10 taboos and the games that broke them

When Hideo Kojima recently announced that his next game would “challenge a certain type of taboo,” we were of course all over it like flies on rice. What could old man Kojima be working on back there? What fruit could be so forbidden that the creator of Solid Snake himself would be expelled from the industry if he offered it to gamers?

Above: Metaphor. Glorious hackneyed metaphor 

The question isn't even about taboos themselves so much as the rebellious spirit of videogames, which have been thumbing their noses at the sacred and profane since time immemorial (or at least the early '80s). If Kojima – or Clive Barker, David Jaffe, Goichi Suda or anyone else – wants to take on something really transgressive, the challenge isn't how to approach prickly subject matter. It's how to find a sacred cow that hasn't already been beaten like a dead horse. Go ahead, name a topic that's off-limits and there'll be games that say otherwise. In fact, hell, name ten...

Warning: Many of the links in this article – besides being NSFW – point to real-life cases of flouted taboos and should not be clicked by the young, the faint of heart or those who have just eaten lunch.

10. Swearing

The taboo: Some claim that effin' and jeffin' has been robbed of its power by copious overuse. Just look at the films of Mr. Tarantino, the comedy of the late Mr. Carlin or the musical output of Mr. Doggy Dogg! But there are still words – or even words that just sound like words – that can get one in hot water. Carlin's “Seven Words” rule still stands – the contents have just changed.

Pushing the limits: In the NES era, you couldn't even call a character “Smart Ass.” But fast forward a few years, and you couldn't get through the first disc of Final Fantasy VII without encountering a wealth of earthy language. In 2008, we assembled a potty-mouthed rogue's gallery to which can now be added Grand Theft Auto IV's judicious use of the C-bomb and the awkward-tastic Def Jam Rapstar.

Going too far: There's including blue language in a game to add spice or go for “mature” props, and then there's getting ghetto fabulous at entirely the wrong moment. So Nintendo learned when they sent out promo material for Animal Crossing: Wild World in which the player was repeatedly addressed as “N***a.” And the hateful slur was thrown about by a white-as-rice sheep character, so they couldn't even use that “reclaiming the word to rob it of its power” excuse. For shame!

9. Blasphemy

The taboo: It's hardly going out on a limb to point out that many gamers are pretty big nerdlingers. And the qualities that the pretty-big-nerdlinger community pride themselves on – an inquisitive nature, distrust of the status quo – would seem to be somewhat incompatible with organized religion. Consequently, beefing with the Almighty is something of a cherished pastime for plenty of gamers.

Pushing the limits: The histories of the Castlevania or Final Fantasy series exemplify common videogame attitudes toward all things holy. Where a Xenogears or Bayonetta would clumsily dump you in a cage-match with the Almighty, Konami and Square's series offer a rich and sacrilegious trove of crucified vampires, inverted chapels and traitor gods. The Final Fantasy Legend series has you taking down venerated figures from the breadth of world religion, culminating in the opportunity to murder the Creator with a chainsaw. And this is on the Game Boy.

Above: Existentialism! 

Going too far: Early Judeo-Christian Gnostics developed a belief system in which the Creator was a malevolent, insane, blind idiot god, trapping his creations inside the prison of being for all eternity. These heretical teachings saw them burned at the stake and their sacred texts banned... until the release of The Sims. At which point, gamers discovered that being a malevolent, insane, blind idiot god was actually a ton of fun!

8. Nudity/Sex

The taboo: A common way to sound clever when talking about censorship is to ask why violence is so prevalent in movies and games but folks go apeshit when they see a nipple on the Superbowl. Well, it's because most peoples' day-to-day lives don't contain lethal violence, so it's easier to place savagery in a fantasy context, whereas it's immodest to just start talking about your ED problems on the bus. There, can we find a new question to ask in every single article about onscreen sex now?

Above: Etc 

Pushing the limits: Apologies if this is the single first page you have ever accessed on the Internet, because there have actually been words written about this already. A potted greatest-hits will suffice: Custer's Revenge Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em Barbarian Bubble Bath Babes River City Ransom Rastan Rampage Night Trap Cho Aniki Cobra Mission Tomb Raider Metal Gear Solid 2 BMX XXX The Getaway God of War The Saboteur Lost and the Damned Bayonetta. If you really want to waste some time, feel free to expand this list all you please.

Going too far: It was something of a crime, in the “you have offended popular tastes in entertainment media” sense of the word, for the producers of The Guy Game to add bare breasts to a joyless assemblage of unplayable crap and call it a PS2 game. But it was something more of a crime, in the “you have broken the law and your game is illegal” sense, for two of those breasts to belong to a 17 year-old girl, leading to the game being pulled from shelves. Nice work, broheim.

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  • Apollomon - June 2, 2010 3:38 p.m.

    through the whole beastiality video i was like ~WTF WTF WTF!! it just looks wierd and! just...creepy and...wierd!!!
  • cart00n - June 1, 2010 7:25 a.m.

    I'm surprised RDR wasn't mentioned for all its rampant cannibalism. You may not see it in action, but I've come upon WAY too many questionable campsites in the game to not know what's going on... reCaptcha: now evasive
  • 88Meters - May 31, 2010 1:25 p.m.

    @Vitoruss1 (if I spelled that right) There are actually THREE ways Ethan can die. One is, if you don't save Shaun and have sex with Madison. You'll have a cutscene where Ethan pulls out a gun and puts a bullet through his head right infront of Madison. Next one, in Ethan's house, he can shoot himself in the head without Madison. Last one, if he's arrested, he hangs himself in his jail cell.
  • CH3BURASHKA - May 31, 2010 10:36 a.m.

    IMO Persona 3 gets too much credit for being "edgy" and "risque". Initially, the connotations of suicide are clear and feel impactful, but once it became a core game mechanic it lost all meaning. A game that addressed suicide amazingly well is Deadly Premonition. For anyone following the (now concluded) Endurance Run on Giant Bomb must have also felt shocked at *that* scene, much more so than by P3's constant use of the suicide animation.
  • Geminiman82 - May 31, 2010 4:07 a.m.

    nicely done!
  • lovinmyps3 - May 30, 2010 7:41 p.m.

    Kirby. lmao
  • Fmrfox - May 30, 2010 5:16 p.m.

    I think Red Dead Redemption should also be in this list for numbers 2 (guy with dead wife) and 1 (self-explanatory)
  • ComradeKhani - May 30, 2010 3:18 a.m.

    For Bestiality, don't forget Army of Two: 40th day, when Salem talks about the time Rios laid with a Panda.
  • cyanide4suicide - May 30, 2010 1:28 a.m.

    Interesting article. The bestialaty part made me laugh, especially the TMNT pic.
  • SeriousSean - May 29, 2010 11:33 p.m.

    The Witcher had swearing, sex, nudity, suicide, and cannibalism. With rape thrown in for good measure. Not a happy game.
  • D0CCON - May 29, 2010 8:45 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption had an interesting one for beastiality. In the stranger sidequest, "Who are You to Judge?" (pretty well named), you are asked to retrieve a man's love, which turns out to be a horse. The best part happens if you pay attention to the game's newspapers. A later edition will mention how a man married a horse.
  • elchetos - May 29, 2010 6:42 p.m.

    R-Ape, Openly homosexual protagonist, Racism, Openly attacking religion (and not the hush hush blasphemy towards made up cults), child sax... There are a lot of taboos to choose from
  • mubobi7593 - May 29, 2010 5:31 p.m.

    Great, if very, very strange article! But I have one question... Is it still necrophilia if you have sex with a zombie? >_>
  • frmonth - May 29, 2010 2:34 p.m.

    What game contains the CG sonic cutscenes with girl because I have never seen something as disturbing as that. Thank god I have never bought a 3D sonic game.
  • philipshaw - May 29, 2010 10:21 a.m.

    This is the sort of stuff the industry needs to tackle well at some point so that it can be taken as seriously as films. Kojima is good at this stuff
  • Clovin64 - May 29, 2010 9:21 a.m.

    Sorry to double comment, but you really should have mentioned Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2 for Necrophelia. Oh Pyramid Head! You and your relentless lust for dead monsters! We still love you though.
  • Clovin64 - May 29, 2010 9:19 a.m.

    That Sonic romance thing was all kinds of wrong, and it looked bloody stupid too. Also, who would have thought that Nintendo is the most Taboo breaking sick twisted games company ever? Actually I probably would have guessed. Theres something about that Mario guy that doesnt sit right with me.
  • Samael - May 29, 2010 5:48 a.m.

    Really? Cannibalism is #1? I thought for sure it would be the R-Ape. Guess it would be pretty difficult to make that entry funny though... Good, informative article either way.
  • WickedSid - May 29, 2010 4 a.m.

    Wow, Thanks a lot Tom Goulter of GamesRadar US for ruining my happy childhood memories of the cannibalistic homicidal maniac Kirby. (Sarcasm addition definitely needed for I do not wish to be angered at.) That is all, Thank you.
  • Vitoruss1 - May 29, 2010 3:29 a.m.

    ~HEAVY RAIN SPOILER ALERT~ There were actually TWO DIFFERENT FORMS of suicide that Ethan could have committed at the end of the game. I'm surprised that that wasn't put into the game-- and especially because he seemed to be the most realistic depiction of just "why" a character would kill himself.