Exidy's Death Race, of 1976, might have been the first game adaptation and yeah, it was kind of lame, setting a standard for adaptations for decades to come. (It was inspired by 1975's Death Race 2000 starring Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine). But man did it cause a stink. Players ran down stickmen with a car, eliciting screams and turning the screen into a graveyard of pedestrians. The game had no colour, no digitized sound, no blood splatter, no ragdoll physics, its violence was abstract in both audio and video, and it made 60 Minutes as a national outrage.
Well since retro-revival's as much the rage in cinema as it is gaming, there's a Death Race remake coming to the screen in a couple of weeks. And the movie's history as the inspiration for a hot-button game controversy is something any marketer would exploit. So the film's official web site has a flash advergame -- top down racer with some weapons thrown in. It sucks.
I was 3 in 1976, so I can't speak for the state of people's thinking at the time. But I really do wonder if its level of violence is indeed trivial, even for its age, or if I only feel that way because I've seen so much more, and so much worse. It's hard to consider Death Race as the first pebble trickling off a slippery slope, and definitely makes it more important than it deserves to be.