Postal Redux: Shooters and Society

Videogames are often a means to leave the real world and give your mind a time to relax. And as technology became more and more advanced, some studios decided to make them more and more realistic. As games became more and more realistic, mature videogames began to raise eyebrows as the line between real world and videogame world began to disintegrate. I argue that mature, violent videogames can be allowed in society but in the wrong hands, they can lead to horrible outcomes. Like DoomPostal was society’s scapegoat for the gun violence seen in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Postal was released in 1997 and was heavily criticized for its over the top violence. It is important to note that this was released in the same era as Doom and Grand Theft Auto, and society was getting nervous about the mature video games being released. Players take control of “Postal Dude” and are challenged to proceed through levels killing the required amount of people with various weapons. There is no story (only still frames with what could be called poetry…), you are just thrown into the world with a gun and an objective: rack up maximum points with maximum carnage.

One of the many still frames that are used between levels. Note the graphic text.

On the surface, the game is simple run and gun game that focuses merely on the violence and bloodshed of victims just for the sake of being violent. But if you dig a little deeper, you need to have a detailed strategy in order to stay alive and maintain your best weapons (ammo is limited). This includes hiding when necessary, taking out hostiles in the correct order, and looking for ways to take out large groups at once. Like Doom, there is a method to the madness and a well crafted method equals a better score. So if Postal is encouraging a strategy for mass murder, could someone argue that it is teaching players how to commit mass murder?

One of the first levels encountered. The goal is to kill hostiles (typically police and the army) and leave the civilians alone.

Though Postal is not what we would consider realistic by today’s standards, it was most certainly cutting edge for the time. The line between realistic world and “just a game” was definitely blurred which caused some people to think that this game would harm the minds of the players and cause them to be more violent.  Their thinking was justified, how could this be considered just a game? It was very much a part of real life. Remember, “going postal” was a term familiar in the 90’s. It was actually created due in part to this event. And this is only one of the few tragedies that happened in the 90’s. The United States Postal Service even tried to sue Postal developers, Running With Scissors, for defamation. Society had an argument against games like this, they obviously had negative relationships with real world events. But at what point does the suppression of what games are released become an issue with Free Speech?

You should be allowed to publish any type of videogame no matter the content. But, I think that mature videogames need to be monitored more effectively. You shouldn’t have minors owning violent/explicit games. If their parents want to buy them the videogame, they should be informed about the content in the game and be okay with their child playing said game. If you are of age to buy mature games, you should ask yourself if you are ready to see the explicit content and if you think you will be harmed by it, you should not buy the game. Mature videogames get bad press because people do not play them maturely. I have often seen grown adults act childish over GTA: Online and misrepresent the gaming culture. To play mature games, you need to act maturely and be aware about what it is you are actually doing in the game. It is important to know when videogames are just games and when they are real. As games become more realistic and virtual reality allows players to step inside the game world, we have to take a minute and remind ourselves that it is just a game.

A large explosion in Postal, not uncommon.


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