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It’s the game your mom didn’t want you to play: Mortal Kombat. Best known for its finishing moves or “Fatalities”, the kontroversial series has become synonymous with over-the-top video game violence—take Sub-Zero’s infamous “spine-rip” fatality, for instance. As for me, a die-hard fan of the series, I was absolutely stoked to check out the new game—and absolutely stoked to rip some spines!
For my first fight, I selected an epic grudge match between Sonya Blade, the elite Special Forces agent, and Kano, the criminal mastermind who killed her partner. Time for Sonya to have some bloody revenge! I pulverize Kano with a series of bone-crunching kombos, hitting him with a power-ring projectile before smacking him down with my teleportation punch. Before you know it, the iconic words flash on the screen: “Finish him!” For what it’s worth, the gameplay’s been unreal so far. That said, as I’m putting in the button kombination for Sonya’s “Kiss of Death” fatality, she turns to face the screen: “I think we need to talk about criminal justice reform.”
“I strongly believe that we need to explore ideas of restorative justice if we truly want equity. So, no, I won’t “Finish” Kano. What we need to “Finish” is the structural inequality that pushed him to a life a crime.” Kano pipes in, “I’s truly sorry, I is, for all the ‘arm I done.” They then recommend some non-profits I should get involved with.
I’ll need to double-check the button konfiguration, ’cause that definitely wasn’t a spine rip. Not sure what that was. But onto the next match: let’s rip some spines!
For my next fight, Queen Sindel, the undead monarch of Outworld, opens the match by asking me why I thought the Harvey Weinstein accusations took so long to kome out. Instead of the flying fireball I thought she’d be challenging me with, instead she’s peppering me with questions about the systems of oppression that protect people like Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis CK “and all the rest of them.” And then she stares at me. The kontroller does nothing. Not sure what to do, I start saying “Well, there are a lot of bad guys, but not all guys are…” and she immediately kut me off to explain that it’s the result of systemic patriarchy. I sort of tuned out for a while, but then I hear her say, “Well? So what are you going to do about it?” I tried saying that I guess I’ve got a lot of listening to do, and she just rolled her eyes and left. I think this was a draw?
Did I pick the wrong mode or something? Not sure where all the spine-ripping is at. I feel bad for all the krap Sindel and the other female kombatants have to put up with. I had no idea…
This one started cool when the telekinetic samurai Kenshi materialized out of thin air, but then he just wanted to ask me about the Estate Tax. No matter what buttons I pressed, I just stood there while Kenshi went on about how the family that owns Walmart stands to make $52 billion if it’s repealed. I pressed the button for an uppercut, but my guy just nodded and leaned in more intently. I think I lost this round?
The screen says, “In order to kontinue to even more bone-krunching kombat, please konsider a donation to the ACLU.” I don’t really have the money and I’m not sure what the ACLU is, but I want to keep playing so I Googled it. Three days later, my cheque klears and I’m able to get to the next fight.
For some reason, all the kharacters on the kharacter select screen are replaced by the Justices of the Supreme Kourt. Let’s see what kind of moves this Sonia Sotomayor has (enchanted gavel, e.g.). But when I try to select her, the screen flashes “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” I try pressing the high-punch button and the screen says, “That’s right! Merrick Garland should be here, shouldn’t he?!”
For the next fight, I had to read a long and boring article about kapitalism and then answer a seemingly never-ending series of multiple-choice questions. I didn’t really understand the article but I still got seven of the questions right by just selecting B for all of them. Starting to suspect I might not be ripping spines any time too soon.
Alright! Sweet! The undead ninja Scorpion leaps onto the screen with fire pouring from the hollow sockets of his skeletal eyes! Finally, things are about to pick up. Let’s rip some spines! Annnnd, nope, he wants to talk about single-payer healthkare and the korporate money flowing into Demokratic Party. I’m going to be here a while. No spine-rips in sight.
The game, somewhat inaccurately, advises me “After facing some of the most spine-ripping kombat of all time, prepare yourself for the final konfrontation!” If you guessed that I’d be facing the evil necromancer Shang Tsung, or maybe the despotic warlord Shao Khan, you’d have been a bit off the mark: instead, I had to use my kontroller to write to my Senator and Kongressman or Kongresswoman about Citizens United and the issue of unrestrained money in politics more generally. I’m pretty much totally konfused, so I just wrote “I think it is bad” and I guess I won the game? Pretty sure I didn’t rip a single spine. Feeling pretty krestfallen, to be honest.
So, there you have it. One the one hand, the new Mortal Kombat game features amazing graphics and beautiful stages, but on the other, the gameplay is a bit too focused on leftist analysis of contemporary American politics, and not the klassic, brutal kombat that the series is best known for.