At the risk of sounding like that old man yelling for the children to get off his lawn, I’ve got to say that kid’s today don’t know how good they’ve got it on the gaming front. Rewind 20 years, and we didn’t all have laptops in our bedrooms and smart phones for getting in some quality RPG time at line in the grocery store.
We had to work for our games, and that was often complicated by the fact that gaming wasn’t really considered a legitimate outlet or serious industry back then. Attitudes have definitely changed, now that parents are just as likely to be playing Rock Band or hogging the Switch as the kids.
When you threw in the fear many parents had at the time of Satanic cults and video games causing violence, some us of had to work doubly hard to play the latest games. Considering that I went to a private Christian school during my middle school years, you can probably guess what my parents thought of video games in general and role playing games in particular.
Although there was a massive list of banned games in my home as a kid, I actually got off better than some of my class mates. I remember one kid in particular who wasn’t even allowed to play Cruisin’ USA on the Nintendo 64.
What could possibly justify banning a racing game with no violence or objectionable content of any kind? Because a fully clothed girl dances while holding your 1st place trophy at the end of a race, and that was just too smutty.
This was just too risque for 12 year olds to see apparently
In an environment like that, getting to play anything with demon enemies or a supernatural bent in the slightest was a careful balancing act. They usually had to be played late at night when the parents were asleep, or else by going over to a friend’s house whose parents weren’t as crazy on the religious side.
Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night
While a horde of games in the same style have since flooded consoles and handheld devices, when it came out Symphony Of The Night was revolutionary.
To this day it remains an excellent game that has aged well (with a few minor issues), but what’s notable is how some of the Japanese attitudes towards western religions broke through in the original text.
In the opening segment as Richter and Dracula are arguing, that big bad vampire is amused by Richter’s characterization that he steals men’s souls and turns them into salves, idly responding “perhaps the same could be said of all religions.”
Couple that little exchange with Alucard using items that cause gigantic pentagrams to appear on the screen, and SOTN was definitely a game to play on the down low if I didn’t want it removed from the home in a religious purge.
You might not expect it from the pixelated graphics and unrefined gameplay of this earlier era, but there were some seriously subversive ideas getting thrown around as gaming was just getting its footing.
On the PC side you had games like Fallout introducing the first same sex marriage possibility in a video game, and then on console there was the oddball PS1 RPG Revelations: Persona.
Once again the Christianized west wasn’t quite ready for some of the text coming from a game rooted in Japanese culture, which has a very different take on demons and religion. Although it has aged horribly and is nearly unplayable now, as kid I couldn’t get enough of this game with its non-traditional RPG setting (a Japanese metropolis) and cast of characters (teenage high school kids surviving the apocalypse).
The moment that most sticks out when I first realized the game was going to get tossed if discovered was when one character off-handedly mentioned that Christian winged angels are actually based on the goddess Nike, and not on anything found in the Bible. Throw on the fact that the party could negotiate with the demon hordes instead of slaying them, and you had a perfect storm for a game every religious parent would loathe.
There are so many classic PS1 games that tried pushing the boundaries of gaming in new directions when we started counting polygons instead of pixels.
Vandal Hearts is an interesting example that and had a story deeply rooted in politics (which is actually oddly relevant to modern day U.S. in a lot of ways).
That wasn’t the reason why I had to keep my Vandal Hearts sessions relegated to late nights or weekend mornings before the parents got up, though. Nope, that was squarely on the shoulders of the GIANT GOUTS OF BLOCKY BLOOD that went flying across the stream whenever you defeated an enemy.
They are sort of hilarious to look at now, but at the time this was about as gory as a game could get. Oh yeah, and then there were the flaming pentagrams when your wizard characters cast spells — that was a surefire way for a game to get banned!
While I managed to sneak quite a few games into the house that would have been otherwise declined, there wasn’t even any point in trying to install Diablo on the family computer.
Flaming letters? M rating? Giant demon guy on the cover? Yeah, check and mate. Wasn’t going to happen.
When the original came out I had to stay over at a friend’s house to play this classic of the ARPG genre on the weekends.
When the sequel landed, it took trips to a local internet cafe and to part with 4 bucks an hour to finally get to play Diablo 2! Years later I found that particular gem at Goodwill for a paltry $2.99 and couldn’t believe my luck.
There was an irrational terror of the phrase “Dungeons & Dragons” in my home growing up, no doubt brought on by the ludicrous Satanic Panic of the ’80s.
That D&D logo was the kiss of death, which made getting Baldur’s Gate really tricky.
There was no way I was going to miss this renaissance of the CRPG style, so I had to immediately throw the box away at the store and instead just keep the manual and CD insert.
That insert was a thing of beauty, flipping open and holding all 5 (yep 5!) discs… it also happened to have flaming skulls on each panel, which resulted in a frown and a “harumph” when my mom saw it sitting by the computer.
To this day It still amuses to me to no end that the flaming skulls were more acceptable than the words “Dungeons and Dragons.”
Final Fantasy 7
I wasn’t one of those kids who got new consoles for Christmas or was just given a car by the parents. As a teenager, I had to save up a whole lot of money for a very long time to get a PS1, and it was all for one reason — Final Fantasy 7.
Now, the game itself was approved and everyone knew exactly what title I’d first be renting once I had enough to buy the Playstation (yeah, having cash enough to outright buy a new game was another matter, so renting was the way to go that weekend).
What caused the problem wouldn’t pop up until playing for a few hours…
It might not be apparent based on how they are viewed today and the powerhouse industry that has developed, but there was a time when games were thought of as just for children.
While any given Battlefield or Call Of Duty will have soldiers throwing out some expletives — and there are series like Kane And Lynch or GTA 5 where racial slurs and F-bombs drop from meth head mouths with great frequency — once upon a time the notion of someone saying fuck or shit in a video game was unthinkable.
Final Fantasy 7 might have been the first game I ever played that had those dreaded four letter words in them, and I knew as soon as Barret Wallace started talking that I’d have to be strategic about not letting those dialog bubbles pop up on the screen whenever a parent might be walking through the room. Not long after, Final Fantasy Tactics caused similar problems, but man was it ever worth the tight rope walk to play!