Digital Archaeology is a fascinating journey that brings us face-to-face with the relics of gaming’s past. In this thrilling installment, we delve into the murky depths of Custer’s Revenge on the Atari 2600. Brace yourself for a review, history lesson, and profound analysis of a game that, even by the standards of its time, stooped to shockingly indefensible depths.
A Game Beyond Redemption
Atari’s E.T. might have garnered infamy, but it possessed a certain charm that allowed it a modicum of redemption. However, Custer’s Revenge is an entirely different beast. This abhorrent game is not just technically inept; it revels in racism, sexism, and victimization. Its deeply troubling theme leaves a stain on the gaming industry’s early history. Unlike E.T. and Pac Man, Custer’s Revenge compounds its failings with crude depictions of sexual assault and the glorification of genocide.
The Mystique Behind Mystique
Custer’s Revenge arrived on the scene in September 1982, around the same time Atari unleashed its ill-fated adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. This repulsive creation came from the portfolio of Mystique, a small company notorious for producing so-called adult video games. Mystique employed bold warnings and crude sexual imagery to generate press and sell units. One of their titles, Bachelor Party, shamelessly mimicked the gameplay mechanics of Atari’s Breakout, replacing innocent imagery with explicit content. But Custer’s Revenge took things to a whole new level, sickeningly introducing rape as a gameplay mechanic.
A Disturbing Gameplay Experience
In Custer’s Revenge, players navigate from one side of the screen to the other, dodging falling arrows to reach a naked Native American woman tied to a post. The objective? To assault her by rapidly pressing the joystick’s action button, earning points with every click before an arrow inevitably strikes. Disturbingly, this is the entirety of the game—a shocking and repetitive mechanic that shamelessly exploits the intersection of race, gender, and genocide solely for profit.
Provoking Controversy and Profits
Custer’s Revenge achieved a level of success that is deeply unsettling. It reportedly sold a staggering 80,000 units, partly due to the negative publicity orchestrated by its publisher. Cynically, they invited members of women’s groups and Native American organizations to play the game, intentionally provoking outrage. This calculated move generated protests and effectively spread the word about the game. Deborah Wise, writing in InfoWorld in November 1982, saw through the publisher’s ploy, calling for action against the game’s existence, unintentionally giving the creators the attention they sought.
Custer’s Revenge stands as an abomination in the annals of gaming history. Its subject matter, focus, depictions, and goals create a nauseatingly disturbing mix. Even the fact that it found defenders – and it did – serves as a damning indictment of the early video game industry. When discussions arise about the worst video games ever made, Custer’s Revenge deserves an unqualified recognition—a testament to the depths the industry has risen from.
Join us on Capturing Fantasy as we continue our journey through the digital archaeology of gaming’s past, shedding light on the highs and lows that have shaped the industry. Let us learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure a brighter future for gaming.