growing up alongside Mortal Kombat.
It's kind of a weird essay: part history, part memoir, and a heaping serving of nostalgia all rolled up into a package I hope will seem familiar to some folks out there. The past few months have been full of Mortal Kombat for me. The release of the latest game last spring coincided with some reading I was doing about the U.S. video game rating system as well as the general media climate of the 1990s. Everywhere I turned, I saw Mortal Kombat's influence.
It's hard to be serious when discussing Mortal Kombat. The game is inherently goofy. Its exaggerated violence and ridiculous characters simultaneously create and mock video game stereotypes. As far as I can tell, Mortal Kombat has never been about making a grand political statement or leading a cultural zeitgeist. So why do I think that this game about blood and guts is so important?
The answer is because people treated it seriously. Ignorant politicians and clueless Baby Boomers saw it as a sign of America's moral decline (or at least a good chance to snag some easy political capital). The older generation's disdain only stoked my enthusiasm: not only was I doing something adults couldn't understand, they were also scared of it. Mortal Kombat, and video games more broadly, became a space to carve out some cultural independence. My friends and I were having fun, but we were also solidifying common generational touchstones. Years later, the phrase "Finish him!" still elicits knowing grins from many twenty and thirty-somethings.
The medium has changed a lot since the original Mortal Kombat's heyday. The newest game is probably the most polished, sophisticated version of Mortal Kombat I've ever played. Despite this, its biggest attraction for me stems largely from nostalgia. It's a kind of nostalgia that runs deeper than the pleasure of seeing familiar sights or hearing old music; Mortal Kombat reminds me of a time when I started to become the person I am today.