Gamasutra's latest feature is an excerpt
from Tristan Donovan's new and extremely comprehensive book, Replay: The History of Video Games, which covers the early '90s tumult in the U.S. caused by violent games -- with Senator Joe Lieberman going after Mortal Kombat
and Night Trap
On December 1, 1994, writes Donovan, "the Washington press corps gathered for a press conference called by Joseph Lieberman, the Democrat Senator for Connecticut," who wanted to show them some games:
The games in question were Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, and, like many adults in the U.S. at the time, most of the people in the room were unaware of these games, let alone their gory content. "We're not talking Pac-Man or Space Invaders anymore," Lieberman told the stunned journalists. "We're talking about video games that glorify violence and teach children to enjoy inflicting the most gruesome forms of cruelty imaginable."
Lieberman openly declared that what he really wanted was an outright ban, although the US constitution would probably not allow it. Instead he, together with fellow Democrat Senator Herbert Kohl, organized a public inquiry to investigate the problem of violent games and called some of the leading lights of the game business to appear before it for questioning.
The problem came when Nintendo and Sega decided to fight with each other rather than present a united front to the committee, writes Donovan.
Lincoln used Nintendo's earlier decision to force Acclaim to remove the gore from the Super NES version of Mortal Kombat as a stick to beat its commercial rival with. He said Nintendo had lost money by sanitizing its version of Mortal Kombat and had even received angry letters and telephone calls from children demanding the violence before proudly adding that Night Trap would "never appear on a Nintendo system", ignoring how the lack of a CD drive meant the Super NES was technologically incapable of handling such a game.
White countered that Sega had an older audience demographic to Nintendo, a claim echoing the underlying message of his company's 'Sega does what Nintendon't' advertising campaign: Sega is for cool teens, Nintendo is for children. He added that Sega had already introduced age ratings on its games voluntarily and that it wanted other companies to adopt its system."
Ultimately, these senate hearings lead to the formation of the ESRB ratings body and system. The full excerpt goes into much more detail on these events, and touches on interesting legal and cultural adjuncts to them. The full extract
is live today on Gamasutra, and Donovan's book is available now
in the U.S. and UK.