In the early 90s, the emergence of gory and violent video game titles such as Mortal Kombat
led to a backlash from moral guardians trying to prevent the younger ones from being turned into the next Ed Gein. In response to this, the ESRB was created, dedicated to rate video game titles with the appropriate audience label and properly give advisory to otherwise vulgar content. While most developers shrugged it off and carried on with their revelry in gore and refuges in audacity, Gilbert P. Austin of DigiFX Interactive begs to differ, however, by creating a no-holds barred deconstruction of the notion that video game is responsible for real-life violence. Enter Harvester, released in 1996 for the PC. Its graphic nature and extremely violent scenes resulted in censorship in Germany and outright contraband in Australia.
The game is styled after your typical 90s point-and-click adventure games with a slight combat element put in, where Steve can use a variety of weapons including garden tools and a pistol to eliminate his adversaries. Puzzle-solving and interaction with characters via dialogue is required to advance. Graphics are mostly FMV-based, with pre-rendered live-action characters pasted into a static background.
What sets Harvester apart from the rest of its adventure game contemporaries is its utterly insane narrative. Our protagonist Steve wakes up and finds himself in a town set in the late 50s or early 60s filled with oddballs and sociopaths called Harvest. Almost every single one of its denizens are bloodthirsty, morally depraved, clearly mad or all of the above. It's not uncommon for you to get involved in combat with the deranged citizens out of simple matters such as picking a seemingly innocuous dialogue option. In order to escape, Steve is told by its citizens to join a strange organization simply known as 'The Lodge', whose headquarters resemble a cathedral made out of human skin. The Lodge demands Steve to commit murder and all other sorts of vile acts as part of his 'initiation' and the game only gets gorier and more gruesome from there. Coupled with absurd writing, awkward cut-and-paste FMV animation, excessive gore and B-grade voice acting, the game might leave players confused, asking: Is Harvester just a joke?
That's the point. Harvester is all just one huge, sick joke that video games could create murderers. It's the logical conclusion to moral panic satire: the over-the-top violence, completely absurd characters and their revelry in depravity shows that video games are an escapism from the things humans would normally consider taboo or unacceptable in real life. It won't back down in showing that cannibalizing your parents or eviscerating people and using their intestines as jump rope is all fun and games.
The two endings of the game will explain this gorefest to a full circle, and I'll leave the interpretation up to you.
Other video games have attempted to deconstruct this notion of interactive violence through similar meta-narratives in the past two decades, but none has ever reached the sheer sociopathic comedy catharsis of Harvester."It's something, right? To see them twitch all over, peel back their eyelids, if you're fast enough, and watch the dark angel just reach right through the pupils and yank out the light inside. They're never more alone when that happens. You can't share in it... you can only watch... and try to keep from smiling."
9/10 would rip apart my girlfriend's spine