Mortal Kombat was the reason I’d beg my parents to drop me off at the arcade, and for good reason: my local hangouts were granted access to early versions of the bloody fighting game.
What I remember most from that era was knowing I’d get to play the newest version of Mortal Kombat before anyone else in the world. We were one of the chosen arcades to receive early, incomplete versions of next Mortal Kombat. Whenever word of the latest sequel showed up in in the crinkled pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly, I knew a cabinet wasn’t far behind.
To encourage our quarter pumping, the arcade managers would lie to us about the machines.
On Shao Kahn’s stage in Mortal Kombat II, Sonya Blade and Kano were chained up in the background. Neither are part of the playable roster, despite appearing in the original game, and it drove us batty. Why would the game tease two of its iconic fighters?! There had to be a reason.
The reason, the arcade managers would tell us, is because unlocking Sonya and Kano was part of a secret cheat code only available in a specific versions of the game. Since this location was known for getting early versions of Mortal Kombat machines, this wasn’t unprecedented. The manager had us hook, line, and sinker, and I had zero idea he was feeding us endless bullshit.
It worked. He gave us a few hints about the game—sometimes explicitly telling us what characters to pick and what buttons to press—and sent us on our way. Of course, there was a good chance we were going to play Mortal Kombat II all day anyway, but convincing us there was an opportunity to surprise our friends by unlocking a big secret definitely secured our coins.
As I would discover years later, Sonya and Kano were never playable in Mortal Kombat II. The characters were cut due to memory constraints and because they were the least popular.
This was not the only time I dealt with lies, myths, and rumors around Mortal Kombat, though.
I was one of the last generations to experience the heyday of arcades, crowded venues useful for distracting kids while parents shopped and where one ended up for seemingly every other kid’s birthday party. This was before Moore’s law took over and consoles could provide the same (and, eventually, superior) experience as bulky cabinets. But the arrival of a new machine was a magical experience, one whose existence began as whispered legend on the playground. “Did you know so-and-so arcade just got a copy of so-and-so game? Get your mom to take you!”
People don’t normally think of Chicago, Illinois when it comes to game development, but that’s changing now. Cards Against Humanity, Octodad, Kentucky Route Zero, and Killer Instinct: Season Two are from here, and Mortal Kombat’s been a cornerstone since it debuted in 1992.
The arcade in question, whose name I’ve spent days trying to remember (Time Out?), was connected to an indoor mall near my parents’ old place. My mom would stop there to pick up this or that, and I’d ask to come along, since it was a chance to stop by the arcade. My volunteer efforts would pick up substantially whenever word reached our friends about a...location test.
The location tests for Mortal Kombat would be advertised on flyers outside of the arcades, a way of drumming up hype for the coming weekend’s event. (Machines were around for a day or two at most.) Location tests signaled an unreleased version of Mortal Kombat, so developers could get feedback about what was and wasn’t working in the game so far. This happened for Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat III, and it would turn the arcades into complete zoo. There would be lines wrapped up and down the arcade for people to have a chance to play.
It wasn’t merely that people wanted to play the new Mortal Kombat, either. It’s that people wanted to discover the new Mortal Kombat. What were the new special movies? Could anyone figure out a fatality for one of the new characters? Often, the machines would come with the equivalent of patch notes that indicated what players should experiment with, but we’re not talking about an exhaustive FAQ. Players were evolving and modifying discoveries in real-time.
The real myths aboutMortal Kombat began developing while the line endlessly shuffled forward, and people made up different things to sound cool in front their friends. “Oh, my friend saw Sub Zero’s sexality at another arcade. It was so sweet!” Since I was 10-years-old at the time, it went over my head, as I was too busy wondering what the run button was about.
(I still don’t like the run button.)
What else did I hear in line? Hmm.
- Scorpion’s sexality
- Mileena’s sexality
- Kitana’s sexality
- Liu Kang’s sexality
Seriously, what else did you think teenage boys talked about?
You would wait your turn in line, insert your quarters, and look at the notes scribbled around you. When something was discovered, people would often keep their notes on the machine for the next person to build off of. There would be cheers when things like animalities were discovered, and people would gather around the screen to see it happen. All Mortal Kombat ‘malities trigger a very specific noise when pulled off, and it would disrupt the whole line. Was it worth possibly losing your spot to see Liu Kang become a dragon? Hell yeah it was!
It was so fun to be part of the communal excavation of a new Mortal Kombat, and I suspect it’s a reason why people love streaming and YouTube so much, too. Arcades have disappeared, and we have countless reasons to stay home. We are both more and less connected to one other than ever before. Recording video allows us to connect, share, and celebrate our discoveries.
So far, no sexalities. Yet.