Today marks the release of the eleventh edition of one of the most iconic, controversial, and violent video games ever made, Mortal Kombat.
I remember as a young man in the nineties when the very first Mortal Kombat was released to the Super Nintendo. I was eager to get my hands on it. If I remember correctly, the Super Nintendo version was toned down a bit in regards to its violent content, but even so, it was the most violent thing I’ve ever played. Not only did pixelated blood shoot out with every punch and kick, but the defeated character would conveniently pop up off the ground and wobble around in a dazed state for a few moments, giving the victor the opportunity to push the correct bottom combination to perform a ‘fatality.’ These ‘fatalities’ included beheadings and other gory methods of death, complete with blood spewing.
There was a big outcry during that time. Parents and lawmakers were worried that these games would have a negative affect. They supposed that these types of games would desensitize children to violence. They suspected that it could lead to real-life violence, like teens taking guns into schools and shooting up all their classmates. Of course, that would never happen…
I’ve heard all the arguments: “A few people don’t represent everyone,” “I play violent games and I’ve never wanted to kill anyone,” “mental illness is the problem, not the games” (as if mental illness didn’t exist before), etc. But let’s put aside all this for a moment and instead I want to address an article that I found on Vice’s website. It’s called “Extreme Violence in ‘Mortal Kombat 11’ Still Feels Wrong, and That’s a Good Thing”
You can read the article if you’d like, but the main gist is that the author is pleased with himself over his gut reaction to extreme violence. He recoils at the violence in the game as he did as a young man playing the original, far less violent title. And, interestingly enough, this he says it is an indication that he has not been desensitized to violence. However, what he fails to realize is that the exact reason that greater violent content is included in this latest edition is precisely because an entire generation has been desensitized to violence.
Violent content is much like sexual content; it’s not necessary for the game or movie or show, but it’s included because people like it. It gives them a quick rush or satisfies curiosity or fulfills some desire to experience something taboo. But just like watchers of pornography are always looking for something new, different, and a little more graphic, so those who take pleasure in violence. This is beyond obvious. ‘Game of Thrones’ is a good example of this. HBO was fringe back in the nineties because of its content. I remember sneaking to watch it at a friend’s house after 10p because I knew there was pornography there. But now, pornography and extreme gore are mainstream thanks to ‘Game of Thrones.’ And not just ‘Game of Thrones;’ many others have followed in its path.
It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to understand that watching violent content desensitizes us. It’s just common sense. When I first started working at a funeral home, I was shocked by dead bodies. However, after a while, I got used to it. It was normal. It becomes so normal for funeral workers that they have to be especially careful to act compassionate and concerned when they deal with clients. Once there was a funeral wake during a play-off football game. I watched my boss transform instantly from solemn/concerned to ecstatic (and vice versa) as he roamed back and forth from the viewing to the back room where the TV was. Desensitization can be is a good thing in contexts like this, of course. But in other contexts, it is not a good thing.
As technology progresses, so does the ability to create extremely realistic violent content. How is it that a teenage school shooter can watch a human being die by his hand and move on to another victim? How are they not shocked by the violence that they have committed? Could it be that they have seen it before? Many times? We’ve had guns in our country for a long time, but only in the age of graphically violent entertainment have we seen murder at such a grand scale.
But even if violent games don’t turn you into a mass murder (which it likely won’t), can there still be a negative effect upon your life and mind? And more importantly, what does God think of all this?
One of my clearest memories regarding morality and conscience was with Mortal Kombat. I must have been 12 or 13 years old. I finally got my hands on Mortal Kombat for the SNES. I remember clearly as I started to play it that my conscience began to bother me. I had the distinct sense that playing this game was not right. I was not a Christian at the time. That wouldn’t be for another 3 or 4 years. But a small battle was waged inside of my mind. Part of me said this was wrong and I should stop, but another part of me said that this was fun. I ignored that first sense and continued playing. Soon enough, it went away. It wasn’t too long after this that my innocent years of childhood were a thing of the past and the dark years of my adolescence began. Perhaps it turned on that very moment.
I’m not saying that Mortal Kombat is what ushered in my dark teen years, per se. But it was just that Mortal Kombat came at the exact moment in my life when my mind was developed enough to recognize good and evil. And when the tree was presented before me, I ate.
Of course, this is subjectively my own story. However, I suspect that everyone has a story similar to this. Whether it be a video game, pornography, theft, lying, whatever. It’s that first moment when a person truly understands good and evil, and chooses evil. And whats extremely unfortunate is that society has made it increasingly easier to plunge earlier and harder into darkness. Everyone knows that young minds are molded by their environment. It is increasingly true that young minds are surrounded by graphic sex and violence. These games and depictions have an dopaminergic effect on the brain. This can lead to a lifestyle of an unhealthy progression of consumption. From there, all sorts of evils, big and small, will manifest.
Someone may say, “Of course! That’s why you don’t let kids play this stuff!”
One would think that most parents would be wise enough to think the same thing, but many don’t. I hope that if you are a parent reading this that you would prevent your child or teen from playing games like this. Unfortunately, so many parents are either too caught up in their own lives to care or too weak to fight off their child’s nagging. Some parents don’t care, others don’t want to fight. And in households were there are no fathers, fighting is especially hard. (My heart goes out to all you single mothers).
But this doesn’t take away from the responsibility of video game makers. Midway Games, shame on you. You profit at the expense of young minds. You’ll stand before God one day and only then will you know the true impact of your creation.
And Nintendo, shame on you. It seemed as though you used to care about the content of your games, but now you’ve long joined the others in declaring that profit is king. All of you are guilty.
What Should be Done?
Parents, free your household of these kind of games! Be the parent and not a friend. Your children will thank you later.
Game makers, stop. There are plenty of examples of games that are fun and challenging without the violent content. If you work for a game maker that makes these type of games, quit. If you are involved, your hand is in with them, and you will be judged with them.
Law-makers, make it increasingly more difficult for young people to get their hands on these games.
Christian, turn your eyes from this violence. How can we fill our minds with depictions of human-beings, created in the image of God, being grotesquely destroyed? Who is he to whom God says that He will set on high? It’s he “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil” (Isa 33:15). This should be plenty enough for us to steer clear of all such content. If your entertainment choices include the likes of Mortal Kombat or Game of Thrones, know that you are sinning against God. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. Repent quickly and turn it off.
Our lives should be markedly different from the world’s. Let’s turn these things off and fill our lives with things that edify instead.
For more on this topic, check out my blog entitled, “Why We Have Mass Shootings and What We Can Do About it.”