Interview: Mortal Kombatants, Violence and Video games.

Richard “KANO” Divizio & Daniel “CAGE” Pesina

This Article is composed by:

1 Intro: symbol of pop culture, symbol of video game, symbol of violence.

2 Interview: Richard Divizio & Daniel Pesina - Voices from Out(er)World

3 Debate: “There is no knowledge that is not power”

Originally Created By: TRU.BLOG.BR

Symbol of pop culture. Symbol of video game. Symbol of violence.

With the release of Mortal Kombat 11 already announced for April 2019, the franchise gradually returns to the center of the media spotlight. Being one of the most popular series not only in the fighting game universe but by the general public, MK brings within itself a considerable legacy in the history of the video game, for its quality, its trajectory and transformations throughout the many generations by the which he had been present. However, there is another thing in its history that singles it out in the midst of so many games:

In 1993, Mortal Kombat was one of the main responsibles for the creation of the ESRB, alongside games like Night Trap, Doom and Lethal Enforcers. With the launch of the game and its commercial success, the work of Ed Boon and John Tobias had also caught the attention of traditional media and voices in politics as the then US Senator Joe Lieberman and Herbert Kohl, culminating at the end of extraordinary public hearings, in the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

To the uninformed eyes, Mortal Kombat may seem the most terrible representation of violence and its glamorization. To the one who sees the work in its totality, it is more than that. It can be seen as a tribute or even a satire to both Eastern and Hollywood film and culture, actively nurtured one of the most fundamental debates in the consolidation of interactive media as a product and as an art, symbolizing the struggle for the rights of creative freedom at the same time as providing us the possibility to discuss violence in our society, in our culture and in entertainment. Alongside that, it gave us a good game to play at the end of the day.



Richard Divizio & Daniel Pesina:

Voices from Out(er)World

In order to discuss the impact of the work and to unfold the proposed debate, two noble voices from within the universe and the history of Mortal Kombat take the center arena in this article, discussing, in a short interview, the franchise and the theme of the video game and violence.


Richard Divizio

The American actor is most known in the video game community for playing the character KANO in the first three games of the franchise. Divizio also played Baraka in Mortal Kombat II, Kabal in MK III, Quan Chi and Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-zero, as well as capturing moves for 3D-era games like Mortal Kombat 4 and Deadly Alliance. Divizio is mentioned as the only actor to be present in all games in the series of the era of digitized graphics. In addition to mastering martial arts, Divizio also has an academic background in graphic design.


Daniel Pesina:

Known especially for Johnny Cage’s character interpretation in the first two games of the series, he was also the actor of characters like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile and the secret ninjas — Noob Saibot and Smoke — in Mortal Kombat II. Pesina is a master of various martial arts and has worked in the production of other fighting games of the time and also interpreted in films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and The Book of Swords next to Divizio. Today, Pesina is a martial arts teacher in Chicago.

Do you follow them? No? What are you waiting for?!

[I put in this brief paragraph and in the effort to produce this simple article my most sincere thanks to Daniel Pesina and Richard Divizio for the attention and time available to answer the questions, providing an excellent contribution to the text and the theme. The responses given by the actors were fully preserved in the publication.]

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1 At the time of the production of the first Mortal Kombat(s), did you see something “dangerous” or controversial in the game in relation to the other existing ones in the market? Expected such a reaction in 1993 and 1994 and how did you deal with it?

The game was fun to do and was not beyond any of the violence that you would have seen in movies of that time. One important note to consider is that video games during that time did not have a rating system but movies did, like PG13 or rated R. Games like Mortal Kombat changed that for the gaming industry. Dealing with the blame has always been the same, parenting starts at home and each person should be taught the difference between reality and fantasy.
Originally we were told there would be only 200 arcade cabinets produced. The game was intended for a more mature audience, the age that frequents Arcade galleries or Flip-0-Rama’s. Children of a young age are often not let visit those places alone.

2 What is your opinion about the differences between violence in the interpretative and interactive media (like movies / games) in terms of its effects and its right to exist?

I’m not a huge fan of games where you steal cars and things like that. In fact, I don’t play any games at all, [LOL]. The last game I played was Abe’s Oddworld for PS1. There will always be violence in our society, unfortunately, and it will be shown in many art forms. That’s our freedom to express. Once again, know reality and fantasy. You have the freedom to watch, or turn away, to play or not play. This is your freedom of expression.
[see answer #4]

3 In your understanding, what is the most controversial element in the portrayal of violence in the eyes of society that criticized the work? (the violent act itself, the act of participating in it, the degree of realism, among others).

Society sometimes feels that if the act itself is shown, that people might copy that in real life. This is where education comes in. I can’t express that enough.
[Veja resposta #4]

4 Is there any limit that makes violence in entertainment problematic and how to deal with it without running into issues of artistic freedom?

When educated properly, you can watch or play anything and walk away fine because you know the difference.
I see questions 2 through 4 linked.
The way we approach violence is often based on ones up bring or the way our loved ones raise us or lack of interaction. Personally, movie and multi-media violence is entertainment. I take it as entertainment. When I see violence in these entertainment Medias, I do not think they are real or acceptable. It’s just entertainment. So if you don’t like it, one can usually choose not to watch it or change the channel so to speak.
As a whole, society has changed, as all things must but there was no balance to counter act what our present world is experiencing. Parenting has taken a backseat to putting food on the table, health care, putting a roof over our heads and paying bills. Most people in society have to work extra hours to make ends meet.
Children need guidance. With lack of at least one parent attending to this, it can put social norms in an awkward place. It’s difficult to put anyone responsible or accountable without first looking at our political systems which dictate society. If our politicians place money first, things become off balance. I’m not saying money is to blame but greed is big part of this violence controversy. In most homes now, money takes front seat over the family. This stress is placed on society as a whole when we cannot place our children needs first. We need smart politicians. Politicians are paid to solve problems and should work for the common good. It is a difficult task but that’s why we need intelligent people leading. If we want a better society we need the best leaders.
Without this guidance, the creative and consumer sides of entertainment can take a harsh turn. It will take a wide view to even begin to access these concepts, and then we can address the concerns.

5 John Carmack [Doom Co-creator] one day said, “History in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” Other industry examples such as Warren Spector differ on certain points about what is considered PRIORITY in his works. What would be the defining or most important / characteristic element in the video games for you?

Character development in any story that you’re trying to tell is crucial whether or not it will be interesting and people will take a liking to it or they will be bored. Definitely have to have a history to go along with the story.
Games have changed greatly with the interaction of media. An example: Originally we were creating the best fighting game we could. We never envisioned it going to other media’s in home and movies. The story was loose. It’s was a fighting game, nothing else. Moving into a comic needed there to be a little more story. Then turning it into a movie needed more.
Now when you are creating a video game you are not only hoping they turn it into a movie but you plan for it. Love and vision of your work is the most important characteristic of any project.
In addition on the creative side a problem can be people taking over your work and sending it off in a different direction, often due to money. They see it not as art and expression and think about the money side. They forget that it was the art side that ignited the projects popularity.
MK III is a good example of this. Management cut out some of the co-creators and by passed the creator and let a management/creator lead the project. The business side almost erased this game. They had to come out with MK Trilogy to save the franchise, the game was that unpopular! You never hear of MK III, only MK Trilogy.

6 Today, years after the release, what do you see as Mortal Kombat’s biggest contribution to the gaming industry in general and to you as an individual? how do you see this moment — 1993–4 — and all the debate that has taken place in the history of media consolidation?

A rating system for one was a huge contribution to the gaming world, and it helped to control how old someone has to be to play these kinds of games. Parents still have a role to do in educating their children but having a ratings system definitely can help. Creatively, I believe a bunch of us friends got together with a lot of cool ideas to come up with an extraordinary and very successful video game.
MK had several contributions to the gaming industry. For me, I hardly think about those accomplishments. The controversy, totally political with no point but to blame for political neglect and their failure as leaders.
I helped create this project and happy to be held in high regards to fans of this genre. The saying goes “we are only meat on a piece of rock that is traveling thru a vast universe at hundreds of miles an hour lasting for moments in a timeless cosmos”. I’m just appreciating the ride.
I hope that society can come to balance. Taking responsibility is the beginning to addressing this controversy. People need to be kind to each other. Not overly but in a respectful way.

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“There is no knowledge that is not power”

The parallel between Video Game, its violence and our reality has always been done. Those distant from the interactive media are scared the said “danger” of games like Grand Theft Auto in the same way — only to a lesser degree — that have been scared in the past with Death Race, Doom, Mortal Kombat, Night Trap. Still, the feeling of those in love with the video game is one of frustration at the fact that such a discussion seems to never end.

With the grouth of media, culturally and economically, the aging of some of its consumer audiences, market accessibility and the complexity of games, many who criticized and feared it earlier, applaud or consume today. That was Grand Theft Auto V case and the praise for its critiques and satire of the modern day life. However, controversies are still common today, both motivated by a traditional media's interest in the capitalization of the panic caused by such types of polemics or by our own ignorance or indisposition to educate and properly discuss with others.

Hatred is an example of how, often within the gaming community itself, we do not stop to discuss these issues. After the release on Steam — the game in which the theme is to control an armed psychopath in order to discount his fury in all he sees ahead — it was quickly subtracted from the store for a brief moment and reinserted by issues of creative freedom and Steam’s requirements not being infringed. But what drives us to disgust works like Hatred or to be surprised at the new wave of Japanese porn games that have been on the market lately as we’ve been shooting at terrorist-painted Arabs for years, beheading our opponents for even longer, and stuff like that?

The answer, if it exists, is complex. The context, the socially acceptable, the normalization of being used to one type of product and not the other? In the end, it is interesting to note how little we seem to have managed to constructively discuss this within the community itself, and the debate, the confrontation of ignorance and hypocrisy is the only way to carry it forward, prepare for the various attempts to build controversies that inevitably will come when something “subversive” arises.

That is the importance of not only defending such an art form solely by its right to exist and freedom of expression, but by studying, with proper information. Inserting the debate in the school, in the university, in our families. As Divizio and Pesina point out masterfully, education will always be the best way. We still need to discuss, in fact, why so many yet see the video game as something belonging to the youth, why so many do not bother with John Wick’s slaughter in theaters and tremble to see a game of Counter Strike being played professionally. Education not only can inform the meanings of the media and our culture but can also teach us how to deal with their issues, to distinguish the real from the virtual.

That the game has the power to influence us is already common sense, and it is not objectively wrong, because everything in our reality has the ability to influence us in some way. A song, a movie, the testimony of a particular scene, a game, a memory or even feelings and deseases. What sets us apart is the capacity for discernment to understand the place of everything, entertainment and reality. Culture and society is and will always be transformed based on the appropriation of what surrounds us.

Interactive media had been brutally transformed in its few decades of existence. Its own definition of the “game”, compared to the broad interpretation of the game we have, is no longer sufficient when we stop to think that FIFA, The Last Of Us, Mortal Kombat, Gran Turismo, Rainbow Six and To The Moon share the same spaces in stores and share this same concept.

It is necessary, whenever we hear someone start a discussion as such, instead of just being on the defensive, listening to their arguments or opinions and, if it is the case, exposing the ignorance and disinformation that revolves around the theme, always cherishing the knowledge and the importance of education so that we can contribute to the formation of a healthier and less volatile society.

AND YOU? Leave your thoughts and contributions in this article and, if you can, share the word! I’ll be forever grateful!

João Gabriel Maia
I, once again, thank immensely Richard Divizio and Daniel Pesina for their special contribution to the debate, to the video game world and the stories. There’s no way of hiding my fan-side in the middle of it all.
About the author: Graduated in History from the federal university of Uberlândia, Brazil, passionate and curious about the universe of games, music and cinema. I studied, in my final paper, the theme of “violence and video game in the United States: Dialogues between media and technological development in Doom (1993), Mortal Kombat (1992) and Night Trap (1992).”
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