If people remember 1997's overhead shooter Postal for anything, it’s the controversies that always seemed to surrounded it.
Postal was at the heart of a huge debate over violent video games in the 90s. The game might look quaint in 2016, but at the time, it was raising lots questions about whether the increasingly realistic depictions of violence in video games were responsible for real-life violence.
The game’s title was itself a reference to the term “going postal,” in which a disgruntled worker inflicts acts of violence at their work place. There were several unfortunate incidents by postal workers in the 90s, so you can imagine why the United States Postal Service might take issue. As a result, they sued the developers of Postal, trying to prevent them from selling it.
Yes, that actually happened.
The lawsuit was filed in May 1997, months before Postal was even released.
Per a GameSpot story at the time:
RWS [Postal developer Running With Scissors] has stated that the lead character of the action/strategy psychological thriller has no identifiable occupation. RWS spokesman Vince Desi said, “this is a word in common usage employed as the title of a game which has nothing whatever to do with the United States Post Office. We’re a small company and this is just an attempt to pressure us.” RWS also noted that the Jan/Feb issue of “Postal Life” magazine acknowledged the increasing use of the word “postal” in everyday vernacular.
Running With Scissors founder Vince Desi reportedly has the letter from then USPS postmaster general Marvin Runyon on his wall.
In part, the letter said:
“All of us at the Postal Service have a sense of humor, but there is nothing funny about your game ‘Postal,’ It is in very poor taste, and is an erroneous and unfair portrayal of the nation’s postal employees. [...] I believe you owe the men and women of the Postal Service an apology, and hope you will have enough common sense to discontinue the ‘Postal Game.’”
Runyon left the USPS one year later, and passed away in 2004. The lawsuit between the USPS and Running With Scissors, however, went on for years.
In a 2002 interview with Tuscon Weekly, Desi revealed some of the arguments being used in the ongoing case to discredit his company:
“At one point, they had a counterclaim where they said the post office might go into video games,” said Desi. “That’s how absurd it got.”
The lawsuit was eventually settled in June 2003, six years after it began, and two months after the release of Postal 2.
UCSON, Ariz., June 25 /PRNewswire/ — Six years after the United States Postal Service (USPS) sued the makers of the notorious videogame POSTAL and its ultra-controversial sequel, POSTAL 2, game developer Running With Scissors has been informed by the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board of the U.S. Department of Commerce that the USPS’s opposition case had been dismissed with prejudice.
“We’re pleased with the ruling,” said Vince Desi, Running With Scissors’ battle-hardened CEO, “although everyone involved knows we never should have had to fight this frivolous lawsuit in the first place. Our game is funny. Theirs is sick.”
Running With Scissors was not the only group to be infamously sued by the USPS. The Postal Service, a musical side project of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and DJ Jimmy “DNTEL” Tamborello, also tangled with them. The group picked their name after composing tracks through the mail—literally using the USPS to send ideas back and forth. The USPS eventually decided to drop the suit and start working with the band.
Something tells me that’ll never happen with Postal.
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That Actually Happened is a weekly series at Kotaku in which we highlight interesting moments in gaming history. So far, we’ve revisited when Sonic kissed a human, a live game show on Xbox 360, and Sony throwing a God of War party with a dead goat. If you have any suggestions for future entires, please let us know in the comments below!