In the fall of 1992 I was 11 years old, and my parents had recently split up. On Thursdays, my father would have custody of me from 4pm until 7:30pm. This left enough time to have some dinner and to hang out for a bit, but not much else. Being a cool dad, often times on a Thursday night we’d go to the mall, get some pizza, and he’d fill my hands with quarters to take over to Aladdin’s Castle, the mall’s video arcade. On one particular Thursday night, there was a new machine at the arcade.
The first time I laid eyes on Mortal Kombat I could barely see it. There were so many people crowded around it’s cabinet that I could barely poke my ten year old head in close enough to see the action. It didn’t take long until the game was everywhere though. Like most gamers at the time, I was completely taken by it. It was violent and I was a boy, so naturally I thought it was cool. Also, it was controversial, and even though I was only 11, I wasn’t living in a bubble so having access to it instantly made me feel like I was cool and dangerous. I was one of those bad-ass kids whose parents didn’t care if I played MK.
As time went on, I fell more and more in love with Mortal Kombat. It was truly a great game, even without the blood, gore, and controversy. I’d spend all of my quarters on the game, run back to my dad and beg for more, only to lose all of those on it as well. It wasn’t long until Mortal Kombat was available at home too. I read my share of game magazines, so I knew that the “real” version would be on the Sega Genesis, I didn’t want that watered-down, bloodless version that those SNES plebs got.
I got my copy of Mortal Kombat for the Sega Genesis on the day it came out. I went home, popped it in, and started kicking ass. I beat the game with all the characters, learned all the moves and fatalities and began perfecting my skills. Shortly thereafter though, my torrid love affair with Mortal Kombat would hit a major road block.
Sometime after MK came out for home consoles my dad had a change of heart. He had decided to dedicate his life to Christ, and denounce many of the worldly things he had previously embraced. He stopped drinking alcohol completely, began reading his Bible often, and forbid me from indulging in the mindless violence that Mortal Kombat promoted. I remember him sitting me down, explaining how things were going to change, and then having my precious Mortal Kombat cart stripped from me, as though I had committed some horrible crime.
Over the next couple of years I’d have to sneak in my MK playtime either at my mom’s house, or by biking to the arcade on my own time. Luckily for me, I spent more time with my mother than with my father and she didn’t seem to mind Mortal Kombat so I managed to get my fill anyway. That said, the incident with my father became a sticking point in our relationship for years.
I don’t believe kids typically have the capacity to understand adult controversies. In my case, I had been subjected to MK in the capacity that it was fine. I learned that MK was cool, but that it was just a game. But then later on, the rug was ripped out from under me and the rules changed overnight. I could never understand how or why my dad decided to change his mind, and more than that, I could never understand why his change of heart automatically had to mine as well. It was harder for me to understand that Mortal Kombat was bad than it was that it was ok at first, but then suddenly became bad later on.
I decided to share my story for a couple of reasons. First off, I was an extremely angry kid who played a lot of violent video games as a kid but despite that, I’ve never actually killed anyone, contrary to what Jack Thompson would have you believe. Second off, and much more importantly, my feelings on withholding material from your children were largely affected by my experience with MK, and they are as follows; if you’re going to keep things from your kids, fine, but be consistent about it. It’s far more damaging to a child to have their moral compass (the parent) change overnight than it is to either ban the material outright, or introduce it in a stable environment.