Many gamers are accusing "Mortal Kombat 11" of pushing "a liberal agenda" because one of its fictional characters traveled back in time to undo the horrors of slavery.
Mortal Kombat is one of the most successful video game fighting franchises in the world. Since the release of the first game, it has become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time, spawning multiple sequels, films, television series, and comic books. Now, the latest iteration is here, called Mortal Kombat 11. And it's controversial for all the wrong reasons.
People are excited about many things in this game. The use of the original theme song in the trailer, for example (finally). But many are also angry at the developers for… having one of the game's characters undo slavery? Surely that can't be the reason, can it?
Oh, but it is. The internet is a strange place, and the world's current political polarization seems to be driving everyone nuts. Several people within the conservative audience and gaming community are awfully sensitive when it comes to anything remotely hinting at liberal ideals, and after years of criticisms regarding its sexist depictions of women and violence, Mortal Kombat finally became reasonably, and slightly, more socially sensitive. So, of course, conservatives are outraged.
Take one of the game's many individual endings. Jackson "Jax" Briggs is a playable black character with bionic arms who makes a particular decision this time around if players finish his storyline successfully. In short, he gains the ability to travel in time, and decides to go back and prevent slavery against the black community altogether.
In his story's final scene, Jax explains that he's been lucky, claiming that "My family and I have lived the American dream. But most people who look like me haven’t had that chance. I owe it to them to put things right, and I’m not waiting centuries for people to get woke when I’ve got the power to speed things up.”
It takes him a few attempts, but in the end, he manages to reshape history and keep his family alive in the process, producing a world that's "better for everyone." See for yourself:
The bizarre nature of the reaction
We're talking about a game where people have superpowers, extraterrestrials fly around bending time at will, and where sorcerers reviving characters is practically commonplace. It's hard to take the franchise's lore seriously. Yet many in the gaming community chose to focus on the implausiblity of the idea that Jax travels back in time to undo slavery. And they took it to heart—seemingly offended by the decision on a personal level. There's a weird selective bias going on here.
The game's user reviews are going down proportionally to the perceived offense. Players are claiming that Mortal Kombat 11 is pushing "social justice warrior" agenda, given Jax's ending and the fact that, this time around, the game gives women a more prominent and respectful role.
The critical comments range from decrying the inclusion of politics in video games to outright accusing the developers, NetherRealm Studios, of promoting reverse racism and even white genocide. Take this Youtube comment, for example:
"Based on the total absence of any white people at all in the picture at 1:14, not only did Jax kill all the African slave merchants but it would seem he also performs some manner of mass genocide of white people (or at the very least, an extreme inversion of apartheid which see white people expelled or driven into places where they can be out of the public eye). So yeah... I guess Jax's version of 'being woke' amounts to doing basically every single bad thing that your 'oppressors' did, just in reverse? Alrighty, thanks for the morality lesson there, NetherRealms!"
This commenter is far from alone. It seems many are guilty of this strange line of reasoning, and it's truly puzzling. Another Youtuber made a 15-minute video just to rant about how angry he is at the developers for "advocating the genocide of white people." Other comments, which we won't reproduce here, are just plain racist against the black community.
But you saw Jax's scene above for yourself. You'll be able to judge whether it truly promotes genocide, or "reverse racism," or pushes any sort of radical political agenda. It clearly doesn't (unless you consider anti-slavery and pro-black-community discourse radical).
Now, some articles, such as this PC Gamer piece, point out that perhaps this "outrage" was ultimately blown out of proportion and that the vast majority of players have no problem with the ending at all. According to this line of reasoning, people took some isolated comments and reactions and bundled them together to make it appear there was actually widespread controversy when in fact there's just a few vocal racists out there—nothing new. We can only hope something like this is true (that true racists are an irrelevant minority), but I wouldn't be so optimistic. Social media, with all its faults and distortions, makes it appear otherwise.
Some people legitimately complained that the game's writing is pretty bad. That's nothing new either, mind you—Mortal Kombat has never been known for its Shakespearean literary quality, so there's no need to focus on this one particular instance of bad character development. The ending was inspiring, and a nice touch of friendly and happy outcomes in an otherwise bleak and violent fiction. Even if the controversy is not as widespread as it appears on social media, I simply find it baffling that someone could believe having a video game character who'd want to undo the slavery of black people is "pushing a liberal agenda." It feels like something out of the 19th century. As if only liberals were anti-slavery anymore.
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