first_img This week sees Mortal Kombat 11 hit modern consoles, the latest installment in the gory, gruesome and envelope-pushing fighting franchise that has somehow persisted for 27 years. When Ed Boon and John Tobias came up with the concept at arcade mainstay Midway, they thought they were just knocking out a quickie brawler to take some shine off of Street Fighter. Instead, they made a unique fusion of arcade action and exploitation movie aesthetics that drew attention from some very high places. Read on as we revisit the day Johnny Cage went to Washington.Not So InnocentFor the first century and change of the American experience, the Federal government kept a pretty hands-off attitude towards what the population consumed. Hell, just getting food safety laws passed was an uphill battle. But after World War II, when the economic boom created a leisure class with excess spending money and a government with no wars to fight, people started to get concerned about what the youth was up to.In the 1950s, the boogeyman was comic books. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a scathing takedown of horror, war and superhero comics that found repressed homosexuality, bondage, drug use and violence everywhere. Using bogus statistical methods, including claiming that 95 percent of teen criminals read comics so comics caused teen crime, Wertham made his case so strongly that he was invited to testify as an expert witness in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.The 1954 hearings on comic books were a disaster for the industry. EC Comics, the leader in horror titles, was confronted with some of its grisliest covers and stories to the horror of the spectators. The industry realized that they were facing a public relations debacle and before the government could take action they immediately shifted course, creating a self-regulatory body called the Comics Code Authority and putting some of the worst offenders out of business.The Hall of JusticeIn 1993, media scapegoating was at the boiling point. The Parents Music Resource Center had successfully waged war on filthy music, getting warning labels slapped on album covers and barring them from sale at stores like Wal-Mart. It was time for a new boogeyman, and the growing video game industry was next in line.Government officials would sporadically set their sights on video games in the early days. We had seen some scandal in early days around Exidy’s arcade Death Race, which tasked players with running over “gremlins” in the road, but that game’s primitive graphics made it impossible to take seriously. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop warned in the 80s that electronic games could produce addictive responses in young minds, but after the first industry crash the moral watchdogs turned to other issues.In addition, the early 1990s saw the mass media seize on random acts of violence in a disproportionate way. Even as the rate of violent crimes dropped, news programs trumpeted a world of increasing danger around every corner. The search for the causes of this violence naturally led to the media.There were two games that got public opinion so riled up that government intervention was possible. The first was Night Trap, an early title for the Sega CD developed by Digital Pictures. Using the grainy full-motion video capabilities of the console, it was a cheesy horror spoof that featured teenage girls being murdered by vampiric creatures called Augers. The violence and titillation wasn’t anything worse than you’d see on late-night basic cable, but the subject matter was enough to get Congress heated. And then there was Mortal Kombat.The first Congressional hearing on violence in video games kicked off on December 7th of 1993. Senator Joseph Lieberman preceded them with a press conference held with members of the National PTA and children’s TV show host Captain Kangaroo, decrying the influence of pixelated violence on the youth of America.On the industry side, Howard Lincoln of Nintendo and Bill White of Sega attempted to make their cases. Lincoln was working from an advantageous position, as Nintendo had preemptively censored their home version of Mortal Kombat, transforming the blood to sweat and removing the more gruesome fatalities. Lincoln used his time on the stand to throw shade at Sega, mocking their claims that video games weren’t just for kids anymore. White gave as good as he got, mocking Nintendo’s “Super Scope” bazooka peripheral.You can watch the whole proceeding here:Afterwards, although no consensus was reached regarding video games’ culpability in inspiring real-world violence, Lieberman proposed the creation of the Interactive Entertainment Rating Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the President to work with the industry on creating a ratings system.By the time of the second hearing in March of 1994, the major companies had formed the Interactive Entertainment Industry Rating Commission to do just that. Electronic Arts, Sega, Nintendo, Atari, Acclaim, Philips and 3DO had already added their support, and Lieberman’s proposal to create a government board was no longer necessary. Later renamed the ESRB, the group would create a ratings code similar to the one used by the MPAA for films. It is still used to this day.After the FightFor Night Trap, a relatively obscure title on a niche system, the hearings were a godsend at first. The game moved a whopping 50,000 copies the week after the December hearings. That didn’t last —Toys R Us and Kay-Bee Toys both stopped selling Night Trap a week later, and by January of 1994 Sega had withdrawn it from sale.Mortal Kombat was a different story. The game was a smash hit, a cultural phenomenon, and despite wanting to look responsible neither Nintendo or Sega was willing to skip the massive paycheck for having it on their system. In the 16-bit console wars, it was a significant win for the Genesis to have the uncensored MK on their system, and helped move even more hardware and narrow the gap between the two companies. And it wouldn’t be long before Nintendo would falter — the SNES release of Mortal Kombat II at the end of 1994 had all the blood and gore of the arcade version.Video games continued to be scapegoated for real-world violence. The Columbine high school massacre in 1999 was tied to the perpetrators’ love of first-person shooters like Doom and Quake, and cries to ban or more strictly regulate those titles were loudly heard. Aside from a few isolated cases, though, even the most violent games have stayed on store shelves.In 2013, after the Sandy Hook shooting, Barack Obama requested Congress fund research into the effects of violent video games and other media on children. And in March of 2018, Donald Trump directly blamed violent video games for the rise in school shootings, meeting with industry execs in a session that was described as “unproductive and bizarre.” Twenty years later, there’s still no definitive link between ripping somebody’s spine out as Sub-Zero and causing real world harm to another person, and there might never be. But for one brief moment, every gamer in America thought that the government was ready to perform a fatality on their favorite hobby.Get Mortal Kombat 11 on AmazonMore on Geek.com:Hands-On: ‘Mortal Kombat 11’ Is a Spine-Ripping Good TimeBest ‘Mortal Kombat’ Toys‘Mortal Kombat 11’ Story Trailer Goes Back to the Future Stay on target Joker and The Terminator Cross Over Into ‘Mortal Kombat 11’‘Mortal Kombat 11’ Kharacter Guide: Nightwolf last_img