When the first Mortal Kombat game came out in arcades in 1992, it was unlike any other video game ever made. The colorful cast of the fighting game was certainly compelling, but the brutality was a real draw. The buckets of blood in the game immediately caught the attention of young players like me, as well as groups of parents who quickly deciphered them. The violence of the early MK games seems strange today, but in 1992 it was the kind of game you could only get once; it played a very important role in the growth of the game.
Back when not everyone had access to the internet, video games really spread by word of mouth. Although Mortal Kombat was widely advertised, it didn’t seem like much until all the kids at school started talking about it. I was seven years old when Mortal Kombat came out, which was both the best and worst age to discover it. Playing this game in the arcade or at a friend’s house was immediately considered taboo. Part of the initial appeal of Mortal Kombat was that it looked like a game that kids shouldn’t play. Of course that made us want to do it even more!
It also didn’t help that there was still no clear distinction between games for children and those for adults. In fact, until now, it was widely believed that all video games were for children! When Mortal Kombat came out, the ESRB had not yet been created, which meant that there was no rating system to tell parents what games they should or should not let their children play; in fact, the ESRB is a direct result of Mortal Kombat. It was a very different time for the video game industry.
Mortal Kombat merchandise is specifically designed for adults these days. The games are rated M for adults, the upcoming movie is rated R, and you won’t find any product advertising during the children’s programs. Everything was different then! Companies have used the controversial nature of the game to sell even more to children. The handheld Tiger version of the game had primitive graphics that were impossible to reproduce in arcades and on consoles, but that didn’t stop the company from promoting it as a gimmick for kids. Check out the wild ad below!
This strange way of marketing the Mortal Kombat franchise has lasted a long time. When the first Mortal Kombat movie was released in cinemas in 1995, it was rated PG-13 so that more kids could see it in theaters. This meant fewer deaths and less bloodshed. Today, it would be like Hollywood pushing more kids to see a Grand Theft Auto movie! New Line Cinema was well aware of the target audience it was trying to attract. Given the strong fan base of the original Mortal Kombat movie, this strategy seemed to work.
While this all explains why Mortal Kombat has become so important, the series would never have survived if its taboo nature was its only appeal. The gameplay has been captivating players for nearly 30 years, and the diverse cast is way ahead of its time. Of course, the violence is much stronger now than it was then, as NetherRealm Studios continues to find new ways to push the boundaries. What’s funny is that all the young players who grew up with the game are the perfect age to see the new movie. Mortal Kombat has had an interesting run, but it seems like the franchise’s best days are yet to come.
The Mortal Kombat reboot comes out on the 23rd. April in theaters and on HBO Max. Readers can find out more by checking out the rest of the Mortal Kombat reboot report here.
Did you grow up playing Mortal Kombat games? Were you afraid you’d have a problem with the game? Comment or share your thoughts directly on Twitter at @Marcdachamp to talk about anything video game related!
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