Last month, I wrote a short piece for a PopMatters feature about great games for summer. In it, I praised the newest Mortal Kombat game’s approachable, yet sophisticated fighting system as well as the game’s respect for the series’ roots. Mortal Kombat is a game that wields nostalgia with surprising subtlety. Familiar characters perform trademark moves and spout classic taunts, but nods to the past generally avoid crossing over into the territory of exclusionary in jokes. The game’s violence and camp sensibilities are presented in such a way that communicates the game’s mixture of both the shocking and the silly to new players, just as the original did nearly twenty years ago.
But twenty years is a long time, both in the video game world and in society at large. People change, politics change, and the medium changes. Despite its deference to the past, Mortal Kombat cannot fully recapture the essence of what made the original special for me and a generation of players. This is not necessarily a weakness; many of my fond feelings towards Mortal Kombat are linked to troubling times that I am happy to leave in the past. This is simply a personal story about the role Mortal Kombat played at a specific time in history, at a specific point in my life. As absurd as it might sound, Mortal Kombat was a formative experience for me, both in terms of my relationship to video games and my broader cultural and political identities.