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Okay, before you start railing on me in the comments section, hear me out, because I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me by the end of this argument.
So, yes, while I will acknowledge that Street Fighter as a whole is a better franchise than Mortal Kombat--hell, there was a time when I was ready to count the Mortal Kombat franchise out completely before 2011’s return to grace--I still think Mortal Kombat has done more for video games than Street Fighter ever has. Now, don’t get me wrong. Street Fighter has undoubtedly done more for FIGHTING GAMES than Mortal Kombat, because whenever you try out a new fighting game, what’s the first thing you do? Well, I’ll tell you what you do--You try to pull off an Hadouken and see if works.
But when it comes to video games as a whole, Mortal Kombat not only made games like Grand Theft Auto and other mature titles possible, it also changed the entire landscape of how video games fit outside the medium, and that’s something Street Fighter never came close to doing. In the end, Mortal Kombat was a much more important title as a whole. No question about it.
Let’s get the whole violence thing out the way first since it’s probably the most important aspect of this argument. Way back in 1992, which was just one year after Street Fighter II’s release in the arcades, MK creators, Ed Boon and John Tobias, drew a line in the sand. Here were two Americans who wanted to not only make a better fighting game than Street Fighter, they also wanted to make one with an exclamation point, and that exclamation point was the fatality. Now a staple in the series, the fatality--Sub-zero’s spine rip in particular--was one of the main reasons the ESRB was created in North America. MK’s fatalities, along with titles like Doom and (lol) Night Trap separated games from being just for little kids anymore. It also created a cultural shift.
For example, while Street Fighter was violent, it wasn’t something most parents questioned their kids playing at the time. It was kiddie and cartoony and kind of like a Tom and Jerry cartoon but with a green electrical monster and an Indian guy with stretchy limbs instead. But Mortal Kombat helped push the medium to a place it had never been before. Were video games even for kids any longer was a question that was often posed. Another major question was: Were parents irresponsible for letting their children play such a game?
It got to the point where adults started to think, hey, just like some cartoons like Fritz the Cat or Heavy Metal, aren’t meant for kids, maybe some video games like Mortal Kombat or Doom aren’t meant for kids, either. In that way, MK changed the whole perception of video games. Street Fighter never did that. Without MK, there probably wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto or a Call of Duty, and if there were, they probably would have come out much later than they did, since MK got the ball rolling early.
Boon and Tobias were the trendsetters. But here’s the interesting thing, unlike Doom or Night Trap, which were clearly not meant for children,Mortal Kombat sort of blurred the lines a bit, which is what ultimately made it popular with kids and even, strange as this sounds, safer for them from an adult perspective.
How so, you ask? Well, that brings me to my next point. Mortal Kombat really knew its audience. On the heels of the immensely popular MK2 came the PG-13 (!) rated Mortal Kombat movie in 1995. While Street Fighter did have a film adaptation of its own in 1994 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, it was so far removed from the source material that it was more of a blight on the series than anything else. Mortal Kombat was quite the opposite.
Before Mortal Kombat in 1995, most studios thought they knew video games better than the people who made them. That’s why the Super Mario Bros. movie featured Dennis Hopper as a humanoid King Koopa, and why jumping boots were introduced to explain why the brothers jumped so high. Hell, it even explained why they were the Mario “Brothers”, since Mario was their last name (Mario Mario and Luigi Mario. *Groan*). But the Mortal Kombat movie stuck to the mythology, that, while silly, stayed true to the source material. For that reason, it was easier to buy into, and, it was even safe for kids since it was PG-13.
In that way, parents could see what all the hubbub was about if they wanted to and what they discovered was that MK wasn’t as bad as the news made it out to be. Sure, maybe the soul stealing and the nut punch to the four armed monster weren’t the most appropriate things in the world for their kids to experience, but in the end, it was nothing to get worked up over. It was no worse than the movies they had taken their kids to see prior to it. So, the movie legitimized not only MK as a video game, but it also acted as a representation of what the game was to parents, making it safer than the M for Mature label that was on the box. It was a win-win situation all around.
And if the movie isn’t clear enough evidence that Mortal Kombat was a mature title being marketed to kids, then look no further than the Mortal Kombat: Live Tour at Radio City Music Hall, which also came out in 1995. My dad actually took me to see this laughable atrocity when it came out, and there were nothing but kids with their parents in the audience. It was kind of like the Ninja Turtles, Coming out of their Shells, tour, or the Power Rangers: World Tour, but with Liu Kang kicking in the air and Shang Tsung flopping on the ground. This show pushed Mortal Kombat out there in a way Street Fighter never dreamed of, and it again brought legitimacy to video games as an art form, even if it was a silly one. Street Fighter, big as it was, never did that.
I didn’t even get into how this American game brought legitimacy to American developers at a time when Japanese developers appeared to be the only ones competent enough to make games at the time. This paved the way for other western companies like Rockstar Games and Bethesda.
While Street Fighter revolutionized fighting games forever, and characters like Ryu and Chun-Li make great ambassadors for the medium, they don’t hold a candle to Mortal Kombat’s influence and how it made video games relevant, and, even important, for adults in a time they were relegated only for children. Mortal Kombat is more culturally far-reaching than Street Fighter.