Mortal Kombat turns 30: the story of the game "too violent for our children"

Mortal Kombat turns 30: the story of the game too violent for our children

Mortal Kombat turns 30

Two sentences are enough to bring the memory of each gamer into a 2D world made of pixels and martial arts: the first is Finish Him, followed immediately after by Fatality! 30 years ago the first Mortal Kombat made its arcade debut and the world of video games has never been the same since.

Born in response to the hugely popular Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat adopted a decidedly more violent and graphic style, conquering the hearts of young gamers of the time and causing panic in legions of parents. His bloody Fatalities, in fact, started the process that led to the establishment from the system to determine if a game is suitable for minors: the ESRB.

Mortal Kombat's impact, however, doesn't stop at a final move in which a fighter slides off his opponent's spine. Thirty years later, the game conceived by Ed Boon and John Tobias and published by Midway Games has 11 main chapters, as many between spinoff and remastered, an official competitive circuit, 3 films and hundreds of thousands of fans around the world.

In this special on the history of Mortal Kombat, we retrace the impact that the game has had on some of the most important moments in the evolution of gaming: from the console war of the 90s to the relationship between video games and films, for the evolution of the fighting game industry and ecosystem.

The rebellious spirit of Mortal Kombat

For some time, the protagonist of Mortal Kombat had to be Jean-Claude Van Damme Like many great classics, Mortal Kombat was in danger of never seeing the light in the design phase. First it was supposed to be a fighting video game starring Ninja, then it was transformed into the official Universal Soldier video game: an action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme. Boon and Tobias' idea was to digitize the actor's moves and fighting style to make him the star of a gory and more serious video game than the competition. When the license agreement was blown, however, the entire project was at risk of cancellation but the release and success of Street Fighter II convinced the upper floors of Midway to give the green light to the original idea.

The Capcom game was never an inspiration for the Mortal Kombat team because it was seen as too childish in its cartoon-like style. Tobias said that many of the game's identity elements come from the fascination Chinese mythology and supernatural kung-fu movies had on him. In 2011 he wrote in a tweet: "The works that influenced me most were the films of Tsui Hark - Zu Warriors and The Swordsman. We had to recover them from some not-so-legal vendors in Chicago's Chinatown".

Someone think of the children

The Simpsons were a mirror of society also by telling the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat There are many achievements by Mortal Kombat: it was the first video game to have a secret fighter (Reptile , which later became a playable character in the sequel), one of the first titles to be released simultaneously for the 4 main consoles of the time (SNES, Mega Drive, Game Boy and Game Gear) and was the most popular arcade cabinet since its release in 1992 until the summer of 1993 when he lost the crown to NBA Jam. However, many remember Mortal Kombat for another reason: together with Doom, Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers he was the protagonist of a media storm that brought him before the US authorities.

Two ultra-conservative American senators have accused these 4 video games to "corrupt the minds of young people and our society" and organized a series of hearings to clarify the issue. In the sights of the censors were the famous Fatalities and the realistic depiction of violence with lots of blood and guts. The atmosphere bordering on the ridiculous that for almost a year has enveloped the world of video games is perfectly represented by the eleventh episode of the seventh season of the Simpsons in which Bart is obsessed with Bone Storm, a video game very similar to Mortal Kombat that Marge he deems to be "too violent and distracting him from his duties".

The iconic cast of characters from the first Mortal Kombat The 1992 and 1993, then, were also some of the most intense years of the console war between Sega and Nintendo and also in this case the title of Midway was one of the protagonists. Nintendo wanted the version of the game for its systems to be censored, removing almost all Fatalities and replacing blood with sweat. Sega, having chosen the role of the rebel as opposed to the great N wand, has published a version very little censored and with a trick (the famous ABACABB) to unlock all the violence of the original. American teenagers have completely fallen in love with the brutality and realism of Mortal Kombat and this has rewarded Sega's decision. Despite the public sentiment and the ridiculous accusations made against the title, in 1994 the US authorities gave an ultimatum to the video game industry that by the end of the year created the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) to determine whether a game was suitable for minors.

Movies, comics and music albums

Mortal Kombat's arcade cabinet also advertised its comics and music albums Today the relationship between video games and the world of cinema is improving day to day with acclaimed TV series like Arcane and Egrunners and almost decent movies like Uncharted. Mortal Kombat, however, was one of the first video game franchises to bring its bombastic identity to the cinema and to be successful. In 1995, after all the controversies and obstacles of American lawmakers, the Mortal Kombat film hit the box office earning more than $ 120 million, 6 times its budget. While the video game's violence had been softened, fans liked the film a lot but weren't as thrilled with the sequel, Annihilation, or the two TV series (one animated and one live action) that came in the following years. The 2021 reboot film, after a decade of uncertainty and problems, has brought the series back to the big screen with some critical and public success.

Can be ordered by mail at the launch of the first chapter, the first Mortal comic Kombat, called "Collector's Edition", was written and drawn by John Tobias and was meant to be a prologue to the events of the game. It was advertised on arcade cabinets when not in use, in the so-called "Attract Mode" designed to catch the eye of those who walked in the old arcades. Mortal Kombat 2 also had an official comic written and drawn by Tobias of which more than 100 million copies are said to have been printed. The cross-media collaborations of the title do not stop there: in 1994, to accompany the console versions of Mortal Kombat, a homonymous techno music album made by The Immortals was released. Composed in a month between one stop and another of their tour, the disc contains a song for each of the 7 characters, plus one for the boss Goro, and two other original tracks. One of them, Techno Syndrome, contains the famous scream "Mortal Kombat!", And came in at number 10 on the Billboard top 200 of that year.

Now the Mortal Kombat brand is in the hands of Warner Bros . which has managed to revive the series thanks to a couple of video games that have been able to rework hyper violence in a modern way, conquering old and new fans.

30 years ago Mortal Kombat changed the world of video games Mortal Kombat has had such a profound impact on the world of video games that today, thirty years later, it would be difficult to imagine a world in which it never existed. From rating laws to the relationship with the world of cinema, from "Get over here" to "Fatality", we can only be grateful to Midway for believing in the great idea of ​​Boon and Tobias and giving us an icon of the fighting game universe. .

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