Mortal Kombat’s R-rating exposes the hypocrisy in banned video games

Mortal Kombat director Simon McQuoid has come out boasting about how his new film tests the limits of an R-rating. Considering Australia’s recent history regarding bans, he may want to pipe down.

Mortal Kombat is a video game series built on violence, gore and, to a lesser extent, comedy. The outrageous ways that you can brutalise your opponents are legendary, and film director Simon McQuoid is making sure that his Mortal Kombat film adaptation will be no different.

That said, McQuoid is aware that there is a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not; even in the realms of an R-rated film. In a recent interview with SFX Magazine he commented “Obviously, there’s a point where the film becomes unreleasable if you push it too far, and that would be a very unwise return on investment for the studio but from day one it’s been, ‘Okay, we’re doing this and we’re going to do it properly.”

So we know that he has seen the line, and we know that he plans on toeing it. Now forgive me for perhaps being a little jumpy here, but this sounds like he is tempting fate. As an Australian, particularly one that works and writes in the domain of video games, I have seen how this can go.

Mortal Kombat movie
Image: Mortal Kombat

Why are video games being banned in Australia?

I should probably calm down. This iteration of Mortal Kombat is a film after all, and the Australian Classification Board seems to be far more sympathetic towards films. It’s almost like they understand that they can be exclusively for adults.

In regards to video games, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Video games have a long history of being banned in Australia, especially on release. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is the most recent game to be made an example of. However, while the phenomenon remains, the reasoning behind the decisions have changed. While extreme violence was once often cited as a reason for banning works, it has become less and less common.

Drugs and sex are a different matter altogether. In fact, examining the ruling that relates to Disco Elysium makes for interesting reading. The game’s themes were said to:

“Depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality.”

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Screenshot: Mortal Kombat 11

The moral standards of Mortal Kombat

It appears that it always comes down to “the standards of morality”, which seems like a massive cop out. Has the board really come to the conclusion that Mortal Kombat villain Scorpion throwing a blade straight through someone’s chest is morally permissible? I mean, I guess he really did want to win that tournament…

Rather it seems like the Classification Board is simply unable to understand that some video games are exclusively for adults, and that just because something can be done in a game, it doesn’t mean that it’s morally good.

Role-playing games such as Disco Elysium are often about the consequences of decisions, and in turn, have a stronger moral core than any hyper-violent fighting game out there.

Adults are expected to understand that a film about drug addiction is not necessarily pro-drugs, or that a horrible act of violence should not be replicated in real life. It stands to reason that adult gamers should be trusted to make a similarly complex distinction.

Yet here we are, still.