Death Race was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976, amid a pack of other such driving games as Atari’s Grand Trak 10 (1974) and Le Mans (1976), as well as Indy 800 (1975), published under Atari’s secret Kee label. Racing games were pretty hot at the time, but Death Race threw in a little something special to the mix: instead of racing around a track, you drove your vehicle around an arena trying to run over little stick figures, who when hit would shriek and turn into a cross for you to avoid. It would become the first game to generate widespread concerns about video game violence.
Death Race, scourge of the arcades!
The blocky and abstract graphical representation of its obvious inspiration, Roger Corman’s low-budget exploitation flick Death Race 2000, seems positively quaint by today’s standards. Death Race, however, drove a storm of controversy as word got out about the game. It was decried as “morbid” by trade publications of the time, and the National Safety Council branded it as “sick”. Newspapers ran stories gleefully outlining the premise of the game, and no reassurances from Exidy’s marketing man Paul Jacobs that players were actually dispatching “gremlins”, as noted in a label on the game’s dashboard, could quite quell the outrage.
Instructions for killing ‘gremlins”
Despite (or perhaps because of) the controversy, Death Race was a hit for Exidy and helped establish them as a long-time player in the video game market. The game also paved the way for more realistic video game violence, in the vein of the Mortal Kombat and the Grand Theft Auto games. All of which, of course, helped to turn kids into hardened killers, in the same way that video baseball games turned them into professional ball players.
For more information on Death Race, consult your local Dot Eaters article.
With all the summits and task forces currently considering stronger new gun control legislation in the U.S. and the possible reasons for the rash of mass shootings plaguing the country, how about a look back at where the controversy of video game violence began?
It dates back to 1976 and the release of Exidy’s Death Race, an arcade video game loosely inspired by Roger Corman’s ultra-violent B-movie Death Race 2000. In Exidy’s game, one or two players drove a vehicle around a playfield chasing running stick figures. When a figure was hit, it would let out an electronic shriek and turn into a cross, creating a permanent obstacle for drivers to avoid.
Considered quaint by today’s standards, Death Race caused a national debate on the cultural ramifications of the burgeoning video game market, was labelled “sick” and “depraved” by various groups, and of course enjoyed a healthy run in the arcades.
For more information on Death Race and its fallout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.
For Halloween night, let me point to the first game to foster protest over video game violence, Exidy’s 1976 Death Race.
In the game you drive a vehicle around a play field, chasing stick figures who flee randomly in all directions to avoid becoming a hood ornament. If and when you strike one, the victim screams and turns into a grave marker, complete with cross. If you have a buddy with you with a handy quarter, you can both mow down “gremlins”, as they were described in the game cabinet text, simultaneously.
Even though with 1976 black and white graphics things are barely sketched out for you, the game brought a firestorm of controversy, which only helped to increase sales for Exidy. They moved over 1,000 units of the game, their best-selling up to that point.
If you dare, read the history of the game the National Safety Council branded as “sick, sick sick”, here at The Dot Eaters.