“The Agony and the Exidy: A History of Video Game Violence and the Legacy of Death Race” is a journal article. It was published in 2012 by Game Studies. The article is one of several I have written on the culture, history, and legacy of coin-operated video games.
The paper is available to read in full at Game Studies here.
In 1976, Exidy’s Death Race triggered the United States’ first video gaming moral panic. Public outrage not only fueled sales of the game and made Exidy a household name, but established a pattern by which controversial games receive a high levels of press attention, which in turn drives these games’ marketplace success. Exidy released Death Race in the midst of changing cinema production codes and distribution regulations that led to the emergence of films featuring unprecedented displays of violence and sexuality. The game is based on one of these films, Death Race 2000, in which competitors in the Annual Transcontinental Road Race mow down pedestrians for points. Although the filmmakers did not authorize the use of their concepts for the game, the game relies directly on the film’s narrative. The chase-and-crash game invites players to strike stick-figure “gremlins” with on-screen cars. Context, including the game’s cabinet graphics and the film, contributed to moral guardians’ perception that the game was celebrating violence. However, Death Race was distributed in a market filled with numerous other violent games. This suggests the game triggered outrage not only because it was violent, but because it depicted violence which questioned the state’s monopoly on legitimized violence and did not follow culturally accepted narratives of violence, such as military or police violence, or the western. Public disapproval of Death Race did not squelch distribution, instead driving sales and vaulting Exidy into the national spotlight. Discourse surrounding Death Race forged a strong tie between video gaming and violence in the public imagination, ensuring the development of similarly violent games. This bond has persisted and led to the development of several similar games, including the controversial Grand Theft Auto franchise, which is the progeny of Death Race in both narrative theme and reception.