I have been using emulation to give my twelve-year old neighbor the people’s history of classic video games and home consoles (much more on both the emulation and the history shortly). While preparing these rigorous classes, I came across a couple of gems that I can’t believe I hadn’t known about until now—so if this is old news please forgive my enthusiasm. The classic horror movies The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween were made into video games for the Atari 2600 back in 1983 by Wizard Video Games.†
In the Texas Chainsaw Massacre video game you are Leatherface and are charged with “murdering trespassers while avoiding obstacles such as fences, wheelchairs, and cow skulls. Each victim slain gives the player 1,000 points. The player receives additional fuel at every 5,000 points (5 victims). A life is lost when the player’s chainsaw runs out of gasoline. Gameplay ends when the last tank of gas is consumed.” ¹
In the Halloween video game, you are a babysitter “who must save children from a knife-wielding Michael Myers. The player obtains points in two ways: by rescuing children and bringing them to ‘safe rooms’ located at both ends of each floor of the house, and by stabbing Michael with the knife (if it can be located). The player advances a level either by rescuing five children or stabbing Michael twice. The killer gets faster with each level increase, and the game continues until all of the player’s three lives are lost.”²
Seems like the games are remarkable for a few reasons other than the game play, for even by the standards of 25 years ago they were nothing short of terrible in terms of graphics and narrative conception. A fact that may make them candidates for the illustrious title of the earliest b-video games. The story surrounding their release is kind of interesting in regards to more recent backlashes against violent video games, such as the furor over the Grand Theft Auto franchise. They are considered the first video games in the horror genre, and their adult themes and “graphic” depiction of violence resulted in many retailers refusing to carry the games. And those who did often kept them behind the counter on a request-only basis. Given this controversy, the game sold extremely poorly. Wizard Video Games soon after went out of business, yet these two titles are considered extremely valuable today by collectors given how rare they are as well as the fact that they cross over ito the horror memorabelia manaics, making them a rather valuable commodity.³
Thanks to the beauties of emulation, you can see examples of the game play for each of these gems below. The whole idea of these “ultra-violent” Atari 2600 games is both puzzling and fascinating to me. Most video games for the Atari 2600 frame a certain amount of violence depending how you look at them, Kaboom!, Pitfall!, Space Invaders, Combat, etc., etc. Yet, the idea of Michael Myers severing heads and Leatherface cutting up pixels with a chainsaw, no matter how bad the graphics are, is too much. Not necessarily because they are too gory or difficult to look at—for they are ridiculous in that regard—it’s simply the idea of violence, the idea the developers of this game gambled on exploiting and lost, yet that was only the beginning. The state of video games today offers a totally different level of verisimilitude, yet I still think it is the political valence of an idea that is controversial, not the actual violence regardless of how good or bad the graphics are. I’ll have to re-visit this idea again soon, for it is half-baked but interesting to me.
A clip from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre video game:
A clip from the Halloween video game:
† Wizard Video also distributed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS, which marks an interesting relationship between home video and home gaming consoles during the early 80s, which may be just as obvious and trite as it reads here, or it may tie into the idea of a new market for all things “b” that I have always believed the VHS made possible, despite the fact that it killed the single-screen movie house (which I love and miss dearly). Oh yeah, and it aliented the moviegoer by keeping him or her in their living room. Oh yeah, and the quality of VHS tapes was terrible…