When Congress Freaked Out Over A Tame Video Game

Old congressmen yell at cloud.
When Congress Freaked Out Over A Tame Video Game

In 1993 and 1994, a series of congressional hearings were held so that out of touch, old congressmen and lobbyists could whine about the moral panic of the day: Violence in video games (the silent killer). When all was said and done, gaming would receive an independent rating system, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB.

A few games were particular targets of criticism during these hearings. The most famous of these was the widely popular Mortal Kombat, known for its over-the-top Fatalities. Parents worried that if little Jimmy ripped some dude's spine out in a video game, that he might try to do it in real life (despite little Jimmy needing adult help opening the lid on his Flintstone's vitamins). While the outrage at Mortal Kombat was silly in hindsight, another major target of congressional rage was just plain wrong. This game was Night Trap.

Night Trap was a full-motion video or FMV game released on the Sega CD in 1992. This meant that rather than having sprites like Super Mario Bros or Sonic the Hedgehog, this game would show actual video… that looked really rough due to the hardware limitations of the Sega CD. The gameplay in FMVs was limited to pressing buttons at correct times during the video. Think of quick-time events in modern games, but even less involved. 

What was the FMV game about? Well, according to its critics, Night Trap was a game about brutally murdering young women. With full-motion video, the violence was so lifelike that players couldn't possibly see this without becoming more violent themselves! Even others within the industry claimed this game was too much. A Nintendo chairman exclaimed that Night Trap would NEVER be on a Nintendo console.

If you hadn't already guessed, Night Trap is not the most violent game in history. It's less violent than it is a video game, and it is barely a video game. First off, the goal in the game is not to kill the women; it's to save them. Also, the things that are trying to attack them aren't even human. They're goofy wobbling vampire things. The game is a tame B-movie with occasional viewer input. Even the most controversial part of the game, the bathroom scene, barely shows anything beyond implied techno-vampire violence.

Well, maybe the player commits acts of violence against the vampires, then? Nope! The goal of the game is to monitor cameras that cover different parts of the house to make sure the vampires don't catch the women. If you go to the camera in the right room at the right time, you can set off a trap that will catch a vampire. These are much less violent than any trap set off by Macauly Culkin in Home Alone.

Alas, no one in Congress bothered to check any of this, and so the game was roasted without question in the hearings. When the ESRB was finally created, Night Trap was given the harsh Mature rating because only the most mature of eyes could witness this horrifying experience. 

In honor of the game's 25th anniversary, Night Trap was given a re-release in 2017. Players can now experience the not-so-violent FMV game with hardware that does not make the video look like a pixelated mess. Hilariously, against the bold assertion made at the congressional hearings, you can even play Night Trap on the Nintendo Switch.

Top Image: Digital Pictures

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