Friday, August 20, 2010

Obscure Video Game Controversies - Hard Hat Mack

My dad was digging through the closet and found some old Atari 400 games from my childhood, which spurred me to rediscover some of the stuff I used to play when I was really young. Please forgive me if the next few entries rely on such self-indulgence.

One of these games was an Electronic Arts game called Hard Hat Mack. It's clearly inspired by Donkey Kong, in that it takes a single screen arcade-style platformer that takes place on a construction site. Instead of simply reaching the top of the screen, each level has its own unique goal. In the first screen, you need to grab girders spread throughout the screen, place them them in the gaps of the structure, then grab the jackhammer that's mysteriously floating the around the screen to solidfy their place. In the meantime, there's some guy causing trouble running around, along with rivets that are shot from the top of the screen and bounce down.

In the second screen...well, I never beat it when I was a kid, and even with the benefit of save states and twenty five years of gaming experience, I still can't. It seems to be a factory and apparently you need to gather all of the lunch boxes somehow, but some of the obstacles require such pixel perfect jumping that it's practically impossible. There is a third level, apparently.

It's an alright little game. Like Dig Dug, the music stops and goes as you move your character, playing a short little ditty that becomes remarkly catchy despite maybe being four seconds long. But the most interesting aspect is the title screen, which shows all of the characters.

Now, if you were gaming at a young age, you probably picked up some vocabulary from whatever you were playing. (Zillion for the Master System taught me the meaning of "suicide". It was an awkward moment for my parents.) Hard Hat Mack taught me what a vandal was. More confusing was the character labeled "Osha", which I just thought was a weird name, and my dad didn't know either. Twenty-some years later, I realized it was actually OSHA, which stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the governmental division that strives to ensure safe working conditions. I was googling around, then, and found this interesting story from a 1983 issue of the computer magazine Infoworld:

Earlier this month, Electronic Arts, a home-software publisher based in San Mateo, California, found itself in hot water with the state government. Hard Hat Mack, one of the company's arcade-style games, was banned from at least one Emporium-Capwell store after a California legislator objected to one of Mack's enemies, a white-shirted good name OSHA.

In Hard Hat Mack, OSHA runs around the game screen, clipboard in hand, trying to squash Mack, a blue-collar construction worker...California state senator Dan McCorquodale took offense to Electronic Arts' comic portray of OSHA as a video-game villain and dashed off a latter of complaint to the Emporium store in Santa Clara, California. Hard Hat Mack was anti-worker, he said, and it gave the children playing video games the wrong idea about their friendly federal government. Six days later, the store pulled the video game.

The last laugh may be on Mr. McCorquodale. All of this publicity will probably spur sales of Hard Hat Mack. It's rare to find a game that is part fun and part humorous social commentary.

In the long-run, obviously this didn't affect much of anything. No one really remembers the game nowadays, and since it's not violent in the way Death Race was, it hasn't exactly made a mark on history. Still amusing, though.


  1. Wow, this game is brutal. I made it to the second stage on rougly my fiftieth try. And had no extra lives left.

  2. Silly brit,
    atari was never in eruope, the tv's couldn't handle it.

  3. Amazing. As I started to read this, before you addressed it in the text, I actually had the sudden flash of realization as to what the name OSHA meant, something that had always bugged me as a child! The C64 version was great, BTW.

  4. I played this on the C64 as a kid and had the same problems with the difficulty. I don't think I ever got off the first level. The names didn't mean anything to me back then as I barely knew any English, but I had the same OSHA revelation a few years ago.

    I wonder if Michael Abbot's father or some other relative was in construction, as it's kind of an unusual setting for a video game.

  5. Having actually worked in construction, I can't say that anybody ever payed enough attention to OSHA to actually consider them adversarial. But then, I've been trying to repress memories of that job.

  6. Wow, I remember playing this on the Apple IIe back in my junior high days. Our school had very old computers. :P

  7. We had this for our apple 2c when I was a kid, great playing in in monochrome green!

    Anyway I actually did make it to the 3rd level, but If I remember right it had a lot more of those treadmills, or maybe not.

    If you beat the game it just takes you back to the first level, but I don't think that it was faster or anything like that, it was just the first level again, or maybe that was just for the Apple version.

  8. This was EA's first game ever: it's a museum piece now! Keep it safe! ;)

    1. For the Apple II, which is the computer HHM was originally designed on. For the Atari, I think Pinball Construction Set was the first EA game. The May 1983 issue of Antic magazine has an ad for PCS, which is the earliest ad I could find for any Atari EA game. The first mention in ANALOG magazine was in the Sept 1983 issue and it mentions Archon, MULE, PCS, and Worms - no mention of Hard Hat Mack or Axis Assassin.

  9. I remember playing this on PC.

    For those who want to see the "walkthrough", there you go :