Night Trap is Both the Lamest and One of the Most Important Games of Our Time

Night Trap is Both the Lamest and One of the Most Important Games of Our Time

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition sends players spiraling back to a pivotal time for video games.

1993 was a turbulent time for video games. The United States government, seemingly with a lot of time on its hands, targeted controversial titles for their supposed violence and sexual content. An epic gongshow ensued, and the games industry was never the same.

The arrival of the arcade hit Mortal Kombat onto the SNES and Genesis was one reason for the heightened scrutiny: The media stapled alarming words to footage of anonymous children surrounding TV screens and gawping at Kano ripping hearts out of his opponents' chests ("VIDEO GAMES HAVE COME A LONG WAY SINCE PAC-MAN").

Today, adults who don't play games themselves just roll their eyes at Minecraft and Fortnite, but adults in the '90s were terrified of games and their supposed adverse effects on kids. The subsequent congressional hearings went to baffling places as a result. At the time, I wasn't surprised to see Mortal Kombat vilified—even if 1984's PG-13 rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a heart-ripping scene that's much more graphic than anything seen outside the HD Mortal Kombat titles. But politicians at the time seriously piled on Night Trap, an FMV game available on the Sega CD.

I was 13 when Night Trap was hoisted as the scapegoat for video games' potentially damaging effects on kids. Even as someone easily squicked out '80s slasher films, the "violence" in Night Trap stuck me as (purposefully) silly and corny. Having played Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition for the Nintendo Switch, I'm more bemused than ever about how this bloodless, incomprehensible, glorified DVD menu is the game that sparked massive changes to the games market. If not for Night Trap and the outrage that accompanied it, the industry never would've put together the ESRB.

I can't exactly recommend Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition unless you want to collect it for its history (which is archived in the Anniversary Edition's extras). FMV games based entirely around quick-time events weren't fun in the '80s and '90s, and they aren't fun now; even the "Everything is Better on the Switch" mantra can't change that.

Trying to "win" at Night Trap involves flipping through a camera feed and hunting down the color-code words necessary to trap the Augers (read: Vampires) swarming a vacation house populated by young women. You don't receive any instruction on what you need to do: My Google search for "How the hell do I play Night Trap" yielded the instruction booklet for the 32X version of the game, and I was still clueless. The grandfather of FMV games, Dragon's Lair, isn't a whole lot of fun, either—but at least it's gorgeous to look at, and very easy to understand.

"Hit the button or die instantly" is a lot easier to grok than whatever Night Trap is going for.

(Side note: Yes, Night Trap eventually made its way to Sega's doomed 32X. In fact, after the controversy, Night Trap made its way to every potato capable of displaying FMV, however grainy. Night Trap was initially made in 1986 for a VHS-based game console that was ultimately canned—hence why all its actors are stuck in '80s Limbo—before Digital Pictures just parked it on the Sega CD. Night Trap snoozed in relative obscurity until Political Rage pushed it into the spotlight. Surprise, surprise.)

Whether you pick up Night Trap: 25th Anniversary or just hit up YouTube, it's worth digging into the reasons why the game made politicians flip their toupees back in the day. One particular scene was trotted out as the number-one example of the dark road games were supposedly going down: A clip of one lady being grabbed by the Augers while she prepares for bed. She's restrained by the neck via a giant Robo-Hand that drains her blood, but she's whisked off screen before she actually "dies."

When Night Trap was presented to Congress, the footage became a "shower scene" where women have "metal hooks" drilled through their necks. Clearly, that's not what's going on. Nobody uses the shower, for one thing. Night Trap is arguably even tamer than old black-and-white vampire movies where women are visibly seduced, have their necks bitten, and are drained of their blood until they collapse. But the big fear with Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, and its ilk was they supposedly let kids interact with these violent scenes—even if, again, Night Trap doesn't actively let you corral women with Robo-Hands, metal hooks, or anything else. Your job in the game is to watch teenage girls lip-synch to admittedly catchy '80s pop and then get berated by the commander in charge of the SWAT operation because you have no idea how you're supposed to trap the Augers infiltrating the house.

Night Trap. It's dull (epic '80 pageantry aside), it's slow, and it's silly—and it gets its very own chapter in the book of legal and political events that shaped the games industry as we know it today. Goes to show how even an unremarkable bunny rabbit can alter a landscape forever.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

What Retro Game Do You Still Play Regularly?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Mario 3? Planescape Torment? StarCraft? We want to know what classic games are still in your regular rotation.

Trials of Mana Interview: The Developers on Topping the Fan Translation and the Possibility of New Mana Games

"[T]he localization team took a look at the translation and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to show them up.'"

Oninaki Review

Oh now feel it, comin' back again.

The Pride Flag in Marvel's Spider-Man is a Small Gesture That's Made a Large Impact

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Pride flags in Marvel's Spider-Man, edits to Yakuza re-releases, and an Ion Fury backtrack show publisher actions speaking louder than words

Remnant: From the Ashes is Quickly Becoming 2019's Breakout Hit

A multiplayer Souls-shooter is picking up steam.

More Analyses

A Fresh Look at New Super Mario Bros. U on Switch: Does it Measure Up to the Classics?

Where does New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe rank alongside Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World?

The State of Destiny 2 After Forsaken: A Game That Can't Shake Its Troubles

Forsaken was a solid start, but it wasn't enough to pull everyone back.

Sorry Pokemon Fans, Your Gold-Plated Cards from Burger King Aren't Worth Squat

Burger King's Pokemon cards from 1999 look kind of nice and they're fun to remember, but they're barely worth the cost of a milkshake.