The Torchinsky Files is back! Well, it’s not really like it ever left, since it’s just me down here in this basement where I spend hours and hours every day working but, look, I finally shot a new one! So I’m just happy to be back on track. And it’s a good one since it’s all about the origins of something we still see today: moral panics about violent video games.
The first real moral panic about how violent video games were going to transform America’s youth into hordes of blood-craving murderbots happened quite early in the history of video games, way back in 1976, and focused on a game called Death Race from a company called Exidy.
As you can guess, Death Race involved both death and racing. Well, sort of racing, if you count driving at blocky little humanoid figures called “gremlins” racing, which I’m not sure many do.
The game was actually adapted from a demolition derby game but changed to be a game where the player attempted to run over the gremlins who, when hit, would emit a robotic shriek and leave a cross-shaped tombstone in their place, suggesting that these gremlins had all been converted to Christianity at some point.
Even though the game was remarkably crude—this was 1976, remember, still very much the infancy of video games—people freaked out about the idea of a game where you run over things that sort of were shaped like people.
Breathless newspaper articles pearl-clutched and panicked at the thought of what this would do to the children, but, really, most of this was panic about a new, poorly-understood medium.
After all, it was only the year before that the movie the game was loosely based on, Death Race, had been released, and there was no moral panic about that, even though the depictions of running over a human were far more realistic than what the game was capable of showing:
The idea that in a game the player actively chose to take a violent act seemed to be the crucial part for many, though studies have repeatedly shown no conclusive correlation between actual acts of violence and people who play violent video games.
Look, I go over all of this and more in the video, so, you know, watch it! I mean, unless you think watching footage of that game will turn you into a bloodthirsty murder-driver. If that’s the case, maybe sit this one out.