How Sierra and a Disgraced Cop Made the Most Reactionary Game of the 90s


CW: This article discusses incidents of police violence as well as depictions of queerphobia, violence, and murder.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Man, I remember that whole thing with Gates refusing to actually stop walking around calling himself the chief of police. It was surreal as hell.

He is and was frankly a perfect capstone for the history of the LAPD up to that point, but of course they’d manage to top him later with Rampart.


This is a fascinating article; thanks! I always love when the wider world can be related to such kind of niche areas, and this is a particularly surreal example.


Being 9 when this game came out, I guess I’m not surprised I don’t remember any of this controversy being attached to it. It never fails to surprise, and disappoint, when you find out that something you enjoyed from your childhood is tainted by such an awful mentality. I know logically that it’s foolish to think that the people making light hearted and whimsical entertainment are anything other than messy adults, but it never stops being miserable when you get confronted with it.


While people are here I will actually go to bat for the Jim Walls Police Quests games, which I thought had a pretty charming insistence on doing things correctly. Sure, they killed you constantly, but all the Sierra adventure games did - dying in stupid ways was a big part of the appeal. But in Jim Walls Police Quest you had to actually try to be good at being a cop, not a TV version of a cop, and I think it was pretty neat. It’s one of the first games I can think of where applying real-world logic to it was actually pretty necessary. We are supposed to look both ways before we cross the street, we’re supposed to check all our tires before we go for a drive. The mundanity of such stuff in a game is pretty nifty.


man, that was a powerful piece. what a window into a world past yet still extant, and worming its way into even niche mediums. just bizarre


I grew up loving the Police Quest games. However I remember bouncing off of the fourth game because of the shift in tone. Now I know why. At the time I didn’t know much about the Rodney King stuff so of course I bought his BS on the bonus CD. I haven’t tried playing the earlier games recently and I don’t know if I can stomach it nowadays.* I think I’d rather just keep my fond memories of them and leave it in the past. Anyway, I found this to be a great and insightful article. This is the type of #content that I come to Waypoint for.

*- I feel I should note that I don’t think all cops are bad but I do think police culture is rotten to it’s core. The fact that good cops are punished if they speak up about bad actions that they witness their fellow police doing ensures that we will always have the problem of lots of bad cops. Those punishments can even turn deadly such as other police not giving them backup in dangerous situations.


Did you even read the article? Also, if you wanted to show the evils of another human being, you don’t hire them to make a game for you about how awful they are.

Ken Williams was blinded by his shortsighted viewpoint and he helped make something awful with an awful person as a result. That’s what happened.


Well this took a turn.


There was a user posting in this thread in a manner that grossly violated our Rules and Code of Conduct. They have been removed from the forum. We expect the Code of Conduct be respected in all threads, but given the sensitive nature of this topic, we’re going to be extra vigilant. There are many ways to discuss both the article and the game franchise that are in line with the code of conduct, but that was not one of them.


I too was a youngster when this happened and thus have no memory of it. With the current climate of things being so toxic I wonder how far away we are from something like this happening again.


It’s already happened in different contexts. I remember there being a much smaller controversy at the time with Call of Duty Black Ops 2 using Ollie North. That was much less direct, the story wasn’t some writ large vindication of North’s actions in the same with Police Quest seems to be, and also Ollie North wasn’t hired at the height of his infamy.


In the limit, all cops are bad. The natural evolution of the current American police establishment and procedures empowers bad cops and pushes out good cops. Even if you personally know or are related to a good cop, your good cop relation will eventually become a bad cop or else cease to be a cop, making the thesis statement true.

Thanks for the article, Duncan. Makes me glad I was on the LucasArts side.


While I’m too young to remember the riots or to have played Police Quest, this was a really fascinating look into the history of Sierra.


I only knew about the Jim Walls Police Quest games which, as @dogsarecool stated, are cute for their absolute adherence to rules as being important for everyone’s safety. They communicate an ideal world where the police are actually around to protect people and have rules to check them and ensure that their power comes with accountability and responsibility (essentially, the very ethos that Gates loathed).

That the architect of the LAPD’s most infamous period was somehow thought of as a good consultant for game development is wild, as is the notion that the person who led party-heavy Sierra was into the Rush Limbaugh show. The only thing more surprising was that Gates was also the creator of D.A.R.E., which blows my mind because that program stuck around long enough that I was still doing it in 2003, and I think only went away in the past decade or so, at least in my neck of New York. I would have thought schools and police departments would have jumped ship for, well, literally any other anti-drug curriculum that wasn’t attached to someone who had very publicly proven himself to be horrid.

Thanks for this fantastic read.


This is such a great article, one of my favorite things I’ve read so far in this young year. I’m glad we got to learn about this subject as it relates to video game history and controversy. I also recommend, as a sort of supplement to this article, this video from PushingUpRoses about the series history:


I finally had a chance to read the whole article and god damn what a piece. I was barely 10 years old when all that stuff went on and therefore was oblivious to it. Depressing to know how little has changed since then, except for perhaps the amount of cultural awareness in certain (relatively large?) social circles.

I also had no idea how much of a sleazy PoS Ken Williams was. Woah. Is Roberta of the same ilk? Looks like they’re still married all these decades later.