Mortal Kombat controversies

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The Mortal Kombat series of fighting games, created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, has been the subject of various controversies since its creation in the 1990s. In particular, the series is often criticised for its excessive use of graphic and bloody violence (in both the regular combat and the Fatalities, finishing moves which allow the player to kill, dismember or otherwise maim opponent characters), which remains a popular draw of the series. The violent nature of the series, one of the earliest of its kind, has led to the creation and continued presence of the ESRB and other ratings boards for video games.

Violence controversies and censorship[edit]

Video games[edit]

The games shocked many with their brutality. Pictured, Jax's "Arm Rip" Fatality in 1993's Mortal Kombat II, included on the list of the ten best gore effects in gaming's history by IGN in 2006[1]

In the early 1990s, the "Fatality", a lethal finishing move featured in the Mortal Kombat series, was a source of major video game controversy and caused a moral panic, resulting in a U.S. Congressional hearing and helping to pave a way for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) game rating system in 1994.[2][3][4] In 2010, Boon revealed that he had actually sympathised with much of the outrage and admitted, "I wouldn't want my ten-year-old kid playing a game like that."[5] In 2011, CNN ranked this as the second biggest video game related controversy, adding that "the gore also helped it to become one of the most popular video games of all time."[6] In 2012, Time commented that "the reason the 1992 classic remains seminal is because it broke an implicit taboo about what was okay to put in a game. And Western civilization is still standing."[7]

As in the case of the first Mortal Kombat game, the absurdly bloody content of Mortal Kombat II became the subject of a great deal of controversy regarding violent video games. In September 1994, Mortal Kombat II was put in the index of the works allegedly harmful to young people by the German Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien, or BPjM). In February 1995, all versions of the game except for Game Boy were confiscated from the German market for violating §131 of Germany's penal code, that is for showing gruesome violence against humans (the ban ended in February 2005, due to the 10-year limitation for confiscations). In 2012, Boon said: "I've always had the position that the rating system was a good idea and should be put in place. Once Mortal Kombat II came out, there was a rating system in place. We were an M-rated game, and everybody knew the content that was in there, so it became almost a non-issue."[8]

The 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot game was banned in Australia, Germany and South Korea.[9][10][11] The Australian Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor has asked to be briefed on the Mortal Kombat decision, citing "public disquiet on the issue".[12] Previously, the original MK game, along with Time Killers and Night Trap, and its media coverage (such as the 1993 The Courier-Mail article titled "Child Ban On Violent Video Games Urged") contributed to the Australian Senate setting up an inquiry that led to the Commonwealth Classification Act, which came into force on March 1, 1995. The Act introduced the Australian Classification Board almost exactly 18 years before the 2011's Mortal Kombat game was finally banned by the Board for its "explicit depictions of dismemberment, decapitation, disembowelment and other brutal forms of slaughter."[13] In February 2013, after the introduction of the adults only rating, Mortal Kombat was unbanned in Australia and re-rated R18+ uncensored.[14]

A study conducted by Dr. Brock Bastian from University of Queensland's School of Psychology and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011 "found evidence that playing violent video games leads players to see themselves, and their opponents, as lacking in core human qualities such as warmth, open-mindedness, and intelligence." Study participants were playing Mortal Kombat. Dr Bastian "said he believes the findings of this study point to the potential long-term effects of violent video game play and suggest that repeated exposure to these dehumanising experiences may result in chronic changes in self-perception."[15]

Some people attributed the series' supposed influence in some cases of real-life lethal violence. In 2008, Mortal Kombat was blamed for the so-called "Mortal Kombat murder" in which 17-year-old Lamar Roberts and 16-year-old Heather Trujillo were accused of fatally beating Trujillo's preteen half-sister, Zoe Garcia.[16] Prosecutor Robert Miller alleged: "Zoe Garcia was the object of abuse by both Heather Trujillo and Lamar Roberts caused these injuries with Mortal Kombat [sic]."[17] Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), blamed violent video games, including Mortal Kombat,[18] as a contributing factor in a rise of shooting rampage mass murders in the United States in wake of 2012's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. LaPierre claimed: "Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media and Obama’s budget kill people. (...) And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse."[19][20]


Mortal Kombat's advertisements have also received criticism. In the 1993 hearings on violent video games, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman criticized Sega for one of its TV commercials saying that it promotes violence. The video, as described by Weekly Reader, "shows a boy gaining the respect of his friends after winning Mortal Kombat. At the end of the commercial, the boy angrily knocks over a tray of cookies given to him by friends now frightened by the boy's fighting ability. The boy roars, 'I said I wanted chocolate chip!'"[21]

The 2011 edition of Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition awarded the Mortal Kombat series with a world record for the earliest video game poster to be censored: "On April 22, 2003, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) took the then unprecedented step of condemning the poster campaign promoting Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. They claimed that the poster - which showed a 'hoodie' wiping his bloodstained hand on a businessman above the words 'It's in us all' – was 'irresponsible' and 'condoned violence'. The poster was unsurprisingly withdrawn."

In 2006, "Blood on the Carpet", a TV commercial for Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks created by London-based Maverick Media, was "slammed by the Advertising Standards Authority as condoning and glorifying violence." The video, as described by The Register, "features a boardroom scene in which a Mr Linn, the mysterious trouble-shooter at a sales meeting, instructs two men to fight. Punches lead to a pen being stabbed into an arm; then a water jug is smashed over an executive's head – before his heart is ripped from his chest. Mr Linn concludes proceedings by decapitating another executive with his hat."[22] The result of the complaint was, as quoted from the ASA report: "We told Midway not to repeat the approach and told them to consult CAP Copy Advice before producing future ads."[23]

Court cases[edit]

In 1996, Daniel Pesina (Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile, Smoke and Noob Saibot) sued Midway Games, Williams Electronics Games, Inc, Acclaim Entertainment, Nintendo and Sega, alleging "that all defendants used his persona, name, and likeness without authorization in the home version of Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II and the related products." The conclusion of Daniel Pesina v. Midway Manufacturing Co. was that "alleged use of martial artist's name, likeness or persona in a martial arts video game did not violate his common-law right of publicity."[24]

In 1997, Philip Ahn (Shang Tsung), Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya), and Katalin Zamiar (Kitana, Mileena, Jade) jointly sued Midway Games, Williams Electronics Games, Acclaim, Nintendo and Sega for using their likenesses in an unauthorized way, seeking "a constructive trust on all monies defendants received and continued to receive from their alleged breach of their duties to [the] plaintiffs."[25] Ahn, Zamiar, and Malecki alleged "that they were only modeling for the coin-operated video game, not the subsequent home video, home computer, and hand-held versions of the game." The conclusion of Philip Ahn v. Midway Manufacturing, et al. was "The plaintiffs lost on all counts because they had all consented to the videotaping and because the choreography and choice of movements used in the game were not jointly 'authored' by the individuals."[26]

In 1997, 13-year-old Noah Wilson was killed when an acquaintance of his, Yancy Salazar, stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife and severed his aorta, leaving Wilson to die after an hour of massive blood loss. The mother of Noah, Andrea Wilson, alleged that her son was killed due to Yancy's strong interest in Mortal Kombat. Wilson said that the child was so "obsessed" with the game, that he thought he was actually the Mortal Kombat character Cyrax who, according to her claims, uses a Fatality in which he grabs the opponent in a headlock and stabs his opponent in the chest. However, despite the character's other varieties of finishing moves, the character Cyrax does not actually perform such a move at all. According to the court case report, the conclusion of Wilson v. Midway games, Inc. was that "Wilson's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."[27]

In 2009, Lawrence Kasanoff, producer of Mortal Kombat films, TV series, soundtracks and the live tour, and his company Threshold Entertainment sued Midway in United States bankruptcy court over what he claimed are his intellectual property (IP) interests in the franchise in order to preserve his IP rights including copyrights to certain MK characters and to retain the right to create derivative film and television projects based on the franchise. Kasanoff attempted to block $33-million bid for MK assets by Warner Bros. company. The complaint claimed: "The Mortal Kombat series, as it stands today, is far more a creation of Threshold and Kasanoff than of Midway. Midway's creative input was almost entirely limited to the videogames. On their own, the videogames provided only minimal back-story and mythology, and only flat, 'stock' characters. (...) Kasanoff and Threshold were responsible for virtually all of the creative input that went into turning the videogame concept into a multimedia enterprise."[28][29] As of 2011, the case was still pending.[30][31]


In 1994, Guy Aoki, president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, criticized Mortal Kombat II for allegedly perpetuating existing stereotypes of Asians as martial arts experts with the game's portrayal of the characters Kitana, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Mileena, Raiden, Scorpion, Shang Tsung and Sub-Zero. Allyne Mills, publicist at Acclaim, answered this by saying: "This is a fantasy game, with all different characters. This is a martial arts game which comes from Asia. [sic] The game was not created to foster stereotypes."[32]

In 1995, critical studies professor Marsha Kinder accused Mortal Kombat II of allowing the player to have "a misogynist aspect of combat." Kinder alleged: "In MKII, some of the most violent possibilities are against women. Also, their fatality moves are highly eroticised. One of the women characters kills her opponent by inflating him until he explodes, another by sucking him in and spitting out his bones. Talk about Spider Woman!"[33]

In 2006, attorney Jack Thompson, activist against sexual themes and violence in video games, ordered a cease and desist to Midway, writing: "It has today come to my attention that the newly recently [sic] Mortal Kombat: Armageddon contains an unauthorized commercial exploitation of my name, photograph, image, and likeness within the game."[34] Midway did not respond. In fact, what Thompson thought was an actual character put by the developer into the game, was actually just created by a player who used the game's "Kreate-a-Fighter" mode to construct a likeness of Thompson and demonstrated it in a film on YouTube. Thompson had the video successfully removed.[35]


  1. ^ "Top 10 Tuesday: Best Gore Effects". IGN. April 4, 2006. Archived from the original on 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2011-01-18. 
  2. ^ Video Game Violence: The Savage Se7en, GameStar, 2008
  3. ^ "ESRB Talk About of the Mortal Kombat Games Series". Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 2010-04-14. Archived from the original on 2010-04-14. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  5. ^ MK creator agreed with gore controversy, Eurogamer, 9 November 2010
  6. ^ Doug Gross, CNN. "The 10 biggest violent video-game controversies - CNN". Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  7. ^ Narcisse, Evan (2012-11-15). "Mortal Kombat | All-TIME 100 Video Games |". Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  8. ^ Reyan Ali, Ed Boon's 12 Biggest Mortal Kombat Memories,, September 12, 2012
  9. ^ Kozanecki, James (2011-03-15). "Aussie customs to seize Mortal Kombat imports". GameSpot. Retrieved 2011-03-15. 
  10. ^ "BPjM bestätigt: Mortal Kombat ab Freitag indiziert! (German)". SpielTipps. 2011-04-05. Retrieved 2012-02-28. 
  11. ^ "성인 게임 모탈컴뱃, 심의 '거부'…역시 잔인해서?". ZDNet Korea. 2011-04-07.  (Korean)
  12. ^ Parker, Laura (2011-03-22). "O'Connor: Banned games "unlikely" to make R18+ cut". GameSpot. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  13. ^ It took 18 years, but Mortal Kombat's finally banned,, March 02, 2011
  14. ^ Mark Serrels, Mortal Kombat Finally Receives An R18+ Classification In Australia, Kotaku Australia, February 14, 2012
  15. ^ "UQ study confirms dangers of violent video games - UQ News Online - The University of Queensland". 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  16. ^ Andy Chalk. "The Escapist : News : Teenagers Kill Child in "Mortal Kombat" Murder". Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  17. ^ "Is Brutal "Mortal Kombat Murder" Lacking the Mortal Kombat Part?". GamePolitics. 2008-03-09. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  18. ^ "While NRA Blames Video Games During Press Conference, Another Shooting Takes Place In Pennsylvania". Forbes. 2012-12-21. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  19. ^ Tracy, Marc (2012-12-21). "A Guide to the NRA's Crazy Press Conference on School Violence". New Republic. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  20. ^ Paul Tassi, NRA Press Conference: Blame Video Games and Movies, Not Guns, 12/21/2012
  21. ^ "Critics zap video games: senators urge government action to curb video-game violence.". Weekly Reader Corp. January 3, 1994. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Mortal Kombat viral ad glorified violence, says ASA". The Register. December 22, 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Non-broadcast Adjudications". December 21, 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-03-26. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  24. ^ "Daniel PESINA, Plaintiff, v. MIDWAY MANUFACTURING COMPANY, a Delaware corporation; Williams Electronics Games, Inc., a Delaware corporation; Nintendo of America, Inc., a Washington corporation; SEGA of America, Inc., a California corporation; Acclaim Entertainment, Inc., a Delaware corporation, Defendants". December 9, 1996. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  26. ^ Bennett, Chris (May 28, 1997). "Models for Mortal Kombat". Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Wilson v. Midway Games, Inc.". Archived from the original on 2009-12-24. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  28. ^ "Mortal Kombat Film Producer Sues Midway Over IP Rights". GamePolitics. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  29. ^ Andy Chalk. "The Escapist : News : Midway Sued Over Mortal Kombat Rights". Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  30. ^ "Warner Bros. Conquers 'Mortal Kombat' Producer in Court (Exclusive) - THR, Esq". Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  31. ^ "New 'Mortal Kombat' movie coming via partnership of Warner units -". 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  32. ^ "Do Fighting Video Games Prolong Stereotypes of Asian Americans?", AsianWeek, September 23, 1994
  33. ^ "Women, of a sort, enter Mortal Kombat", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 29, 1995.
  34. ^ "Jack Thompson vs. Mortal Kombat". Slashdot. 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2009-11-30. 
  35. ^ "Halo 3 Under Fire From Activist Lawyer Jack Thompson". LawVibe. 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2009-11-30. 

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