How Mortal Kombat’s Fatality changed the future of videogames

Posted: January 3, 2011 in Marketing, Uncategorized
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Most of us are familiar with one of the greatest steps in the gaming history, Mortal Kombat’s Fatality. Although “copying” (kind of) Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat’s Fatality introduced gore to the world of videogames – indeed, a great deal of it. But, in its own unique way, Fatality changed the future of videogaming.

Subzero's famous fatalityFans loved Fatality, an idea that was not even part of the initial design. Many kinds of different fatalities followed – some good, others particularly lame. Although this is kind of normal for todays’ gamers (most of us have played Manhunt, and gore there is far worse), who may laugh at the huge pixels of blood, bones and flesh, Fatality was revolutionary for gamers back in 1992. The age of innoncense was over for gamers (although I’m quite sure gamers wanted to see something like that) who were now introduced to some serious violence. However, Fatality’s impact was larger, and not even its creators, Ed Boon and John Tobias, could see it happening.

In July 29, 1994 the videogaming world was introduced to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (or ESRB for short), following a congressional hearing regarding videogaming violence. At that time Mortal Kombat was the hottest property on the market and both Nintendo and Sega had home versions of the game for their consoles. Increasing However, the two companies’ reaction to Fatality’s explicit use of gore was different: Nintendo cut all blood and fatality features, while Sega gave their fans the opportunity to use a secret code to retain the blood scenes (thus outselling the Nintendo version) and characterized the game MA-13, using its own rating system.

The increasing concern about the violence depicted in the fatality movements (in 2010 Boon agreed with the concern of that time) caused a congressional hearing and the two companies were brought to court. However, instead of facing accusations regarding videogame violence together, Howard Lincoln (Nintendo’s chairman) and Bill White (Sega’s vice president) brought the popular console war inside the court’s walls (White even brought Nintendo’s Super Scope gun controller with him in court, to show the deficiencies of Nintendo’s strategies). The two companies accused each other, in an attempt to excuse their own strategies, and failed miserably.

The judge was not convinced and, in fear of a regulating Video Game Ratings Act, Sega, Nintendo and Atari (the 3 console giants at that time) formed the Interactive Digital Software Association. The association introduced the aforementioned ESRB, which included the following categories:

The current ESRB rating system

  • Early Childhood (eC): Suitable for ages 3 and over.
  • Kids to Adults (K-A): May be unsuitable for players under 6 (this was later changed to E – Everyone and introduced an E+10 rating)
  • Teen (T): May be unsuitable for players under 13.
  • Mature (M): May be unsuitable for players under 17.
  • Adults Only (AO): Content considered unsuitable for minors (to this moment, only 23 games have been released under this category, since publishers had a strong policy against games with pornographic content).

Today, almost 17 years after that date, the ratings remain rather unchanged. Videogamers of that time have realized the importance of that incident and the (positive) impact it had on their subsequent gaming behaviour. It is therefore important to know that, apart from some tons of gore, it was Fatality that introduced this system to the world of videogaming.

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