The Games of Chicago: Mortal Kombat

We here at the Chi-Scroller love our city, and our games.  If you’ve read much of our content, that should be old news to you.  That said, it’s time to begin focusing on the actual games that our fare town has produced.  There are a whole lot of them, and the number is growing by the day, so it should be a long and arduous journey to catalog them all.  Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure where to start — chronological order, number of units sold, cultural significance?  Ultimately, I’m starting with the games that were significant to me personally.  We’ll spiral out from there.


The original Mortal Kombat was developed by the now defunct Midway Games and debuted in 1992 as an arcade machine.  The original concept for Mortal Kombat was to be a game featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, but when the idea fell through, the fighting game franchise that we know today was born.  Much like it’s most notable counterpart Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat allowed the player to choose one of several characters, each with a distinct fighting style and move set.  Players would square off against each other, or an AI opponent.  Unlike Street Fighter II though, Mortal Kombat was distinctly more mature.


Mortal Kombat featured some exciting new technology.  Instead of featuring blocky aliens, or simple cartoon characters, the team at Midway used early green-screen technology to record real actors performing the game’s maneuvers.  This gave Mortal Kombat an extremely realistic look for it’s time.  What caught the attention of the public though, was Mortal Kombat‘s extreme violence.  In a time where most games chose a more kid-friendly approach,the game included blood and gore far beyond that of any other widely available game.  It’s most controversial feature was the fatality.  In other games of the same type, players would fight against an opponent and ,win or lose the match was over.  In Mortal Kombat, upon winning a match a player was afforded the opportunity to kill their opponent in any number of brutal ways, including decapitation, incineration, and electrocution.

As Mortal Kombat‘s popularity skyrocketed, it’s controversial subject material caused an increasing level of unease among the media and concerned parents.  When Mortal Kombat was released for the SNES and Sega Genesis in 1993, concerned parties began to take notice.

The saga continues.

The controversy over Mortal Kombat‘s violent content didn’t slow sales, and with the game’s huge popularity and revenue, a sequel quickly began development.  Mortal Kombat II was released in arcades in September of 1993, to enormous commercial success.  The sequel upped the ante on the graphic violence, offering more characters each with several different killing blows.  Mortal Kombat 3 was released in arcades in 1995, once again to commercial success, and once again increasing the level of violence.

Cultural significance.

Mortal Kombat wasn’t the first game to be criticized for it’s violent content, but it was by far the most culturally significant at it’s release.  In a time when video games as a public and social activity were gaining serious momentum, and home gaming consoles were becoming commonplace, Mortal Kombat was by far the most controversial game in existence.  It’s violence was beyond that of any other title, and it’s popularity was almost unparalleled.  Mortal Kombat is, without a doubt, the father of the great video game violence debate.  The arguments that rage today over the violence displayed in games like Grand Theft Auto V are virtually identical to the ones that Mortal Kombat spurred back in the mid-1990s.

A few personal thoughts.

The first time I played Mortal Kombat in an arcade, I was mesmerized.  First by it’s incredible graphics, then by it’s incredible violence.  I remember begging my dad to take me to the Harlem-Irving mall, where I’d pour quarters into the arcade machine, only to get pummeled by whatever older kids were there.  It didn’t matter though, MK was still the coolest game I’d ever played.  I also remember the day when my dad realized how violent the game was, and decided to revoke my Mortal Kombat privileges indefinitely.

Mortal Kombat will always hold a special place for me, simply because it’s controversy shaped my own feelings on video game violence.  As a child with parents going through a nasty divorce I was angry, and mean.  Mortal Kombat was gritty, realistic and violent; a game that played the way I felt.  I can understand why my parents decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to play it.  As I got older though, I became a well-adjusted member of society.  I’ve never decapitated anyone, and have absolutely no desire to do so.  Mortal Kombat was never able to instill a love for cold-blooded, grotesque murder in me, nor has it in anyone I’ve ever met.  I’m still waiting for the outbreak of random decapitations that Mortal Kombat‘s existence was supposed to have inevitably caused, and the media is still throwing a fit every time time Trevor kills a hooker.