As kids, we didn't really pay attention to the moral implications of our video games. Destroying a city full of civilians in Rampage was no different from eliminating a line of blocks in Tetris. But at some point little bastards grow a moral compass, and when we look back at our harmless games, all the rose-colored glasses in the world couldn't hide the blood.
... because they're rose-colored. If anything, they'd accentuate the red tones. Right?
No, we're not talking about your friend's weird Roller Coaster Tycoon parks that are designed solely to murder as many people as possible. Five years before thousands of junior high homework sessions were destroyed by that time sink, there was Theme Park, the amusement park simulator of your distant ancestors. It's standard sim fare -- build rides and artery-clogging food vendors to make a profit while keeping your guests and staff happy. It's cute and lighthearted.
Except for the giant cobra. You'll want to avoid him.
In games like Theme Park and SimCity, pretty much the only way to lose is to mismanage your money and go bankrupt. But instead of giving you a quick "Game Over" and bouncing you back to the main menu, Theme Park went for something ... darker.
Yup, you just watched the owner of the theme park (i.e., the guy you played as) kill himself. Chopin's Funeral March blares as you see a shot of your character flinging himself from the window reflected in his family photo. Later versions of Theme Park changed the scene to show the character's head peeking over the windowsill after he jumps out of what is presumably a ground-floor window -- but not the original. So losing not only put the park out of business, but destroyed an entire family as well. Nice going, player -- you just haaad to have that second snake slide. Now you carry the psychic weight of those broken lives.
"And also you're dead. Your wife follows soon after. The children suffer crippling emotional problems forever. Restart?"
Microsoft Game Studios
Viva Pinata is a relaxing game that revolves around managing a garden to attract adorable sentient pinatas, which we're just going to go ahead and roll with, because there is literally no explanation for that scenario that would make any kind of sense. As your garden grows, you attract more exotic species and have to fend off a few bad guys, but it remains a simple story about raising cute little critters that you can beat to death whenever you choose. They are pinatas, after all; you can't hide from destiny.
Your pinatas can even fall in love and reproduce, although to keep the game kid-friendly, they engage in a little mating dance instead of graphically penetrating each other with papier-mache genitals. That's all well and good until you realize that there are no familial distinctions among the pinatas -- they can engage in a little bone-dance with any other pinata in your garden. Siblings with siblings, children with grandparents ... your peaceful little garden is now host to a gargantuan and eternal incestuous orgy.
Microsoft Game Studios
Albeit with a pretty heavy Dirty Dancing vibe.
Let's loop back to the fact that pinatas are made for the sole purpose of being destroyed by candy-crazed kids. Sure, you can murder your pinatas on a whim, but worse, some of your critters will be "pinatavores," which have to eat other pinatas to become permanent members of your garden. To top it off, some pinata species hate each other and will fight to the death unless you swoop in and stop them. It's Game of Thrones for 8-year-olds.
Microsoft Game Studios
Spoiler alert: The colorful fox has the festive burro cracked open at the end of Season 1.
Luigi's Mansion features Mario's brother purging a haunted house of ghosts, because god damn it -- what does it take to get some recognition around here? But a lot of the ghosts in Luigi's Mansion mind their own business until you piss them off. Why, exactly, do they need purging? Just look at this early boss.
Also pictured: The saddest implied backstory ever.
That's Chauncey, whom you encounter napping in the nursery. You wake him by messing with his rocking horse, which prompts him to ask if you'd like to play. Clearly this evil must be stopped! Admittedly, his idea of playing is using his ghost powers to fling teddy bears at you, and that is slightly annoying, but it's entirely appropriate for a child.
How does Luigi respond?
He imprisons Chauncey for all eternity. For the crime of defending himself when attacked. That's not ghostbusting, that's spectral infanticide. That poor baby already died, Luigi. Talk about kicking a kid when he's down.
Unfortunately, Ghost CPS can only be summoned at midnight under the first full moon of winter.
Did we mention that this whole scene comes right after you suck up his ghostly parents?
And that's not just one weird fight -- the whole game is like this. Chauncey's older brothers, Henry and Orville, invite you to play hide-and-seek, then attack you when you win because they think you cheated. Sure, they're poor losers, but you found them with the help of your magical vacuum, so they kind of have a point. Then there's the ghost who just lifts weights until you attack him. Or the one who's content to play pool. Or the little girl who died in her sleep and wants to keep sleeping, until you re-enact her embarrassment about wetting the bed by flinging water on her.
When you win the fight, Luigi steals her lunch money and posts the bed-wetting photos on Facebook.
All of those are optional fights in the game, but if you choose them, then holy shit, Luigi is a monster. Yeah, a lot of ghosts attack him on sight, but that doesn't mean the others who clearly had no intention of attacking also deserve the ghostly equivalent of capital punishment. That's like kidnapping the guy on the bus who didn't quite understand the concept of personal space and burying him alive in your backyard.
The mansion, incidentally, was built by the game's villain to shelter these departed souls from this very prejudice. If the bad guy hadn't kidnapped Mario, they all could have minded their own business, and even then it's cruel of Luigi to punish these innocent ghosts for another's crime. Man, Nintendo made an elaborate human rights drama and no one noticed.
Sony Computer Entertainment
In Crash Bandicoot's third adventure, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Crash and friends have to stop Dr. Neo "I'm totally not a ripoff of Dr. Robotnik" Cortex and Dr. Nefarious Tropy. It's pretty standard video game stuff. Cute animals versus evil scientists doesn't exactly sound like a tale of moral ambiguity, which makes it all the more shocking when Crash accidentally leaves his enemies to die in a volcano.
The final boss fight takes place inside the core of a time machine. When Cortex is defeated, the machine goes completely haywire. While Crash and company manage to escape, the bad guys get sucked into the machine and spit out near some lava. As infants.
Sony Computer Entertainment
You don't have to be a child-care expert to realize that dumping two babies in a volcano is not going to end well. They're going to either die of exposure or lose a fight with a lava flow.
Sony Computer Entertainment
"Eh, Luigi will take care of them ... eventually."
If you think we're exaggerating, keep in mind that this was the last Crash game made by the original developers. They may have very well meant for their series to come to a definitive end with the horrible demise of their villains. But thankfully for both Crash fans and basic human mortality, their lives were saved by the parent company callously milking more money out of the franchise.
Thanks, corporate vampires!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mega Man, we suggest you re-evaluate your life. But in the interim, know this -- each game features the titular hero facing off against eight Robot Masters. They range from the badass Skull Man and Napalm Man to the laughably unintimidating Sheep Man and the (hopefully) accidentally phallic Hard Man.
Although that facial expression suggests otherwise.
But Mega Man II has one additional boss, Quint. And unlike the other bosses, who explode when they're defeated, Quint escapes to live another day. It's kind of a good thing he gets away, though, because, like a bad horror movie twist, the real monster is you.
Even the pogo stick is unimpressed.
Mega Man villain and professional incompetent Dr. Wily stole a time machine so he could go into the peaceful future and capture an unarmed Mega Man. He brought Regular Man back, reprogrammed him, and then gave him a pogo stick instead of a bunch of guns, because Dr. Wily is seriously so bad at his job.
Evil Einstein? Wait, is this because of the bomb?
But it's poor Quint who's the real victim here. Think about it -- he's perfectly content to kill his past self -- ending his own life in the process -- because his free will has been stripped away by Dr. Wily. In fact, has Mega Man ever had free will? Because by defeating Quint, he's just setting himself up to become Quint in the future. It's like an 8-bit Looper.
And what does it say about the future of Mega Man's world if Dr. Wily was able to capture him because the good guys had finally won and disarmed during peacetime? Mega Man has to spend his entire robotic life destroying his fellow robots, because if he doesn't, he'll be turned into an evil robot himself.
See? Mega Man is some deep shit. Go play it.
John Mulroy's a twit and he will Judge your Crap. Ian Ury is Pip Ury's twin brother and a general writer of stuff, and an occasional amateur animator. If you wanna comment, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Raoni draws his power from beer and the tears of fanboys. You may follow him on Twitter.
For more unrelenting digital horror, check out The 8 Creepiest Glitches Hidden in Popular Video Games and The 7 Most Horrifying Moments from Children's Video Games.
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