Mortal Kombat: Games of Death
(University of Michigan Press, 2020)
[Forthcoming in Spring 2020 from the Landmark Video Games series at the University of Michigan Press]
This short monograph offers a deep dive into the first three Mortal Kombat games, and what I am calling the “Mortal Moment,” or the period from 1992-95 when Midway's franchise became a fully-fledged transmedia phenomenon. The games' inclusion of controversial fatality moves, photorealistic pixilated sprites of live actors, and a dense web of “Easter eggs” all left a hugely influential mark on the fighting game genre. This period also saw MK become emblematic of a national controversy over video game violence's entry into the domestic sphere, leading to the 1994 establishment of the ESRB industry ratings system. Because the first three MK games’ most distinctive features were chiefly inspired by exploitation films, especially East Asian martial-arts cinema, this study combines Game Studies with Cinema Studies to trace the generic and cinematic web of transnational influences that helped develop the games’ graphically violent gameplay and dark, sprawling storyworld. It also explores how the porting of the MK games served as a referendum on the quality of emerging home game consoles and the cultural value of fighting games in general.
Chapter 1: Ludic Precursors and Generic Innovations
Chapter 2: Cinematic Influences and Cultural Politics
Chapter 3: Mortal Kontroversy, or Dispatches from the Console Wars
Chapter 4: Imitation, Derivation, and Reinvention