wade up to his balls in a river of blood, sinue and baby guts.

The game got slapped with an M rating before it even hit the shelves and caused quite a stir among game activists when a trailer appeared at the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show. Bans quickly followed across much of the video game-playing world.

So How Bad Was It?

The game promotes equality by giving every character an equal chance of being tortured, stabbed, shot, disemboweled and chopped up into little bite-sized pieces, which isn't an abstract description since the game also featured cannibalism.

There was violence against men, women, children, old people, young people, fat people, thin people, authority figures, teachers, children--even babies.

Here's what happened when you got shot ...

Here's what happened when you got stabbed ...

And here's what happened when you got your head bitten off at the neck by a man-eating plant ...

Custer's Revenge for the Atari 2600

Probably one of the most offensive games of all time was on one of the least technologically advanced video game systems of all time, proving that technological limitations can't stop someone from pushing the envelope way, way too far. After all, how many rape-based games are out for the Xbox 360?

The game was created by Mystique, a company that manufactured pornographic video game titles for the Atari 2600. The company obviously didn't do very well since they went under after making only three games, and we're assuming the 4-bit pornography market wasn't fiercely competitive.

So How Bad Was It?

The player took control of a naked General George Custer, who had to cross a battlefield of falling arrows in order to rape a Native American woman tied to a tree.

We're not quite sure who we'd like to talk to most: The guy who came up with the idea, or the guy whose job it was to animate General Custer's flapping boner as he walked.

Chiller for the Arcade

Even the most violent video games have some kind of purpose for the gore. It heightens the feeling of danger in the game or drives the story and, Texas Chainsaw Massacre aside, it's usually done in the name of defeating evil. Chiller, on the other hand, lets you torture people for no apparent reason other than you have a handful of quarters and very poor parental supervision.

So How Bad Was It?

This arcade game was created by the people who brought you the arcade version of Death Race, and was played with a light gun. Basically you would shoot at innocent people who were already bound and gagged on various torture devices. That was it, your goal was to bloody them up as much as possible. For points.

In this game, you're not just evil. You're evil's red-headed stepchild. You can shoot at men, women, decapitated heads, lifeless arms and limbs, a nun and the occasional monster. You can mash someone's head in an apple press, feed someone to an alligator and throw their nerve-twitching body parts in a river of hot lava.

Image courtesy of Ironic Consumer.

And if you get through all the levels, you play a bonus slot machine level for a chance at a free game. So not only does it weaken your moral fiber and squeamishness on inflicting pain in others, it also teaches you the wonders and joy of casino gambling.

Before you go wishing for the good old days, take a look back at The 6 Most Ill-Conceived Video Game Accessories Ever or The 10 Most Irritatingly Impossible Old-School Video Games. For a fly on the wall look at the drug addled minds that came up with these ideas, watch Video Game Pitch Meeting (1979).

Check out the first two books in Robert Brockway's Vicious Circuit series, and pre-order the third, Kill All Angels, available December 26th.

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