GameSpite Journal 12: Mortal Kombat


People may say that there are no cheat codes in life, but it turns out that slipping past the eye of the U.S. Senate is as simple as inputting “ABACABB” on a Genesis controller. It’s fairly reductionist to pin the video game violence hearings of the early ’90s on the back of any one game when several games were specifically called under fire, but it’s hard to argue that more children were getting their underaged hands on Night Trap than they were on Mortal Kombat. After a year of life in the arcade, spent huddled around a cabinet that drew eyes away from the colorful Street Fighter machines with gouts of blood and the savants who could pull off the fatality inputs, the hype around the home release of Mortal Kombat was absolutely deafening in 1993. And if you wanted the “real” version of Mortal Kombat, you were going to get it on the Genesis.

Nintendo of America has a long history of censorship when it comes to their video games, so it was disappointing when they stayed up to their old tricks and tamed down several fatalities while also recoloring the fighting game’s infamous splashes of blood to harmless grey sweat. While these changes were more or less in line with similar changes made to the Genesis port of the game, earning the title an “MA-13” rating with Sega’s newly minted rating system, one only needed to press “ABACABB” at the beginning of the game on Sega’s system in order to reinstate the game to arcade perfection. Never mind that the game played more fluidly on Nintendo’s machine or that neither game was a perfect port of its source material: Gore and violence were Mortal Kombat’s claim to fame, and by being the only game in town that had them intact at launch, the Genesis version reigned supreme.

While it was Mortal Kombat’s arcade edition and Night Trap that prompted the creation of the Video Game Rating Council, giving games a rating system similar to that of movies, it was the Genesis game’s flagrant disregard for its self-policing that lead the charge in Sega’s rating system being a short-lived failure. Not only was Mortal Kombat’s MA-13 inappropriate for the content, with the blood-intact Sega CD port receiving an MA-17, but their rating system was confusing and had no indication of why a game may have been rated what it was. It was a knee-jerk reaction to hide from the watchful eye of the government. When the Entertainment Software Ratings Board came along a year later with a well-thought out and transparent rating system that mimicked movie ratings without mirroring them exactly, the industry as a whole volunteered to adopt the new ratings. From that point on, a violent video game never ended up in a child’s hands again, and extreme content that went beyond a game’s rating was never hidden away in a still-accessible location.

Well, maybe school teachers are on to something when they say that cheating doesn’t help you learn.

Article by Marc Host

GameSpite Journal 12: Mortal Kombat

9 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Mortal Kombat

  1. I’ve got the Genesis Mortal Kombat around here somewhere. About a couple of decades from release now, I don’t get what we all ever saw in the original game aside from the shock value of over the top cartoon violence on digital captures of people in silly costumes.

    It’s true, the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat had the blood and gore that was the huge part of the game’s appeal intact (via putting in a code you would have to put back in every time you turned the game back on), but the SNES handled the visuals better and naturally came with a controller with the appropriate number of buttons for the game. If it had just had the more violent content, it probably would’ve been the preferred version of the game instead of a laughing stock.

    Oh well, the shock over digital peoples’ cartoon spines getting pulled out with the head still attached and B-movie footage paved the way for the ratings system we have today. Even if there have been some questionable ratings along the way. (Snatcher, a T-rated game? Pfffttt, morons.)

  2. I for one actually liked the gameplay, characters and settings of the original Mortal Kombat trilogy, but never cared for the gore and thought it was beyond sophomoric. As for the ratings system, it has proven itself to be a worthless thing anyway as there are probably more 12 year olds playing the likes of Gears of War and Call of Duty now than kids playing Doom and Mortal Kombat back in the 90’s.

  3. Being raised on a good diet of Street Fighter II (and all its iterations), anytime I played MK (at a friend’s house or something), it felt awkward, and even then I thought people just liked it for the violence. I guess I just expected all fighting games to use movesets that relied on quarter-circles and charges.

  4. @MetManMs: I think it’s pretty clear that the ESRB doesn’t always actually play the games they rate. Case in point, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, which was given an “E” rating. it’s clear that the ESRB pretty much looked at the box cover, asked if there was any smoking or blood, was told no, and slapped on their rating without playing a minute of it. The game gets pretty dark for a title approved for any kid old enough to read. Serial killings, dismembered siblings, exploding teenagers, self-immolation suicide orgasms, threats of nuclear holocaust, government sponsored destabilization of greater Africa, fratricide, attempted filicide, French swearing, and assorted other kid-friendly stuff.

    One thing definitely censored was the normally chain-smoking Solid Snake totally did not use any tobacco products in the game. The staple cigarettes item was replaced with a “Fogger,” which just happens to serve the exact same purpose as cigarettes in the previous games. But they’re totally NOT cigarettes, guys, I promise.

    • ESRB required publishers to send video clips of potentially problematic content. It was basically an honors system. Still is, but without the video!

  5. Oh yeah, I definetly thought the incredibly novel violence and gore was beyond sophomoric right off the jump to, what a relief I wasn’t the only one.
    On a more serious note, I don’t especially remember the idea that the Genesis version was the “true” one, edited or not, the big draw as far as the violence went were the fatalities. I’m sure a similar idea was incoporated into some tightening game earlier that could e pointed out to me, but the big voice “FINISH HIM” was what kept the kids coming back and back.

  6. I also loved getting a “Toasty”. I think that if MK’s gore was just a gimmick, it would not have lasted so long as a series. Others tired to jump on the digitized graphic style and failed like Primal Rage. Killer Instinct was fun but the combos/breaker system was a total gimmick and we haven’t seen it since N64 whereas MK has developed and has gradually added depth to its gameplay. Sure the original was relatively simple, but so were pretty much most arcade games at the time. The gore was the spectacle that garnred attentioned, but the game played well, if it didn’t people wouldn’t keep playing it.

  7. @Andrew: And while still early in the ESRB’s life, Snatcher had a couple of decapitations, a maggot-covered rotting face, and a disemboweled animal, among various levels of dialogue innuendo and some naked breasts the censors missed in a tube near the end of the game. T for Teen!

    But yeah, Ghost Babel has some very questionable content for an E-rated game, even though the more disturbing content’s mostly text. Apparently the cigarettes were censored to fogging devices in the Japanese release as well, but even without decreasing health or nagging lectures we know what those smoke releasing sticks really are.

  8. I was generally amused by the Fatalities and the absurdity of the sheer amount of blood or skulls one human body could contain. Of course, the more outrageous, the better– I’ll take Cyber Smoke dropping enough bombs to blow up the planet over Kano’s heart-rip any day.

    That stuff was just silly to me– it was a draw, but probably not for the reasons it was for others.

    That said, I’m with Chicago Frank– I liked the characters and lore. Sure, it’s cheesy and derivative of half of Hong Kong’s cinematic martial arts output, but I like that. It’s just fun for all its absurdity.

    Also: “Those were fifty dollar sunglasses, asshole.”

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