5 Insanely Dark Messages In Classic Video Games (You Missed)
The technology available to old-school video games didn't leave a lot of room for nuance. Every bit of story was literally a bit, competing with other bits for space. You could either have an extra pixel on Mario's mustache or you could give him a compelling motive. Not both. Personally, we think the developers made the right choice. Especially considering the few times retro games did delve into ethically murky waters, and came back up with ...
The Ultima Series Really Doesn't Like Kids
In Ultima V, your hero comes across some children locked in a cage. Naturally, you want to let them out, either because you're such a good person or for that sweet, sweet XP. Once you do let them out, though, they start attacking you for no goddamn reason at all.
If you run, you lose points -- valor points, no less. And without valor, you're merely Craig the Best Buy manager again. No, the valorous thing to do is butcher them. This was such a weird design choice that it caused some controversy among the developers. When one of them threatened to quit over endorsing child murder, lead developer Richard Garriott replied, "First of all, most people aren't going to see that room, because you don't see every dungeon room, and secondly, when you walk in the room, you don't have to let them out. And third, you don't have to kill them." Tough to argue with that logic. Probably nothing but a fluke, anyway.
Except that in Ultima VIII, the Avatar walks by a group of harmless-looking children who then attack him -- again, unprovoked. Looks like it's child-slaughterin' time!
In the ninth installment, you finally meet a kid who is capable of speech -- a novel upgrade. But as soon as he opens his mouth, you learn he's a manipulative bastard, and then he starts throwing fireballs at you. Did we forget to mention he can throw fireballs? That forces the player to either die or ...
Knights Of The Old Republic Lets You Off The Hook For Anything
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic allows players to choose their own paths and become either Jedi or Sith. That alignment changes many of your encounters throughout the game, and determines which ending you get. If you walk the dark path, you can do some awful stuff, like murdering a confused Jedi who would otherwise become a good friend, then telling her girlfriend that she had it coming.
You can also ruin the water of an entire planet ... whose main inhabitants are fish. Or you can straight up choke some small animals to death. But no matter how dark or twisted you get, all your sins are instantly absolved if you simply pick a specific dialogue option toward the end of the game.
If you pick that first option, your Light Side points skyrocket and the game seals you as a good guy until the end. It doesn't matter what choices you made up until then; in one second, you can go from Space Hitler to Star Jesus. There are physical changes, too. Make that one decision, and you go from this ...
... to this:
In Wall Street Kid, Money Is The Only Thing Worth Living For
In the 1989 NES game Wall Street Kid, you play a hotshot young stockbroker who inherits $500,000 from a rich dead uncle. You then have to prove yourself to your demanding family by turning a profit big enough to "uphold the Benedict standard of living." Which, of course, means buying a million-dollar house, a yacht, then a fucking castle. If you're successful, you earn the full family inheritance of $600 billion. Which you'll need for the property taxes on your castle.
But if you can't afford a million-dollar house pretty much right off the bat, your family disowns you. So your whole life is devoted to turning profit. Your only other concern is keeping your annoying girlfriend distracted by pampering her with gifts, or else the flowers on your desk will begin to wilt, which may be some sort of a metaphor.
Your family has more money than any 400 humans could dream of using in a lifetime. But you still have to devote your entire life to making more, so you can buy expensive things, which prove that your family has money, which in turn proves that you're worthy of inheriting even more money. Also you need to take your whiny-ass girlfriend shopping so she'll shut up and let you work. Those are the only two purposes in life. Wall Street, kid!
1980s Police Games Taught Kids That Anything You Do To A Criminal Is A-OK
In APB, a 1987 arcade game with a fun, goofy-looking cabinet and cartoony graphics, you play as a rookie cop who must speed through the streets, pulling over litterers and horn-honkers. If you fail to make your ticket quota before the time runs out, your fellow cops fire you and throw you into a trashcan.
Every once in a while, you have to go after an APB fugitive -- a major criminal. And once they're arrested, you have to shake a confession out of them before your boss sees you abusing inmates.
But choking non-admissible confessions out of pretrial suspects is child's play compared to the police work on display in NARC. Midway released NARC in 1988, at the height of the Reagan/Bush Drug War, when our nation's youth needed to learn how to combat drug use: by sending in two guys with a "Say No ... Or Die" license plate to shoot low-level drug dealers in the goddamned face.
You can also "bust" the dealers by going up to them and touching them for a few seconds, but it's way more dangerous than just gunning them down. The message is clear: Arresting people is way more of a pain in the ass than using the rocket launcher. And if you think NARC is an ironic meta-commentary against the Drug War, it ends by encouraging players to contact their local DEA recruiter, so they can one day use a real-life flamethrower on some real-life drug dealers. It's nice for a video game to get kids interested in a career path for once.
Mega Man Thinks Peeping On Your Sister Is Great
In the first Mega Man Legends, you have the option of sneaking up on Roll, Mega Man's sister, while she is changing. It's unclear whether the voice actress was going for a pornographic tone or an offended one, but either way, her reaction definitely confused some 12-year-olds. What confused them even more is that Mega Man pumps his fist triumphantly immediately after seeing his sister's bare ass.
For Mega Man Legends 2, the developers figured that scene was problematic. The problem? Some unlucky players might have missed it! This time, your helpful little monkey friend recommends that you go check in on Roll while she's in the shower.
Mega Man once again pumps his fist in celebration, this time accompanied by a triumphant "mission complete" musical sting. After the shower incident, you can read Roll's diary (might as well go whole hog on the privacy invasion now!), whereupon you learn she was traumatized enough to write about the experience.
Want to enjoy some retro games without the depressing hidden messages? Check out this tiny arcade machine, that will make you feel like a comically oversized kid!
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Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.