I still remember entering the cheat to allow my Megadrive version of the original Mortal Kombat to be played in full, bloody, 16bit glory. Back then the levels of violence, in comparison to your regular mid nineties beat-em-up, caused outrage across the globe and helped launch a franchise that, 23 years on, is reasserting itself with Mortal Kombat X.
Mortal Kombat's history is paved with controversy that has seen various incarnations banned, been the centre of mass media hysterias and even found itself as part of US congress hearings. It's fair to say that Mortal Kombat has had more than it's fair share of detractors, yet, here it is, still as strong and gory as when it began.
When I first entered the series back in 1992 I was never shocked, never outraged and, despite some concerns in the media, I never tore a man's head off after beating them to a bloody pulp. Nor did I rip my own face off in order to unleash hell fire from my skeletal mouth for that matter. Why? Perhaps because I didn't have the strength or commitment to do so, but mainly because the violence depicted has always been comical and to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The humour isn't for everyone, that's a given. It's understandable that parents might want to keep their kids away from the graphic fatalities and gratuitous violence the series is famed for. Two decades on from its launch, unlike the original outings, the series is now subject to age classification (a classification system in many countries it helped forge), meaning parents who allow it into their homes should have an idea of what to expect.
That's not to say it won't still have its critics. It is one of the most debated game series in history, subject to countless controversies that are once again rearing their head with the new release. But, as stated, this controversy paved the way for regulation and age appropriation guidance. The adult and graphic content in those early games, alongside several other 'ultra violent' games, would ultimately play a large part within the industry that allowed them to slowly shake off stereotypes that consoles were little more than pricey children's toys.
As games and hardware evolved over the next few decades into a multi-billion dollar industry, graphics, themes and content were allowed to mature. Unfortunately there is a large faction of their audience that didn't evolve alongside it, perhaps adding to theses stigmas. You need only play a game online or watch Twitch to see a plethora of dick jokes, misogyny and just general bell endedness (real term). But a handful of attention starved, pre-pubescent, idiots with fast broadband connections shouldn't reflect the rest of this sprawling community. Most of us are just there to enjoy the game, rip a man's skull off and get to bed early.
There are many long, on-going, debates surrounding gaming, many of which draw correlations between gaming and real world violence and I doubt they will ever truly go away. Gaming is still fairly young and as it grows and progresses new debates will no doubt form around it. For now I find myself wondering, as teenagers online break my bones, destroy my genitalia and have me repeatedly watch anatomically correct x-rays of myself shatter for their own sick amusement, is, what is it about 'ultra violent' games such as Mortal Kombat that keep us coming back?
The witch hunters amongst you (excluding perhaps those of you awaiting the Witcher III) might say it's an inherent instinct repressed within us that stems back to our own primal beginnings. Others perhaps that it is release, escapism, or just pure fantasy. For me, a man who this afternoon sighed heavily because another man ripped through my chest only to peer his grinning face through in homage to The Shining, feels that its in fact the content and the gameplay, not to mention the humour, that are ultimately packaged together for our good old fashioned, bloody, entertainment.
The violence is graphic. The sound effects alone are enough to make you squirm, but it's all as harmless now as it was in 1992 and no doubt will continue to be for 23 more years, attracting both new fans and critics alike. In all honesty I would worry if a game with this level of violence wasn't scrutinised and debated before and after release. It's this debate and regulation that keep the truly shocking things out (I hope).
With Mortal Kombat X the Neatherealm team have put together a great fighting game that culminates in 23 years of understanding both toward their genre and fan base. It has once again helped reaffirm the franchises place at the top of the beat-em-up tower. If you can stomach the blood and cartoon gore and promise that if your younger sibling beats you, you won't forcibly try to remove their spleen and showcase it to your family as a trophy, it's a great edition to your library.
May the debate long continue.