10 Video Games Originally Rated AO

Content Warning: This listing contains mentions of sexual and graphic violence.

After a contentious congressional hearing in 1993 on video games like mortal combat and Night Trap, the US government told the gaming industry that they either had to create their own rating system or the government would do it for them. Thus, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) was created.

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Most players will recognize game odds as E, T and M… but many don’t know that there is also AO – Adults Only. Very few games get this rating because it means stores won’t sell them and they can’t be released for consoles. It also means that many games had to undergo modifications to reduce their rating from AO to M in order to be more salable.


Manhunt 2 (2007)

A player sneaks up behind a victim in Manhunt 2

2003 Manhunt led to significant controversy since the object of the game was to sneak up on characters and brutally murder them, including choking, stabbing with an axe, and even gouging out eyeballs with pliers. In 2004, the game was even charged with the murder of a teenager in the UK and pulled from the shelves of many video game retailers, Irish weather reports. Naturally, all eyes were on Rockstar when they announced that a sequel was to be released in 2007.

Manhunt 2 caused considerable controversy and CBS News details how it was banned in England and Ireland. Reacting to news from Europe, the US ESRB gave Manhunt 2 the dreaded AO rating. Soon after, Walmart, GameStop, and Target refused to stock the game, and SONY, Nintendo, and Microsoft all said they wouldn’t allow it on their consoles. Rockstar had to come in and modify the game in order to get a sellable M rating.

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (2004)

Larry runs around his college campus completely naked

Larry Leisure Suit is a long-running game series about a sleazy average Joe (or, Larry in this case) who wants to get laid. The 7th installment of the game, Magna Cum Laude, focuses on Larry’s nephew… also named Larry. He is a student who hopes to prove his sexual prowess.

The game features nudity and simulated sex, earning it an AO rating. Europe is much less conservative on nudity, so IGN notes that the game was allowed to launch showing breasts and buttocks across the pond, but in the US the nudity had to be blurred out for it to receive an M rating. Years later, the version uncut is released on PC.

Agony (2018)

a satanic hellscape greets players in Agony

2018 saw one of the most recent examples of a game needing editing. Agony is something of a survival horror game set in hell. It was meant to be gruesome, scary, and tense, using gore and shocking value to entertain players. Throughout the game, players must do things like extract the heart from an undead corpse and walk through skin-covered tunnels.

However, game informant reports that the ESRB forced the game to undergo edits to get an M rating due to the significant amounts of gore and macabre content. Upon release, reviewers and gamers discovered that, despite the controversy, Agony was actually extremely boring, boring and monotonous. The game’s shock value wasn’t enough to keep anyone interested for more than a few minutes and it was considered one of the worst games of 2018.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Our protagonist wanders the streets of a fictional LA in GTA San Andreas

GTA San Andreas was the franchise’s 5th game and took place in a fictional Los Angeles that still stands as Grand Theft Autois the best game card. Yet, San Andreas’ The “Hot Coffee” minigame has become one of the most controversial moments in video game history. Hot Coffee allowed players to control an in-game sexual encounter. Initially, Rockstar blamed hackers and claimed they had nothing to do with it.

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However, it was soon revealed that Rockstar actually created the minigame. San Andreas was slapped with an AO rating by the ESRB and the publisher was forced to release an edited version of the game where the Hot Coffee mod was not accessible. In a series plagued by controversy, this remains potentially the worst.

Friday the 13th: The Game (2017)

Jason strangled one of his victims to death

Based on the famous film franchise, Friday the 13th: the game was a love letter to Jason and horror fans. It allowed players to play as Jason or a group of camp monitors in a Dead in broad daylight– style arena battle. The censors, however, weren’t too thrilled.

Apparently, brutal, grisly Jason-esque murders are okay in movies, but not in video games. Wes Keltner even took Twitter during development of the game to say they were battling with the ESRB, which had placed the game between an M and AO rating. Luckily, the game made the changes required for an M rating and went on to sell millions of copies.

Outlast 2 (2017)

A grizzled undead is seen through a camera in Outlast 2

Survive to is a popular survival horror franchise known for being bloody and terrifying. In 2017, Survive 2 was even deemed too disturbing and had to be edited to receive an M rating. Worse still, the game was initially denied a rating in Australia, making it impossible to sell the game under it.

Some reasons cited for the AO rating included the amount of blood, sexual violence, large amounts of dead bodies and what IGN called “a ritualistic orgy”. In 2018, the PC version came with an update that would allow players to play an “uncut” version with the AO content re-added.

Playboy: The Mansion (2006)

The Playboy logo accompanied by the famous rabbit head

In Playboy: The Mansion, players take on the role of Hugh Hefner and are tasked with developing the Playboy name in a huge empire. Players must network, publish new issues of the magazine and, of course, party with the Playboy Bunnies. In the Private party expansion pack, players can even make their character sleep with Playboy models.

Naturally, this was slapped with an AO rating, forcing it to only be released on PC. However, the main game managed to not only get a PC release, but also appeared on PS2 and Xbox, with the stipulation that the Private party hardware should not be included.

Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy (2005)

Lucas Kane stands in a dimly lit room trying to remember his past

Fahrenheit (published as Indigo Prophecy in North America) is an action/horror game that follows a man who becomes possessed by a spirit and unknowingly kills innocent bystanders. When he first sought freedom, Wired reports that the ESRB slapped the game with the dreaded AO rating for sex and substance use (the game has two very awkward sex scenes).

The game was edited for the United States and saw release on PC, PS2, and Xbox. However, the European version was able to be released without modification, as their censors tend to be less conservative when it comes to sexual content.

The Punisher (2004)

The Punisher slides a victim's head under a drill press

Based on the Marvel comic character, The Punisher was much darker than most Marvel projects. The game wanted to follow the gritty, gruesome feel of the 2004 film, as it’s part of the character of the Punisher. This did not please the ESRB. In an interview with PolygonDan Cermak, Volition’s chief executive, said the ratings board called the game “interactive torture” and demanded changes in order to avoid an AO rating.

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The game received even harsher treatment in the UK. According to BBFC (the UK Rating Committee), The Punisher has a rating of 18, the most restrictive in the country. And that rating actually went to the edited version of the game, the one that ultimately received an M rating from the ESRB.

The Guys Game (2004)

The cover of The Guy Game features women in skimpy clothing

2004 The guys game was supposed to be a scorching success but turned into something much worse. On the surface, it’s a misogynistic trivia game designed for drunk students that features topless women.

The game’s first task was to reduce nudity enough to get an M rating instead of AO. But it ended up being the lesser of the T’she guy gameworries. Network reports that shortly after its release, one of the nude girls featured in the game went to court, revealing that she was underage and did not know what the intended use of her video footage was until the game is out. Legally, the game was now child pornography and its sale and distribution was quickly banned.

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