How Mortal Kombat Reinvented Video Games

It’s been almost 30 years since the game reached arcades

Mortal Kombat
Decades after its release, Mortal Kombat still captivates gamers worldwide.
Daniel Benavides/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / September 14, 2019 11:30 am

In 1988, Street Fighter 2 was king of the arcade fighting games. Want to face off against your friends in a no-holds-barred martial arts contest? There was one wildly popular game in town. And then another fighting game showed up, one that was violent where Street Fighter was cartoonish and detailed where Street Fighter was stylized. 

The game was Mortal Kombat, and it’s no understatement to call its impact on the gaming landscape — and the pop cultural landscape, period — seismic. Now, at Polygon, David L. Craddock explored how the game was developed, and how it made its mark on both arcades and video game consoles. 

Craddock evokes the way that Mortal Kombat’s gameplay and violence created a word-of-mouth sensation — effectively creating a viral hit before that concept was widely used.

Mortal Kombat’s fatalities were so graphic that they had to literally be seen to be believed. One kid would hold court on a playground and strive to convince a jury of peers that he’d seen one character rip off his face and breathe fire, reducing the other guy to ashes and bones. Another kid swore up and down that a fighter in a white jumpsuit and straw hat could zap characters’ heads off with a bolt of lightning.

While Mortal Kombat wasn’t the only absurdly violent video game appearing in arcades at that time — 1988 also brought with it the bizarre NARC, which has not aged well at all; a few years later, arcades were graced with the presence of Time Killers, where you could lop off your opponent’s limbs in various combinations — it did end up making a lasting pop cultural impact that few other games have had. New installments in the video game series pop up with some regularity, including appearances from characters you might know from other forms of media.

And if the world of Mortal Kombat is your thing but video games are not — an odd combination, perhaps — there’s reason for excitement: a new cinematic edition is set for release in 2021

Editor’s Note: RealClearLife, a news and lifestyle publisher, is now a part of InsideHook. Together, we’ll be covering current events, pop culture, sports, travel, health and the world. Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

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