'Mortal Kombat' And Its 'Fatality' Feature Changed Video Games Forever
Photo: Midway

'Mortal Kombat' And Its 'Fatality' Feature Changed Video Games Forever

The Mortal Kombat fatal blow is an epic display of comic, carnage-filled mayhem. However, when the fighting game hit arcades in 1992, none of its developers expected the national outrage that would ensue. Originally aimed at young adults, Mortal Kombat featured graphic violence that went way over the top, creating a mess of fire, ice, blood, and bones. Upon its port to home consoles in 1993, American mass media tore into the game. Triggering parental outcries and legislative poundings, Mortal Kombat went down in history as one of the most violent video games to hit the shelves. To help keep it out of the hands of kids, it spawned the creation of an all-new interactive media rating system, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

The ending Fatality Mortal Kombat delivered was an intentionally ridiculous, MMA massacre. The iconic "Finish Him" that rings out over the system as a player delivers a fatal blow to their comatose target changed video games forever.

  • The Game's Violence Was A Response To 'Street Fighter II'
    Photo: Midway

    The Game's Violence Was A Response To 'Street Fighter II'

    Capcom's 1991 megahit Street Fighter II set a high bar for fighting games, and its success paved the path for Midway Games to try its own hand at the genre. Street Fighter II proved gamers loved to fight against each other; now Midway Games had to find a way to keep up with the competition.

    Originally, Mortal Kombat's developers envisioned a darker and grittier version of Street Fighter II that would star Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, Van Damme had no interest in the video game pitch and declined to participate. As a result, the Midway team pivoted to a violent, mystical kung-fu fantasy.

  • The Gore Was Meant To Be Surreal And Bordering On Comedic

    While Mortal Kombat comes with a heavy dose of carnage, the creators didn't make Fatalities just to show off a digital bloodbath. The finishing moves were crafted in an over-the-top, comedic fashion meant to both entertain and impress.

    During Mortal Kombat's creation, the developers played with ridiculous ideas that ranged from kicking a guy so hard that his head goes flying off his body, to doing the splits and delivering a punch straight to the crotch. While brainstorming, they praised each other for the most outrageous ideas. The over-the-top silliness was meant to nullify the sheer mayhem that Mortal Kombat otherwise delivered.

  • Kano's 'Heart Rip' Was An Homage To 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'
    Photo: Midway

    Kano's 'Heart Rip' Was An Homage To 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'

    The origins for Kano's finishing move, a heart-ripping Fatality where he rips the heart straight out of his opponent's chest, came from the depths of the creators' nerd fandom. A fan of Indiana Jones, Rich Divizio, Kano's actor, proposed that Kano copy a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

    In Temple of Doom, a ritual is performed in which one person pulls another person's heart out with their bare hand. Divizio originally suggested Kano rip out the heart, take a bite, then hold it to the sky in sweet, bloody victory. That was a bit much, so the developers settled on a final Fatality where Kano tore the heart out of the chest and held it in the air while it was still beating.

  • Arcade-Goers Gathered Around Expert Players Just To Witness The Fatalities
    Photo: Midway

    Arcade-Goers Gathered Around Expert Players Just To Witness The Fatalities

    In the early '90s, the arcade scene was fading fast. New generations of home game consoles made the outings less impressive, especially since gamers could just play the media they loved from the comfort of their own couch. Plus, the gap in graphical quality was much less than it had been in the old Atari days. However, Street Fighter II made arcades hop again. Mortal Kombat upped the ante as people swarmed the arcade machines just to watch the epic, over-the-top fights, and especially the Fatalities. 

    While the in-game action was an impressive display of skill (and a fun, bloody mess), the complex finishing moves that gamers would perform while their opponent staggered dazed and comatose were ones that took mastery to achieve. The violent aftermath of the digital fight was one of the highlights of watching others play Mortal Kombat in an arcade setting. 

  • 'Mortal Kombat's Violence Hadn't Been Seen In Video Games Before

    Mortal Kombat added elements of brutal gameplay that had never been seen before. Using real actors to portray their characters, the game made the fighting characters appear real.

    The graphic carnage that Mortal Kombat brought to its audience was an edge that the technology of the time allowed them to strategically wield. The team shot the actors, edited them down into frames, and put them directly into the game. While these character actors duke it out on screen, digital blood splatter and carnage covered the scene, making it appear as if real people were engaged in an all-out bloodsport.

  • Many Of The Creators Didn't Necessarily Have Kids In Mind When Developing The Game
    Photo: Midway

    Many Of The Creators Didn't Necessarily Have Kids In Mind When Developing The Game

    Built for arcades, Mortal Kombat wasn't intended to fall into the hands of younger kids. When the cabinets arrived in the '90s, they went straight to the arcades, which were mostly populated by teenagers and college students. Even the original contract states that the game was intended for arcade cabinets only.

    With the assumption that it would stay in arcades, the creators never second-guessed the amount of violence that was being poured into it. However, when the game was ported to home consoles, Mortal Kombat found its way to all audiences, including children. After its console debut, parents were quick to purchase the game for their kids, only to find it riddled with graphic carnage.