When you think about it, commercial video games are usually pretty harmless. Sure, they can be violent, but there's rarely any larger controversy surrounding a game involving things like drugs, politics, or sex.
Which only makes 1982's Custer's Revenge all the more interesting. And appalling. WARNING: Some slightly NSFW content follows.
For those unfamiliar with the title, Custer's Revenge was a game developed and published by Mystique for the Atari 2600. Mystique was one of a number of companies around in the early 1980s who saw the booming home video game market as a way to make a quick buck, and the best way to make a quick buck - as always - was to produce pornography.
Which shouldn't have been surprising, given the fact Mystique's parent company was Caballero Control Corporation, a major producer of porno flicks at the time.
Mystique released a few games for the dominant Atari 2600 platform, all of them adult, all of them coming out under the banner "Swedish Erotica" (even though the games were all developed in the US). Most were relatively harmless, being adult titles aimed at adult consumers like Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em and Bachelor Party.
Custer's Revenge, though, was anything but harmless.
The game was set on the 19th-century frontier, the player in command of General George Armstrong Custer, one of American history's most tragic figures. A spearhead of the US government's hostile Indian policy of the time, Custer became a martyr and a hero when he and over 250 of his men were killed by Indian forces at Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
The thing is, the game wasn't about military strategy. Or the military at all. You controlled a General Custer who was wearing nothing but his hat, boots and cavalry scarf (complete with enormous erection), and whose objective was not to defeat the Indians in battle, but to rape a girl. A girl who is tied to a wooden pole.
"Gameplay" was kept to a bare minimum, and consisted entirely of moving from left to right, avoiding a storm of arrows as you tried to repeatedly penetrate the defenceless girl.
Remember, this was not a black market title. This was something commercially available in stores, the only disclaimer being a note saying it was "Not for sale to minors", and that it had nothing to do with Atari. And as such, it rightfully caused an outrage.
Atari sued Mystique over the game's offensive content, saying it damaged the company's name and reputation. Suffolk County, New York was hit with a lawsuit by people demanding it be withdrawn from sale. Oklahoma City banned the game outright. Women's and Indian's rights representatives staged a protest in New York, calling the game "absolutely disgusting" and that it was about little but "attack and rape".
Ridiculously, Joel Miller, the creator of the game, tried to claim it was all a bit of fun, saying "he's seducing her, but she's a willing participant".
Though Custer's Revenge was soon withdrawn from shelves, the national controversy it had drummed up caused a spike in demand, the game managing to sell around 80,000 copies by the time it was pulled.
It's one thing to make a game about adult content. There's a market for sex in video games, and developers have every right to pursue that. But there's no excuse for designing a game in which the objective is to rape a person, and there's no excuse to design a game that makes light of the plight of a people who over the past 400 years have already seen their fair share of suffering.
In an act of accidental justice, Mystique went bust shortly after Custer's release in 1983, a victim of the Great American Video Game Market Crash. Sadly, the rights to the game were then passed around to a few different publishers, one of which, Playaround, at least made some changes, editing the woman to be a more willing participant, and even reworking the game into a sequel of sorts called General Retreat, which flipped the script and put you in control of the woman, who must advance on General Custer and have her way with him.
Fittingly, the game is now remembered as one of the worst and most embarrassing titles in video game history, it's combination of minimal gameplay and offensive content serving as a reminder of how far this medium has come since the days this was seen as a viable and acceptable commercial product.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.