Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas

Flesh Feast. Bio Freaks. Mortal Kombat 4. The titles explain why computer games became part of the discussion this year about media violence, as schoolboys in idyllic rural communities continued mowing down classmates. After the Jonesboro shooting in April, Time magazine theorized that “game boys learn to associate gusts of ‘blood’ with the primal gratifications of scoring.” And earlier this month, U.S. senators Joseph Lieberman and Herbert Kohl teamed up with the conservative National Institute on Media and the Family to release a report concluding that the games contribute to the toxic culture that’s led to the school shootings.

It’s too bad Time, the senators, and even the Entertainment Software Ratings Board don’t bother distinguishing between games featuring complex strategies, made and marketed for adults, and games that require no more than twitching your trigger finger. Still, it can’t be denied that hellish violence is as integral to these games as dice are to craps. Here are a few of ’98’s most egregious new games. To ensure a peaceful holiday, cross ’em off your holiday gift list for camouflage-wearing sons and nephews.

None. No story, no rationale whatsoever. Players simply wander about, shooting at anything that materializes onscreen–a format known as a “first person shoot ’em up.”

After your own death, you see yourself for the first time. At least you’re better dressed than your opponents.

If you keep firing after killing your victims–mutant soldiers or fleeing scientists/lab techs–the corpses eventually explode, raining body parts and spewing blood. You can zoom in on exquisitely rendered close-ups of legs, livers, eyeballs, etc while freshets of blood play in the background.

None. It’s a car race in a variety of non-racetrack environments, where the goal is not speed, but the destruction of every pedestrian and animal in sight.

Game is a knockoff of Paul Bartel’s B movie Death Race 2000 but eliminates every vestige of humor that made the movie a cult hit.

Other games use aliens or their equivalents as the enemy; in this one, the obsessive focus is on killing realistically depicted people and animals–deer, cops, Rottweilers, sweet old grannies, you name it. Players win money for individual kills, more for multiples. Money can be used for repairs to keep one’s killing machine operating at maximal efficiency.

First person shoot ’em up, set in a clandestine government lab experimenting with bioengineered life forms where mutant zombies now run amok. Your task? Rescue the staff. Kill the undead hordes.

The concept.

Hatchet-wielding zombies modeled on the undead in George Romero’s Living Dead trilogy hack at you from all sides and are nearly impossible to kill. Shoot off a hand, better make sure it’s the one holding the ax. Shoot off a head, it just keeps coming. When a zombie gets in range, it lurches up and swings its blade with nightmarish ferocity and a swath of your blood splats across the screen.

After a car accident, the main character wakes up in an asylum, then must figure out where he is, escape, find answers and salvation.

Stilted, insipid dialogue. Sample: The main character asks a man wrapped in a blanket who’s rocking back and forth continuously, “What is your name?” Answer: “Lenny. I’m Lenny. My name is Lenny.” Main Character: “Why are you here?” Lenny: “I was very, very bad.”

Sanitarium inhabitants are gross stereotypes, and the main character is no Dr. Joyce Brothers. When he passes a patient banging his head against a stone wall, the main character quips, “Diagnosis: crazy.” Seeing a female figure doing an awkward shuffling movement over and over again in the same place, he notes, “That’s something you don’t see every day.” Then there are the impaled bodies, the deformed children, and the statue of an angel coming to life with blood streaming from her eye sockets.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Mike Werner.