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