9 Video Games That Went Too Far

"Rendition: Guantanamo" is the latest game to get pulled after public outrage.

ByABC News
June 3, 2009, 7:59 PM

June 4, 2009— -- In the realm of entertainment media, video games are known for pushing the envelope.

But some – usually those wrapped in sex, violence and religion – court more controversy than others.

"Rendition: Guantanamo" is the latest game to find itself the center of attention the game's makers would rather do without.

Launched by the Glasgow, Scotland-based T-Enterprise, the game was supposed to let players assume the role of a falsely-accused Guantanamo detainee trying to escape from the camp.

But after a storm of media coverage linking the company's name to Al Qaeda, the company announced Tuesday that it would no longer pursue the game.

In a statement on its Web site, T-Enterprise said, "Unfortunately, much of the speculation regarding the game itself made by various publications and websites has been inaccurate and ill informed. .. It was never designed to be 'propaganda' or 'a recruiting tool for terrorism.' Neither was it designed to glamorize terrorism as has been reported."

After reports started to fly that an ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg, had been a consultant on the project, earlier this week, conservative pundits like the Weekly Standard's Tom Joscelyn and radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked the game and the company.

Zarrar Chishti, a spokesman for the company, told ABCNews.com that they worked with Begg to mirror "the look and feel of the place" but that he had no connection to Al Qaeda and was not profiting from the project.

Still, after a slew of e-mail messages from Americans expressing disappointment and outrage at the game, the company decided to stop development.

"Ultimately, the mere fact that our company name was in the same sentence as the name Al Qaeda – that was unacceptable," Chishti said. The game would have been the company's first venture from Web games to mainstream games, he said.

But T-Enterprise is not the only video game maker to come under attack by the press and general public. Here are eight other games that have been embroiled in controversy.

In April, the company behind "Six Days in Fallujah" was criticized for developing a game that lets players virtually experience a 2004 Iraq battle.

Developed by the Raleigh, N.C.-based Atomic Games, the game was supposed to go on sale in early 2010. But this spring, the Japanese publisher, Konami Corp., announced it had dropped the game amid protests from war veterans, victims' families and others.

"The game's premise is a historically accurate re-creation of the battle to re-take Fallujah in the current Iraq war," said Jeremy Zoss, communications manager for Destineer, Atomic's sister company.

Zoss said the company worked with marines who had been stationed in Iraq and thought it was an important story to be told.

"There are few other mediums than video games that you could get the kind of experience that you could get in this game," he added.

But John Davison, co-founder of What They Like, an online resource that gives parents insight into the video games their kids want to play, said there was a bit of a "too soon" vibe to the game.

"Games can do things that movies can't. They can put you there as part of it," he said. "There are many ways to put you in the role of the soldier. ... You do it the wrong way and it can give the wrong message."

He said a game that was more tactical -- about the "decisions being made more than the triggers being pulled" -- might have met a different reaction.

Although Konami is no longer pursuing the game, Zoss said other publishers have expressed interest in the project.

Still, What They Like's Davison emphasizes that flash or Web-based games like "Faith Fighter" and others "don't represent the whole body of games that are out there."

These games that are not available on PCs or game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox are considered by the industry to be on the "fringe" and are not subject to ratings from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB),

In February, anti-violence advocates condemned a video game in which players direct a character to stalk and rape a mother and her daughters. Developed by the Japanese company Illusion, Rapelay was banned by Amazon and eBay, according to The Associated Press.

The company's Web site said the game is not available to those outside Japan but it had been available to international players through third-party sites. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault called on all video game distributors in the U.S. to refrain from selling RapeLay.

Later this Spring, the New York-based anti-violence group Equality Now launched a campaign against the game, saying "Computer games such as RapeLay condone gender-based discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes, which perpetuate violence against women. Rather than allowing them to flourish, the Japanese government should be taking effective measures to overcome these attitudes and practices, which hinder women's equality."

According to Equality Now, players of the graphic game manipulate onscreen hands and penises that sexually assault women. The company did not immediately respond to an e-mail request from ABCNews.com for comment.

Inviting users to join a "virtual fashion game," the creators of "Miss Bimbo" thought they had a hit. But soon after launching the online game in early 2008, the creators were blitzed with criticism from body image experts who said it sends a bad message to young girls about what it means to be attractive and sexy.

Developed by business partners Chris Evans and French entrepreneur Nicholas Jacquart, the game let players create virtual characters known as bimbos, dress them, groom them and even surgically enhance them.

Described by Evans as a cross between "Barbie" and "Tamagotchi," the virtual pet game created in Japan, "Miss Bimbo" hinges on users creating bimbos and then making sure they're taken care of.

"[Users] create a bimbo, buy her clothes, send her to university and love her and nurture her," Evans told ABCNews.com after the site's 2008 launch.

But critic Leslie Goldman, American author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image," said, "The fact that the game is encouraging girls to get boob jobs or go to the tanning salon or nab a rich boyfriend to make them more attractive or happier is just a sad awful message. It's a horrible example to set for girls in terms of what is fun and cool and what it means to be a woman."

Still, despite the initial storm of controversy, the site is still running with the following response to critics: "We feel the press criticism was unjustified and poorly researched. We know that the site is a positive fun safe place for players to be. People can have fun and learn a lot on our site and we are very proud of our community."

Despite the firestorm, the game went on to record-breaking sales. Guinness World Records announced in May 2008 that the game's launch was the entertainment industry's best-ever for one day ($310 million in sales) and one week ($500 million).

Given such success, some experts think the company doesn't mind the negative attention.

"Any of the major Grand Theft Auto [games] are always controversial," said Dennis McCauley, editor of the gaming blog GamePolitics.com. "I think the company enjoys that because it helps their sales."

Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive also found themselves ducking attacks when they launched Manhunt 2 in 2007. The action-adventure sequel to 2003's Manhunt was released in North America in October 2007 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Nintendo Wii.

The game was originally given an Adult-Only rating by the ESRB for the level of violence. But since retailers won't sell games with that rating, the game makers modified the game to get a more palatable "Mature" rating.

In the game, players assume to role of a psychiatric patient who will stop at nothing to escape the ward, drawing criticism from mental health and children's advocacy groups.

To the independent filmmaker and developer behind it, "Super Columbine Massacre RPG" was a way to explore tragedy and cultural issues through gaming. But many others didn't see it that way.

Launched in 2005, on the sixth anniversary of the shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School, the video game lets players assume the role of the two teens responsible for the tragedy.

With semiautomatic weapons in their hand, the players walk the school hallways deciding whom to kill. News footage and photos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teens behind the attack, are interspersed throughout the game.

Danny Ledonne, the game's developer, grew up near Littleton, Colo., and in an "artist's statement" on the game's Web site, says he created the game to spark discussion not perpetuate violence.

Ledonne did not immediately respond to e-mail messages from ABCNews.com requesting comment but on the game's Web site writes, "Games that genuinely challenge social taboos or confront real cultural issues are nearly non-existent. I wanted to make something that mattered. This game asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection.

"At the end of the day, the understanding of the Columbine school shooting is deepened and redefined. That is the real object of the game," Ledonne continues.

In 2008, Ledonne release a film, "Playing Columbine," about the game and its aftermath. It was also met with controversy but has been screened at film festivals across the country.