You’ve probably never heard of ‘Rule of Rose’. The 2006 survival horror game didn’t see a release over here due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, caused by media outlets and government officials denouncing the game based on incorrect claims and assumptions of its content.
Unlike other survival horrors of its era, or any era for that matter, ‘Rule of Rose’ incorporates themes of childhood fear alongside adult subtext in a very uncomfortable and down-to-earth way. Bullying, kidnapping and imprisonment are portrayed throughout the game, and its depiction of a child-run hierarchy and the helplessness of the adult protagonist offers a unique perspective on inversions of society and power structures. The use of children as antagonists was in itself atypical, due to the risks that could come with getting such content released especially in international markets. For example, when the first ‘Silent Hill’ was released, an enemy known as the ‘Grey Child’ was removed from the Japanese and European versions of the game because it too closely resembled a child, according to censors.
The front cover of an Italian games magazine, which featured the game alongside the quote ‘He Who Buries the Little Girl Wins!’, was the first step in the judgment that would follow. The magazine condemned ‘Rule of Rose’ for containing scenes of sadomasochism, underage eroticism and people being buried alive, none of which is actually present in the game. This untruthful description was blown further and further out of proportion when it reached other European media, including British newspapers like The Times and the Daily Mail, which continued the false accusations and questioning of video game morality as a whole.
This culminated in an attack on the game by the European Union Commissioner for Justice, and a motion put forward to Parliament for a ban on the sale of ‘Rule of Rose’, alongside a call for greater surveillance and regulations to be put on distribution of children’s video games as a whole. Not long afterwards all allegations were disproven by more reliable sources, but the damage was still done. As a result of the controversy, Rule of Rose’s release was cancelled in the UK and Australia, irreparably damaging the game’s sales along with its reputation.
‘Rule of Rose’ was the stimulus of a short-lived moral panic, not unlike those which surrounded games like ‘Doom’, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and even ‘Pokemon’, based on wholly inaccurate details. Unlike said games, ‘Rule of Rose’s’ niche genre and limited release meant this targeting had much more of an impact. Without this initial reception, it could easily have become one of the legends of its genre.