Custer May Be Shot Down Again in a Battle of the Sexes Over X-Rated Video Games
As the bugle sounds, Gen. Custer—naked except for boots, neckerchief and hat—charges across the battlefield into a torrent of Indian arrows. Wielding what looks like a misplaced saber, Custer maneuvers ever closer to an Indian maiden tied to a post. Finally within range, he throws himself and his priapic saber upon her as she kicks up her legs in dubious delight. For every thrust (assuming a stray arrow doesn’t zap him first), the general racks up points in one of the most controversial X-rated home video games yet. Called Custer’s Revenge, its slogan is, “When you score, you score.”
Predictably, the game’s manufacturer, American Multiple Industries of Northridge, Calif., is under attack from all sides. Last month at a trade show in Manhattan, where Custer’s Revenge was on display, 300 demonstrators turned out, including Mifaunwy Hines, 60, the head of the American Indian Information Center in New York. “It’s a racist game,” she contends. “And it’s humiliating to an American Indian woman.” Concurs Virginia Cornue, executive director of the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter: “It promotes violence against women for fun. It’s like having a little surrogate act out the rape for you.”
All of which has put AMI president Stuart Kesten, 41, on the defensive. “NOW will complain about anything not showing a woman in the dominant position,” says Kesten. “We would not promote such an offensive thing as rape in a game. It’s a fun sequence where the woman is enjoying a sexual act willingly.” Retorts Cornue, “That makes it even more objectionable. It says the woman enjoys being raped.”
NOW is collecting signatures for a petition protesting the game. Similarly, other groups—from Women Against Pornography to the Custer Society of Tyler, Texas—have lodged their complaints. Legislators in Suffolk County, Long Island will vote this week on a resolution that could result in a ban on games like Custer’s Revenge.
Atari, the leading manufacturer of home video games, does not share Kesten’s sense of fun either. But Kesten’s lineup, which also includes the X-rated Bachelor Party, can only be played on Atari’s 2600 VCS unit (also sold by Sears as Sears Video Arcade). In retaliation, Atari—which logs in 1,200 Custer’s Revenge complaints daily—has filed a lawsuit against AMI alleging that Atari’s name is wrongfully being associated with AMI’s activities. Says Michael Moone, president of Atari’s Consumer Electronics Division: “We’ve built a business on family entertainment. We want those games off the market.”
Kesten’s last stand may be in court, but he’s moving ahead. Born in Astoria, N.Y., Kesten received a master’s in economics from Columbia University and worked as a marketing manager for Sterling Drug Inc. and L’Oréal and as a free-lance marketing consultant before forming AMI with partner Joel Martin last year. Not only is he prepared to have 500,000 cartridges in stores by Christmas, but Kesten also plans to introduce three more graphically advanced X-rated games in January and hopes to have 24 games on the market by December 1983. He boasts that AMI will become the nation’s second-largest video cartridge firm behind Atari.
Kesten claims his games won’t be sold to minors and says his 11-year-old son doesn’t touch them. “My other kids [18 and 21] think Custer’s Revenge is terrific, and my wife loves it,” says Kesten. With $1 million already committed to his X-rated video line, Kesten has no plans for a G-rated turnabout. “Adults don’t have a product for themselves,” he argues. “Besides, I can’t play those games with shooting rocket ships—they move too fast.”