How did ‘Mortal Kombat’ defy censorship and shape the gaming industry?

In the history of video games, few titles have managed to provoke as many controversies and debates about censorship as the iconic ‘Mortal Kombat‘.

The game, known for its graphic violence and explicit brutality, triggered one of the most striking chapters in the intersection between developers’ creative freedom and social concerns about the effects of violent games.

‘Mortal Kombat’ was crucial against game censorship

‘Mortal Kombat 1’, released in 1992 – Image: Nintendo/Reproduction

Some games were censored or had elements altered, such as the removal of blood, edits of violent scenes or even bans in certain countries, impacting the creative freedom of developers.

These challenges were especially evident in titles like ‘Mortal Kombat’, which faced intense controversy due to its graphic depiction of violence.

“We are talking about video games that glorify violence and teach children to have fun by inflicting the most horrible forms of cruelty imaginable”, stated Liberman in a press conference on December 7, 1993, publicly condemning games like ‘Mortal Kombat’.

In past decades, the US has witnessed a complex scenario involving the influence of the media on youth.

This era was marked by heated debates about censorship and regulation, in which even music received the Parental Advisory seal for containing explicitly inappropriate content.

At the same time, alarming news about youth violence has led to widespread concern about the future of America’s young people.

In this context, Senators Liberman and Kohl called for hearings in the US Congress to discuss violence in video games.

Liberman initially called for a ratings system for games. However, his real intentions were broader, aiming at government regulation of the sale of games considered harmful to young people.

This would have drastic impacts on the industry, restricting the creation of more mature games and affecting the distribution of foreign titles, such as those from Japanin the USA and other nations.

Nintendo, amid rivalry with SEGA, supported Lieberman’s proposals, aiming to undermine its competitor and dominate the market.

This stance led to censorship in games like ‘Mortal Kombat’ in the Super Nintendo version, while the SEGA Mega Drive version was less affected and sold more.

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Amid the conflict, the industry came together to resist censorship. However, the Nintendo and EA sided with Lieberman’s speech, condemning violent games and even using questionable strategies such as image manipulation to influence audiences.

The Senate hearings, which presented arguments against violent games, attacked titles like ‘Mortal Kombat’.

However, the response from players was not as expected: there was a significant increase in sales of these games during the debate period.

Video game companies, despite their rivalry, have come together to create an independent rating system, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), providing parents with more information about game content.

This system, despite initially being taken seriously, ended up becoming more of a formality, without obliging stores to follow the classifications.

In the end, the fight against censorship resulted in benefits for video game industryensuring more creative freedom and faster expansion of the mature games market.

Resistance against censorship contributed to the industry’s growth, while companies had to adapt and begin producing games for a wider audience, including titles rated for adults.

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