The Gruesome Lies & Grim Truths of 5 Censored/Banned Horror Games
Horror games can be a little bit much for some people. Being chased by killers is stressful. Seeing buckets of gore can be off-putting. Sometimes the narrative can be disturbing. When those people are the ESRB or governing bodies, though, the result can be the banning or censorship of a game.
There are many different examples of censorship and banning in the world of horror games, but here are five oddball titles that had to make changes to be released, or that simply aren’t available in some countries.
Following a mixture of the 2004 movie and the early 2000’s run of the comic books about the criminal-killing vigilante, The Punisher has you blasting your way through an army of thugs and crooks. This game is far more than just some third-person shooter, though. You can gain useful information from foes if you can interrogate them. A little advance knowledge is always handy, right?
Seeing as you’re the Punisher, you’re not going to ask nicely. The game features an interrogation function where you will use whatever’s on-hand to terrify your foe into chatting. A power sander in your face tends to make people open up. So does someone holding your head in a rhino’s cage. You have to rough the criminal up or scare them just enough that they talk. Do it right and you get some handy tidbits. Go a little too far and you’ll kill them in extremely gruesome ways. Ways that were apparently quite graphic in the original version of the game.
These interrogation kills (stabbing someone with a window!) earned the game an Adults Only rating from the ESRB. This is basically a death sentence, as many stores won’t stock anything with that rating. The big consoles won’t give them an official release, too. So, you can eat the loss and tank your game or you can make changes to get it released.
The Punisher got a few alterations in order to release without that AO rating. The interrogation deaths changed to black and white. The camera would pan away from disturbing moments. It managed to get a Mature rating and was released because of these changes. There are methods to see the game as originally envisioned, but for many folks, the watered-down version is the only way they’ll experience it.
Rule of Rose
Jennifer finds herself lured to the Rose Garden Orphanage. Here, she meets with a group of cruel children, the Red Crayon Aristocrat Club, who take her into their fold, but at the bottom of their pecking order. Her time with these children is a disturbing look into the cruelty of kids, as well as how the further cruelty of adults has a hand in shaping it. But at least you have a nice dog!
The game is unsettling in its subject matter. So much so that Sony dropped it for localization, wanting nothing to do with it. Atlus picked it back up again for North America and 505 Games did for the European Union. However, further troubles awaited it when Italian magazine Panorama went off about the game, starting rumors that it was about torturing children. This started ugly rumors that eventually got the attention of then-mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, and European Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini. They weren’t terribly keen on the game based on the rumors they were hearing. Those rumors were completely wrong, but that didn’t seem to matter.
The children of Rule of Rose are mean and vicious, sure, but this idea that it was a game where you hurt kids to beat it was a pure fiction drummed up by people jumping to conclusions. Even so, following this disaster, 505 Games withdrew from publishing the title in the UK. As such, a powerful (yet kind of miserable to play) horror game was banned just for what people THOUGHT it was about.
Dante’s Inferno takes a 14th century epic poem and gives it the…God of War treatment? Big swooping attacks, huge bosses taken from the poem. It’s a solid enough action game, and a surprisingly interesting take on the literature. Also, Lucifer has his “package” just out and dangling in the wind during your boss fight with him. It’s mildly distracting to fight a final boss when their colossal dong is resting on your forehead. Definitely a memorable moment, though.
EA seemed to want to get ahead of the controversy curve on creating a dink-filled romp through religious imagery. As such, they held a staged protest for the game at E3. They also held a “Sin to Win” competition at Comic Con that seemed to imply that they wanted you to get up to some racy business with their ‘costumed reps.’ “”Commit acts of lust” is simply a tongue-in-cheek way to say take pictures with costumed reps,” the company’s explanation/apology said afterwards. It certainly felt like they were trying to get the game into trouble in advance.
This only translates into sales if you, you know, release the game. Which EA did in most of the world, but it just flat out didn’t try to release it in the Middle East. A sort-of self-banning of their horror game? A move to avoid the costs of trying to submit the game, only to have it banned or pulled from store shelves? Trying to save face in the area (despite its other embarrassing promotions)? Whatever the reason, folks in the Middle East wouldn’t be able to grab Dante’s Inferno.
Chiller is a 1986 arcade game that can honestly put much of today’s game gore and violence to shame. It’s a light gun game. One where you spend the first level in a torture chamber. Definitely a very cheery place to start. There, the prisoners groan and wail, helpless as you blast them to bloody pieces. A lot of detail went into this level, letting you shoot torsos and limbs in very specific positions. Things stay pretty bloody from then on, too. The older visuals aren’t entirely gut churning due to the limits of the pixel style of the time, but what’s on display is still pretty disturbing even now.
It got an unofficial release on the NES with a few self-censoring changes. Like, now you’re shooting a nun pushing a baby’s carriage instead of a monk pushing a cart of limbs. Clearly, this was the sticking point for people who found the game stomach-churning. I bet Nintendo was really happy about that. The arcade version of the horror game was totally banned in the UK. I feel that you can guess why after playing it for a few minutes (NSFW, naturally). Probably wouldn’t have done too well had it not come out before the ESRB in North America.
It’s almost fascinating in its gruesomeness. How it came to be is pretty interesting, too.
The next title from Red Candle Games, developers of the excellent Detention, promised to bring subtle, eerie atmosphere and unique East Asian horror to players. In it, you explore your haunted apartment, solving puzzles and slowly reliving a family’s tragedy. I could tell you more about this if I had a the chance to play it before it was banned and pulled from Steam. Then pulled from GOG right before that storefront was about to sell it. Devotion has the unfortunate honor of being one of the few games to get banned twice.
The game’s sad fate came from a poster on the game’s walls. The poster, in Taiwanese and Chinese Mandarin text, reads “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh Moron.” Seeing as Jinping, China’s president, seems to dislike the comparison so much that Pooh and anything related to it has been banned in China, this caused a vicious backlash for the developer.
The Taiwanese studio seemed to state that they had willingly taken the game down from Steam in order to remove “unintended materials” and do another QA check. While this makes it seem like they took it down willingly, things are still suspect. That was in February 2019, and the game has not come back to Steam since. In December of 2020, it seemed like Devotion would be coming out on GOG, but the storefront backpedaled on this decision shortly before it would release. Why? “After receiving many messages from gamers, we have decided not to list the game in our store.” Thank goodness the game (and Detention) has been preserved at the Harvard-Yenching Library.
Devotion does not seem like it will be coming back, forever haunted by the specter of censorship from China. Which is something that’s honestly more frightening than anything contained within the banned horror games on this list.