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DOOM - It’s hard to image now but the visuals on DOOM really were ground breaking at the time, and it stands as one of the first ever games where blood really looked like blood. It also marks the period when games first started getting linked by sensationalist members of the press to real world violence, and was even blamed for a high school shooting at the time.
Grand Theft Auto - The very first game in the series looks fairly basic now, with its top down view and tiny sprites. But almost all of the element that made the sequels as popular as they have been were already in place back on the 1997 PC original. It may not have been able to give us some of the more explicit details that excited the press so much in the games that followed, but running strings of people over in a fast car has never been more satisfying.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - As most people still remember, the level "No Russian" was a hot topic a year ago. The optional level has the player taking control of a deep-cover CIA agent, working with a group of Russian terrorists who massacre civilians at an airport. As you are essentially a passenger in the events it has been suggested that it was included simply as a way to get the game more publicity. If that is true the phenomenal sales Modern Warfare 2 enjoyed might just encourage other developers to keep testing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable.
Grand Theft Auto III - Actual content-wise, GTA3 has a lot in common with previous games in the series. The storm of attention it caused though was about a million times bigger, thanks almost entirely to the much improved graphics, which not only made everything more real and obvious, but also transformed the series from a cult hit to a gigantic phenomenon. Even though the series has never asked you to kill an innocent person, it was one of the first to allow you to with impunity, and there was all sorts of hand wringing about what this murder simulator was doing to our children. I don't see what the big deal is, I was 14 when it came out and played the crap out of it, and I turned out to not be a mass-murdering psychopath.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - Seems a bit cheap to use this series twice, but it seems like every time a new game came out there was a new thing to be furious about. Vice City got in trouble for telling you to kill Haitians (Haitian gang members specifically, but let's not let facts get in the way of shouts of racism), and San Andreas was responsible for what might be the biggest controversy of all, the Hot Coffee scandal. During the game's development they were working on a mini-game that let you have sex with your various girlfriends, but decided to abandon it without bothering to remove the code. Of course some one found it, and parents were screaming about a game where there kids could push buttons to have sex, even though you had to hack the programming to get to it. Another game, another media shit storm for Rockstar.
Persona 3 - This is easily one of my favorite RPGs because of its mix of social interaction and a fun combat system, but it caused a stir even among niche gamers for the way you summon monstrous allies to aid you in battle - your teenage avatar shoots themselves in the head. Well, not exactly. It's not a gun, just an Evoker, a piece of technology that just looks and acts exactly like a gun. You put it to your head and fire, and it allows the essence of the creature inside you to come forth. It made sense and had poignancy within the story, but even defenders have to admit it looks fairly disturbing in action. I can only imagine the furor if this game actually became very popular, and special interests groups found out you had to act out suicide repeatedly to win.