Games of Death: David Church’s Mortal Kombat Book

This is the fifth book in the Landmark Video Games series. These are more academic looks at video games and video game series. They’re shorter books that don’t always dig as deep into the games as they could.

With Mortal Kombat, David Church does a good job explaining what Mortal Kombat did for video games and fighting games. Some very interesting things are brought up here, and we get different takes on historical events. I found his research on the creation of the ESRB to be extremely interesting!

However, much of this book felt like I was reading parts of David Craddock’s Mortal Kombat book, but with less personality. The two books are very different. Craddock’s book has more details, while Church’s book goes into the history of the ESRB and the origins of the movies that inspired Mortal Kombat in greater detail. I would recommend Craddock’s book over this one.

Movies Behind the Games

It is well-known that Bloodsport was one of the inspirations for Mortal Kombat. Midway wanted to make a Universal Soldier game and wanted to use Jean Claude Van Dam in a fighting game. When he wasn’t available or interested, and the potential license for Universal Soldier fell through, the team switched to Mortal Kombat.

Midway saw the success of Street Fighter II, and they wanted to cash in on the popularity of fighting games. They would use digitized actors, brutal finishing moves, and compelling stories to help the game stand out.

Martial Arts movies from the 70s and 80s were a big inspiration for Mortal Kombat. Church goes into some detail about the history of the martial arts movie industry in Japan and China. It isn’t an exhaustive history, but it gives you an excellent place to start if you want to look into it more.

Bruce Lee movies are the more prominent focus here. He explains how they relate to Mortal Kombat, and it adds a bunch of movies to my late-night watch list. I hadn’t heard of Game of Death before, but I can see how it probably inspired either Mortal Kombat or Bloodsport. It also might have inspired Frank Dux to make up parts of his fictional life.

I thought this part of the book was terrific! It felt out of place sometimes, but you can see how parts of these different movies played a role in Mortal Kombat. I got from this section that martial arts movies played a significant role in fighting games.

Moral Kombat and the ESRB

This was my favorite part of the book. These moral panics about video games are some of my favorite parts of video game history, and reading what David found has shed light on several interesting things I hadn’t heard of before.

Mostly, he talks about the messaging that went into the hearing. It isn’t called this, but I associated it with how political parties, corporations, or interest groups would get a message out into the media to sway public opinion. While reading this, I felt that a narrative was being created, and the Senators were already convinced that regulation was the best option.

The big thing for me was how the hearing didn’t invite third-party developers. The Senators didn’t seem to distinguish between Console manufacturers and the people who made games. It is often overlooked in the YouTube videos I’ve watched about the hearings and the books that I’ve read about the situation.

He does bring up how Nintendo stacked the deck against Sega, but he also mentions how the three games at the heart of the hearing were presented without context. The Senators and the people testifying against video games also misrepresented the footage and video games.

Church also talks about how the arcade roots of Mortal Kombat and Lethal Enforcers had been overlooked. The arcade games didn’t receive this scrutiny. It was only when the games went into the home that they became problematic.

It is an interesting thing to point out and one that I don’t think had been explored. Church uses this to talk a bit about the history of local governments trying to ban arcades. This is something that I might look into in the future.

While reading about the ESRB, I got several ideas for things to research and write about. There are several exciting stories in this book, and I think Church presents them in an easily digestible way.

Likes and Dislikes

There isn’t much that I didn’t like about this book. It was fine but wasn’t as detailed as David Craddock’s book. It has two things that David doesn’t have or has a different take on. David Church brings up some things on the 1993 Senate hearings that I hadn’t heard of before, and he talks more about the history of kung fu movies that inspired Mortal Kombat.

The messaging of the Senate hearing is brought up. You learn about how things were presented to the Senators and how the footage of the games had been manipulated. I had heard about this before, but Church adds more information.

The way the hearings played out is also gone over. It made me want to look up more information on the hearings and revisit some books I read years ago. I also realized there was much more to those hearings than I had previously known.

The movies that inspired Mortal Kombat were also fascinating. I knew about Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport. What I didn’t know about was the history of kung fu movies. That is something that Church goes into.

Reading about the history of wuxia and kung fu movies helped to put the moves in Mortal Kombat into perspective. We hear about the genre’s evolution, how it came to the US, and how some parts waxed and waned in popularity.

I knew of some of these movies but didn’t know their potential role in fighting games. Looking at movies like these is very interesting. Seeing some of the trends in these movies, specifically the wuxia movies, and how they had an impact on the projectile attacks in Mortal Kombat and other video games was great.

There wasn’t too much else that I liked in this book. If there is anything that I didn’t like, it would have to be that it is too short. It feels like a condensed version of David Craddock’s book. It isn’t a bad book. I wish that there was more information in it.

Final Thoughts

Mortal Kombat’s history is something that I’ve read about quite a bit. I could recount parts of the history from memory. It is one of those games that academics, fans, and commentators have dissected in many ways.

David Church takes the story in some new directions and adds to the knowledge of the game. His book is an excellent overview of several parts of the game’s history. However, it doesn’t dig deep enough for me.

While there are several interesting things that I hadn’t thought about before, there is also a lot of what I already knew. This is also how I felt when I read a book about Super Mario 2. I’m glad I read the book, but I would have liked it more if I had read it several years earlier when I didn’t know much about the story behind the game.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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