19 games banned across the world, and why they got the axe

Bully banned in Brazil for taking place in a school

A lot of adults out there want to protect children from anything ugly, sad, or unpleasant, because being able to effectively face conflict is overrated. In their righteousness, moral guardians worldwide focused their rage on Rockstar's Bully in 2006, calling for bans across the globe. Most efforts fell through because of that whole "freedom of the arts" thing, but attempts in Brazil were eventually effective.

According to Rio Grande do Sul prosecutor Alcindo Bastos, the big issue with Bully is that it "takes place inside a school [and] that is not acceptable." That conveniently sidesteps the fact that what happens in Bully is tame compared to the horrors of real educational institutions, and that the focus of the game is on giving bullies a taste of their own medicine. But fine, whatever. You can't tell the rest of us what to do, Brazil. You aren't our real dad.

Counter-strike banned in Brazil for showcasing a slum

Let's take a moment and try to think of everything that could offend someone about Counter-strike. Rampant violence? Terrorist involvement? An overabundance of "ROFL F*G" comments from edgy tweens? Apparently none of those fazed the Brazilian government, though, because they banned it for a completely different reason: it contains a user-made map of a Brazilian slum, or favela. O-okay.

In case you aren't familiar with the concept, favelas are urban shantytowns where crime among the impoverished populace is rampant. That's presumably why Brazilian officials took exception to a favela-based Counter-Strike map, dubbing the game "an attack against the democratic state" and banning it from sale in October 2007. (Though the equally violent Modern Warfare 2 also has a favela map and wasnt banned so) As in, over ten years after the game was released and began building its huge Brazilian following. Yeeeah, that ban didn't last long.

Spec-Ops: The Line banned in the United Arab Emirates for destroying Dubai (probably)

I'm starting to notice a pattern here. Nations really don't like appearing in video games as obliterated wastelands. Crazy! That was the motivation behind several bans on this list, and I'm adding one more - Spec Ops: The Line was banned in the United Arab Emirates because it takes place in a destroyed Dubai. That's the thought at least, since not even the developer knows for sure. But still! Who could've seen that coming, right?

The interesting thing about this case is that the UAE is quite serious about its decision. While it isn't unusual for a game to still be available in the country after it's been banned, UAE censor are cracking down hard on The Line, even blocking access to a demo 2K put out in advance of the release. The blow is extra harsh because the ban also undercuts its sales in countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which work in conjunction with the UAE's regulatory body. Tough break, soldiers.

Grand Theft Auto 4 banned in Thailand for being associated with a murder

Grand Theft Auto is the affluent, angsty, suburban punk of the gaming world, stealing its mom's cigarettes and giving the middle finger to the police but not actually doing anything dangerous. Still, that's not going to convince the judgmental among us that GTA isn't a bad influence. So when a Thai teenager killed a taxi driver during a carjacking in 2008 and blamed it on Grand Theft Auto 4, nobody bought GTA's alibi that it was hanging with Bully all day.

Following the incident, GTA 4 was banned for inciting what Thai courts deemed a copycat killing. According to police, "[The accused] wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game." Nevermind the fact that the guy was just caught stabbing a man to death and would probably say anything to get out of trouble. Naw, that Niko Bellic's a bad egg.

Football Manager 2005 banned in China for recognizing Tibet's independence

As the video game medium has aged, it's seen the creation of more and more games that deal with serious political topics. BioShock addresses political objectivism. Watch Dogs tackles security in the digital age. Football Manager 2005 rails against Chinese imperialism. Oh, you didn't know that? It's what China seemed to think anyway, when it banned the innocuous sports game for including certain conquered regions on the country roster.

In the English release of the sporty title, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet are all recognized as independent nations you can choose to play. That sort of pissed off the Chinese government, which responded with a ban in December 2004, claiming the game threatened "sovereignty and territorial integrity." Publisher Sega responded with a statement that the feature was never supposed to be seen by audiences in China and was going to be removed for Chinese release, but bootleggers got hold of the English version too early. Looks like piracy is its own reward.

Manhunt 2 banned pretty much everywhere for being a Manhunt game

If you are at all surprised by this entry, you haven't played Manhunt 2. Sequel to the brutal and controversial Manhunt (which some people still blame for the brutal murder of a 14-year-old in the UK years after the gavel came down), just the announcement that it was being made was enough to spark outrage. Since its release, it has seen bans or rating refusals in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. It was also hit with a sales-crippling Adults Only rating the United States, and plenty of other countries decry its very existence.

While plenty of games have been banned for "excessive gore" and "high impact violence", Manhunt 2 is in a class of its own. Taking up right where its bloody and violent predecessor left off, it corners the market on over-the-top executions, while offering a pretty solid gameplay experience. Those two things sparked interest from some, deep-seated outrage from others, and a veritable parade of bans that few other games can match.

Medal of Honor banned on US military bases for letting you play as the Taliban

Let's be honest, it's not really surprising that a country ravaged in a video game might take issue with it. Despite thoughts on freedom of speech, I'm guessing nobody was shocked that Iran didn't like its digital capital getting blown up. But when the game's protagonists are pissed about it? Like the US military was with Medal of Honor? Oh. Well uh whoops.

The 2010 release of Medal of Honor hit a big fat snag when it was discovered Taliban foot soldiers were playable in multiplayer. EA's response was that someone had to be the robber to the American military's cop, which went over like a potato gun in a warzone. Ultimately, the outrage resulted in sales of the game being banned on all US military bases worldwide but personnel can still buy it elsewhere and bring it back with them. I mean, have you seen those graphics?

All vaguely violent games banned in Venezuela for supposedly causing crime

Well, don't accuse Venezuela of doing anything half-assed. In 2009, the country leveled a ban on all violent video games and toys in an attempt to curb the nation's rising crime rates. I don't think anybody's going to argue that putting the smackdown on crime is bad, but when you do it by banning any game that supposedly stimulates aggression and violence," that's probably not going to turn out like it's written on the napkin.

Things become even more bewildering when taking into account its terms. Under the ban, selling violent games within the country could lead to a three- to five-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, selling a real gun to a real minor can net a sentence as short as one year. Holy mixed priorities! Plus, as Venezuelan gamer Guido Nez-Mujica noted in a first-person account of the situation, the ban will probably do more to hurt the nation than help it.

All video games banned in Greece for...using electronics and software

You have to laugh when elected officials say something unbearably stupid about technology (if you don't want to cry, anyway). Remember when Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens called the internet a series of tubes? Or when British Parliamentarian David Wright claimed insulting opposition over social media is cool because Twitter is edgy? HAHA look how much I'm laughing! Though, when it comes to governments not getting technology, our heart goes out to Greece. For a while, all video games were banned there for being too much like online gambling.

Back in 2002, Greece enacted law 3037 to undercut illegal gambling, establishing a blanket ban on all devices that contain "electronic mechanisms and software". That applied to both citizens and foreigners, so bringing your Gameboy on your Athens vacation could land you in jail for a year. The EU promptly slapped the government of Greece with an injunction for being dumb, and the ban was allowed to quietly lapse three years later.

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.