Video games, like rock & roll and comic books in years past, have a bad rap. They're often scapegoated whenever a maladjusted young person snaps and a tragic event occurs. Sure, many titles (particularly those with big budgets) feature some type of fighting or gunplay, but some studies have suggested that violent video games aren't harmful to most kids. That said, even the most blasé gamers would probably agree that the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) ratings are a necessity, and that parents should keep close eyes on their kids' gaming habits.
Video games have existed for roughly 40 years, and in that relatively brief history a handful of titles have pushed the boundaries of decency in many critics' eyes. Mortal Kombat, Midway Games' blood-soaked 2D fighting game, is the granddaddy of violent video games with its graphic displays of decapitations, beheadings, and other over-the-top carnage. And when Mortal Kombat opened that gate, the chainsaws, shotguns, cleavers, and other instruments of death swiftly followed it into the mainstream.
Mortal Kombat pushed video game gore into the public consciousness, but other titles pushed the envelope with disturbing imagery. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's much-talked-about and controversial "No Russian" scenario remains a standout scenario because you have the option to slaughter innocent civilians in an airport (in order to avoid exposing yourself as an undercover agent).
But that's hardly the most violent video game moment. Check out the slideshow for a rundown of the most violent video games of all time. If you disagree with my selections, feel free to post your own list (and your reasons) in the comments below.
1. Bulletstorm (2011)
There are many violent video games, but very few relish the carnage like Epic Games and People Can Fly's appropriately named Bulletstorm. This PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 title rewards players for not only for killing the enemy in traditional fashion, but shredding them with creative "Skillshots." Bulletstorm grades your ability to wreck shop, so headshots and groinshots (as well as even more creative kills using both weapons and objects in the environment) rack up points that you use to upgrade your tools of destruction.
2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2010)
Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 attempted to recreate the atrocities of combat by putting players in the pilot's seat of a civilian slaughter. The much discussed (and optional) "No Russian" level sees the player controlling an undercover CIA agent who joins a group of Russian terrorists to execute an airport massacre. Although gamers aren't forced to kill any innocents, they must keep pace with the terrorists as they commit the heinous act that results in civilians screaming and running in terror as they're being mowed down. Unlike many other controversial video games, this violence wasn't just for the sake of violence; it was an important element in the overall narrative. The idea is something straight out of Fox's 24: If you have work undercover, how far will you go to maintain that cover? Still, this didn't stop FOX News from labeling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a game that puts children in the role of terrorist.
3. Postal (1997)
Think of it as the unofficial video game adaptation of Michael Douglas' "Falling Down," but with far more anguish and bloodshed. The player character goes, well, postal, and undertakes a mission of mayhem. Unlike many other shooters where the mission is to survive against overwhelming odds, Postal encouraged manslaughter by requiring players to kill a certain percentage of armed enemy "hostiles" per level using machine guns, shotguns, mines, Napalm launchers, and other brutal weapons. The over-the-top violence (complete with bloody, wailing victims) extended to innocent bystanders that happen to stumble across your murderous path (of course, there's no penalty for blasting the good guys). Needless to say, Postal and its sequel Postal 2 (starring the late Gary Coleman as himself) were early examples of violent video games, and were banned in various countries. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
4. Mortal Kombat (2011)
Hard-hitting, blood-soaked, and incredibly violent, Midway Games' Mortal Kombat devoured quarters in the arcade, racked up huge home-console cartridge sales, and even sparked a congressional hearing that led to the formation of the ESRB. The game was that undoubtedly gory. But NetherRealm Studios' 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot was even more violent. It featured groin-shredding fatalities and new X-Ray moves that let you shatter bone, tear muscle, and destroy internal organs. And it was incredibly fun!
5. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
The Grand Theft Auto series delved into the criminal world before GTA III, but the 2D, top-down games weren't able to capture the filth and debauchery as well as this breakthrough polygonal behemoth. Grand Theft Auto III placed players into the role of a criminal out for revenge against his ex-girlfriend who turned on him during a bank heist. The result? Gamers dove deep into the underworld where stealing cars, beating hookers (which you can do after having sex with them, if you want to get your money back), and killing police officers are the order of the day. Naturally, this lead to GTA III being the center of debate regarding video game violence, and prompted Wal-Mart to institute a policy that required proof of age for would-be purchasers of M-rated titles.
6. Hotline Miami (2012)
Consider Hotline Miami the low-fi version of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. The story's set in the 1980s, the protagonist has a highly recognizable jacket, and drives from place to place performing heinous acts. The unnamed lead character is tasked with mowing down targets with both melee and ranged attacks that leave bloody splotches on the ground—even more if you give the bodies extra hits for good measure.
7. MadWorld (2009)
Developed by Platinum Games, and published by SEGA, MadWorld proved that the Nintendo Wii wasn't a system simply for family-friendly fare. The plot of the game involves Jack Cayman (a man whose right arm has been replaced with a retractable chainsaw) enters a televised game of bloodspot. Inspired by Frank Miller's Sin City comics, Madworld's brutal weapon-based action takes place in a stark black and white world that is punctuated with splashes of red (lots of splashes of red, actually) when you take out rivals either in the regular combat modes or in the appropriately-named "Bloodbath Challenges." The violence, however, is so over the top that it propels the carnage into the world of the comical, which softens its blow. A bit. The game was banned from being sold in Germany.
8. Manhunt (2003)
Rockstar Games pushed the violence in video games debate to a new level of intensity with 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, but the company's own Manhunt wears the blood and gore crown like a king. The plot: a death-row inmate named James Earl Cash find himself the star of a madman's real-life snuff film, in which the only way to stay alive is to kill every gangbanger in sight. The prize if he does? Freedom. This third-person stealth horror video game doesn't sound remarkably different from other edgy modern action titles, but Manhunt upped the gruesome with crowbars, plastic bags, knives, for weaponry, and it awarded players big points for coming up ultra-violent kills that, in some cases, leave the victims gasping for oxygen as they die. The brutality was so intense that there was in-house debate among Rockstar Games employees about the game's content.
9. Splatterhouse (2010)
This reimagining of Namco's 1988 side-scrolling beat 'em up sees the protagonist, Rick, once again donning the Terror Mask to rescue his girlfriend Jennifer from monsters that have entered our plane from another dimension. Gore was the highlight of the '88 original, but it was constrained by the graphical limitations of its time; the current version is literally one of the bloodiest video games ever created. Buckets of blood soak the screen as Rick rips enemies in half, removes their limbs to use as weapons, and impales them on sharp objects. Splatterhouse more than lives up to its name, and certainly isn't a game for the squeamish as the red stuff flows. And it flows heavily.
10. Soldier of Fortune (2000)
Developer Raven Software shocked the gaming masses at the turn of the century with Solider of Fortune, one of the most violent video games ever created. The first-person shooter (which features a plot detailing a merc's attempt to stop terrorists from unleashing stolen nukes upon the world) ran on Raven Software's own GHOUL damage engine. The result? A game in that features disembowelments and limbs that can be blown clear off torsos. In fact, Soldier of Fortune was so violent that the game was placed on Germany's Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons index. A 2002 sequelSolider of Fortune: Double Helixcontinued the carnage.
11. God of War III (2010)
Kratos continued his murderous mission against the Greek gods in God of War III, the concluding chapter in the PlayStation 3' blood-soaked God of War trilogy. The previous two entries had its fair share of violence, but the third game upped the ante with more dramatic decapitations, impalements, and limb removal sequences, and big blood splashes. Kratos' fury is so intense in this third installment that many gamers felt that the protagonist's outlook shifted from vengeance-crazed warrior to crazed god-killer.
12. Dead Space (2008)
When you're an engineer, not a soldier, stranded aboard a mining ship with legions of space-monstrosities, what do you do? Survive by any means necessary. Dead Space requires that you destroy creatures via dismemberment by using a torch, rotary saw, plasma cutter, and other tools of the mining trade. Developer Visceral Games uses every possible moment to toss blood in your directionpop a baddie with the machine gun and it ruptures like a sliced artery.What's New Now to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every morning.","created_at":null,"updated_at":null})" x-show="showEmailSignUp()" class="rounded bg-gray-lightest text-center md:px-32 md:py-8 p-4 font-brand mt-8 container-xs">Get Our Best Stories!
Sign up for What's New Now to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every morning.