A Brief History Of Violence In Video Games

It isn’t uncommon for violent video games to make headlines. From time to time violent games are even blamed for real world horrifying behaviour, but lest we forget, there is still no research at all that indicates there is any link.

Either way, following how violence has been approached in games through history is a fascinating journey. Let’s take a look at the evolution of violence in video games.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre – 1983

Long before the ESRB, and way prior to games being mainstream, there was a little known title called Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the Atari 2600. The game caused some degree of controversy, because the player took on the role of Leatherface, rather than a hero, and the goal was to kill innocent civilians with a chainsaw. The game is laughably silly by modern standards, but back in 1983 seeing red pixels to indicate blood was uncommon.

Night Trap/ Mortal Kombat

The majority of gamers know that there were two games that contributed to the creation of the ESRB, which was officially established in 1994. One was Night Trap, and the other Mortal Kombat. Night Trap was a ground-breaking game that used full motion video combined with player input to create an interactive film experience. Contrary to what may be expected, Night Trap is a largely comical game, but did have a few brief, extremely mild instances of female characters being threatened by faceless, cartoonish ‘bad guys.’

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Mortal Kombat, on the other hand, focused squarely on unexpected levels of violence, buckets of pixelated blood and animated dismemberment. Since Mortal Kombat used realistic digitised actors as its game sprites, the violence seemed to hit home far more than games that had come before it.


Doom, releasing in 1993, also came prior to the creation of the ESRB, and although not mentioned as much as Mortal Kombat, it probably also did its fair share to motivate a classification system. It must be said that, even today, Doom does incorporate a stunning amount of pixelated violence, combined with blatantly satanic imagery. But then again, Doom is set in hell.

GTA Franchise

From its first iteration in 1997, to its most recent release, GTA has been nothing short of a controversy magnet. But lest we forget, even the first GTA was rated as M. Though the most the game allows players to do is ride over pixelated pedestrians, and shoot bad guys.

Since the first game, developers Rockstar seem to have gone out of their way to up the controversy in each new title, managing to draw attention again and again. GTA: Vice City featured murder via chainsaw, splattering blood comically on the screen. GTA 4 pushed the boundaries to new heights yet again, with realistic character models that react believably to being shot.


These days most developers tend to stray away from outright violence controversy, rather than engage it. Though, modern versions of Mortal Kombat, all rated M, are outrageously violent to degrees that make the original look like a joke.

Funnily enough, despite being substantially more violent, the modern version don’t draw even a fraction of the controversy the original did.