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25 Years Later, ‘Night Trap’ is True SCAT

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Since the dawn of the medium, gaming has attracted controversy in one form or another, with the most common complaints being that it desensitizes children to immoral actions like sex and violence. The validity of these claims can be argued forever, but it all reached a particularly nasty peak in 1992 when two of the most controversial and unintentionally important games of all time were released. The first is the classic Mortal Kombat, which offered a considerably more brutal and blood filled alternative to Street Fighter and thus attracted a lot more attention. Specifically, critics pointed out the incredibly violent finishing moves, known as “fatalities” which included everything from ripping out spines and skulls to melting opponents with fire breath. Famously Nintendo chose to censor their version of the game while Sega did not, which allowed the underdog Genesis to finally knock the SNES off of its high perch, while also creating a mountain of concerned parents whose kids were now bringing this violence home.

The other game was Night Trap.

Night Trap isn’t nearly as well known, or well remembered as Mortal Kombat. There haven’t been dozens of sequels to Night Trap, and no terrible kid’s movie made to capitalize on its success. Often the only place one can hear about Night Trap is in discussions about either the most controversial games ever released, or the worst ones. Night Trap shouldn’t have been a big deal. It’s certainly not as deserving as other games like the previously mentioned Mortal Kombat, or Doom, and it definitely doesn’t seem deserving of an HD re-release when so many better games lay in vaults never to see the light of day again. So why does anyone care about Night Trap, and is it more than just a meme from a time long gone?

In the ’90s gaming was starting to move away from 2D sprites. As graphical processors were getting more and more powerful, developers were trying new experimental graphical configurations for games. While real 3D gaming was a ways away, one early trick was called “Full Motion Video”, where a video of real actors on real sets was shot, then digitized, into the game, albeit usually at much lower resolutions and quality than TV or film. There are only a few examples of this being used well with games like Realms of the Haunting, Mad Dogg Mcree, or the Gabriel Knight and Tex Murphy series. Most of the time this was used as a selling point in otherwise crummy games because it was a new gimmick. Games like Crime Patrol, Sewer Shark, Corpse Killer, and Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game are all notoriously bad games trying to hide behind their “cinematic experience” which usually amounts to maybe 20 minutes of FMV stretched over a few hours of terrible gameplay.

What set Night Trap apart was a few things. First was the “star power” of Dana Plato, known mostly for her role as Kimberly Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes. Given everything going on in her life, like robbing a video store with a pellet gun, and only getting work in porn, it’s pretty obvious Dana needed Night Trap just as much as it needed her. For some, the idea of a game where your main interaction was with a scantily clad Dana Plato, was enough but then there was the gameplay itself. The player’s role is that of a SCAT observer (Special/Sega Control Attack Team) whose job it is to watch 8 different cameras placed around a house while a group of “teenage” (Plato was nearly 30 at the time) girls have a slumber party and are targeted by a vampiric death cult. Plato played Kelli, an undercover agent sent in with the girls and it’s up to you to trigger traps around the house to keep her safe while she discovers the secrets of the mansion, all the while eavesdropping on the girls and the host family, grabbing little slices of the action as you flip from camera to camera.

The reason Night Trap became singled out by senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl during their hearings on video game violence and corruption was because of the decidedly “adult” nature of the game. The opening number features the girls dancing around in nightgowns, there are several scenes of the vampires groping the young women, never mind the kind of sexist and voyeuristic vibe the entire game gives off. A lot of this was argued by the game’s creators as being a misunderstanding, particularly the claim that the game was about trapping and killing young women when the goal is the exact opposite, but the damage had been done. Night Trap was used as a prime example of how video games were corrupting the children of America and turning kids into sex-crazed murder machines, all of this despite the fact that it’s a boring game with maybe an hour of content and really bad writing and acting. It’s the equivalent to someone demanding reform of the film industry because of The Room, or claiming that all literature is terrible because of Twilight. Regardless it was pulled from shelves, released in a censored version, and would be directly responsible for the ESRB that we have today, who serve as the main voice in telling people what games they can and cannot play through completely non-enforceable means. 

A lot has changed in 25 years, however, and by today’s standards, Night Trap is incredibly tame. Placed next to the likes of GTA V, Mass Effect, Hotline Miami, or any other number of mature games, the scenes and themes of Night Trap appear downright innocent. It really is a game that doesn’t deserve to be remembered for anything outside of being a second rate FMV horror game on a dying system that no one bought. Yet, like many games that don’t deserve it, Night Trap has its own cult following, and despite an unsuccessful Kickstarter a few years ago, we’re being treated to a full HD re-release for the X1 and PS4 coming soon. It’s a game remembered for all the wrong reasons, a game that unintentionally helped shape the world of modern gaming, and most importantly, it’s proof that you don’t need to be good to be memorable.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. DarthDiggler

    May 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Night Trap shouldn’t have been a big deal. It’s certainly not as deserving as other games like the previously mentioned Mortal Kombat, or Doom, and it definitely doesn’t seem deserving of an HD re-release when so many better games lay in vaults never to see the light of day again.

    Is that SO?

    Night Trap has its own cult following, and despite an unsuccessful Kickstarter a few years ago, we’re being treated to a full HD re-release for the X1 and PS4 coming soon.

    LOL

  2. Ricky D

    May 3, 2017 at 1:59 am

    I’ve played this game. It isn’t good and not sure why people are excited for a HD release.

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