BOSTON — "Call of Duty: Black Ops" easily broke sales records when it was released last month, scoring the best one-day and five-day sales in video game history, racking up more than $600 million in less than a week and dwarfing the opening gross of blockbuster movies like "Avatar."
But the Cuban government is decidedly less enthusiastic about "Black Ops," the latest in the eight-title franchise of warfare shooter games. Taking place during the height of Cold War tensions, the game includes a mission where the objective is to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Cuba's state-run media condemned the game. The news service Cubadebate said the United States government was trying to virtually accomplish “what they couldn’t in more than 50 years.”
“Black Ops" is hardly the first game to fall prey to political censure around the world. GlobalPost looks at other countries that have banned or criticized video games — for reasons that go far beyond violence and extend to unflattering content and insults to national sovereignty.
Australian law prohibits the sale of video games that promote any illegal activity. Many games are banned for violent and sexual content, but the law creates some stranger rationales as well. For example, Mark Ecko’s "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure," a game about graffiti tagging, is banned because graffiti is illegal in Australia.
Countries from Australia to Saudi Arabia have banned games in the "Grand Theft Auto" series for their violent content and glorification of criminal lifestyles. But a Brazilian court recently blocked the sale of the latest installment, "Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City," for a more surprising reason. The game features the song “Congo Kid,” which a Sao Paulo court ruled is an unauthorized remix of the song “Bota o Dedinho pro Alto,” by the Brazilian composer Hamilton Lourenco da Silva, sung by the composer’s 8-year-old son. The judge ordered the game pulled from shelves worldwide because of the copyright violation.
A law prohibits video games that “hurt China’s national dignity and interests,” and are seen to undermine China’s reputation, sovereignty or territorial integrity. The strategy game "Command and Conquer: Generals" was outlawed for "smearing the image of China and the Chinese army," and the Swedish game "Hearts of Iron" for "distorting history and damaging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
German law prohibits “the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations,” which includes the depiction of Nazi imagery or symbols. Therefore any game involving Nazis and containing swastika iconography is banned, even if Nazis are the antagonists.
Germany routinely bans video games that are deemed to contain “high impact violence.” In June 2009, after a string of shooting rampages, Germany’s interior ministers formally asked the Bundestag to pass a ban on the production and distribution of all violent video games. The ban was supported by then-President Horst Kohler. A petition opposing the proposed ban gathered more than 73,000 signatures, leading the effort to be scrapped.
In 2002, Greece banned the playing of all electronic games in public places, in an effort to crack down on illegal gambling. Included in the ban were games that run on mobile phones and devices such as GameBoys. Those caught breaking the ban faced fines of 5,000-75,000 euros and up to a year in prison. The ban was criticized for failing to distinguish between games that include gambling and those that do not.
In 2005, South Korea censored video games that depicted conflict between North and South Korea, including titles such as "Ghost Recon 2" and Tom Clancy’s "Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory," in an effort to avoid raising tension between the two countries. The ban was lifted a year later.
The governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua banned the 2007 game “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2" and ordered copies confiscated because of what he called the offensive depiction of the region in the game. The game features the kidnapping of a U.S. president by Latin American rebels. The mayor of the border city Juarez had earlier complained about the game’s violent portrayal of his town’s citizens.
The hit 2010 game "Medal of Honor," in which gamers participate in the War on Terror, was banned on U.S. military bases because the game’s multiplayer mode gave players the option of playing as the Taliban. The ban remains even though the game’s developer has now changed this option.
In November 2009, as a response to Venezuela’s skyrocketing rates of violence crime and homicide, legislators in the country’s parliament approved a blanket ban on all violent video games. The law places these games in the same category as toy weapons, and bans their import, production and sale. Those who break the law can face three to five years in prison.
Compiled by Spencer Burke.