Mortal Kombat: What Ratings Hath Wrought

People were decrying the influence of video games on popular culture way before Mortal Kombat came onto the scene. Arcades were time-(and money-)wasters. Tetris rotted your brain. Portable gaming systems destroyed kids’ patience (or tried that of their parents, really). If you’re a gamer who grew up in the ’80s, you know what I’m talking about.

These were just the typical portents of the doom of civilization through technology that proved to be almost entirely without base, and most people knew it. How dangerous could dumping block after block on top of one another really be? Were Mario Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, really that much worse than the A-Team? Hadn’t people heard the same kind of arguments about film, television, and rock n’ roll? Despite a couple busts, video games got more and more popular every year with little-to-no outside intervention regarding their content.

… that is, until 1992, when a gamer could finally rip the still-beating heart out of an opponent’s chest. At that point, everything changed.

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Trapped in space warped by someone

I was the oldest kid in my family growing up. There was me, my brother, and my two step-brothers around frequently, along with a plethora of step-cousins that I saw far more often than any of my extended blood relations. Being the oldest of the kids that were around, I occasionally found myself annoyed when I was playing a game and one of the little cousins interfered.

This is a problem that pretty much everyone who has played video games in the presence of children has experienced. You want to sit down and get a game in, but your friend’s six-year-old brother or whatever wants to play. There is maybe some crying and complaining to parents and an order to let the kid play. You are resentful as you hand the controller over, so you go and stew on it, then you grow up to cynically complain about it on the internet.

*ahem* Pardon me, I digress.

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NHL ’94: Abstraction and Simplicity in Video Gaming

Video games are about abstraction. The gamer takes a controller or keyboard and mouse and is suddenly put into the role of a superhero, soldier, or plumber downing mushrooms to grow big enough to take down a princess-stealing dinosaur. One can travel to distant galaxies or stick around at home, making life more comfortable for simulated humans with consumer products and love. There is a literal fourth wall—the screen between TV/Monitor—with a game on one side and a player on the other.

This is why controls are so important to a title. Good controls remove one more barrier between a player and the gaming world. Bad controls take a player out of a game, like seeing a boom shadow in a film. The illusion is shattered. Frustration replaces aspiration. It takes time to learn the controls of a game, of course, but if the design sensibility matches the learning curve, the transition becomes seamless.

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