Growing up, the videogame every 10-year-old wanted to get his hands on was the home console version of Mortal Kombat. Doing so was no easy feat.
Convincing a parent to buy a videogame was difficult enough at the best of times. Games were expensive – adjusted for inflation, a new release in 1993 could easily cost the equivalent of Dh380 or more, depending on which system it was being sold for (compared to Dh270 for the latest hit game today). It was even more difficult to convince them to buy you a game that had already become infamous for its gory violence and found itself at the centre of an international moral panic – almost as difficult as pulling off one of the game’s infamous finishing moves, or “fatalities”.
These included some especially gruesome acts of violence, such as Sub-Zero ripping off the head of his defeated opponent – complete with attached spine – and holding it aloft as blobs of red pixels fall to the floor.
Kano, on the other hand, preferred ripping the still beating hearts of his opponents out of their chests.
Young boys loved it all, but almost everyone else hated it. It was banned or censored in several countries, and led to government hearings and new legislation or regulations in others. Those age restrictions now common on the packaging of games all over the world? Mortal Kombat – or rather the reaction to it – is to thank for that.
The game was a huge success regardless, reportedly selling about six million copies, many of them undoubtedly bought by or for children.
It has to be mentioned that the gruesome violence in Mortal Kombat wasn’t just something ancillary – it was one of its main selling points.
Looking back at all of this, it's hard not to think just how tame in comparison Fortnite is – the current bane of many a parent and teacher and the gift that keeps on giving to its publisher, journalists and academics hoping to be quoted by said journalists. The violence in Fornite is cartoonish and lacks gore – Looney Tunes cartoons featuring the Road Runner seem like Pulp Fiction in comparison.
It’s a game that in most of its modes encourages communication and co-operation between teammates, even if it’s all in the service of blasting away the competition.
Fortnite game trailer:
It also has Mortal Kombat beat on the price front – it costs nothing (it makes its money by selling optional, mostly cosmetic content such as character outfits and emotes).
This is not to say that some of the concerns raised about the game aren’t without any foundation. Addiction and an obsession with gaming that interferes with school and social life are issues that rightly have many parents worried, but it’s far from clear that there is anything specific to Fornite that makes it more likely to cause these problems among a certain subset of players than other games.Comic books, yo-yos, Pogs, Tamagotchis and even novels (which, believe it or not, were once upon a time condemned for possibly leading to reading addiction) have all been the target of the sort of panic now surrounding Fortnite.
Ultimately, there is no substitute for proper parental supervision when it comes to whatever the latest craze may be – parents are in the best position to know if a specific pastime is negatively affecting a child.
Some of these pastimes are of course more inherently worrisome than others – but that is why parents should count themselves lucky when they find themselves having to deal with a Fortnite instead of a Mortal Kombat. It could always be worse, as those mutilated virtual corpses from 1993 remind us.