Would you watch it? Deadly battle turned 30 this past Halloween season! The legendary arcade fighting game known for its eccentric characters, competitive 1v1 gameplay and brutal violence lives on after three long decades and is stronger than ever before. The road here was not always roses and a leisurely stroll through the park but instead fraught with controversy, bans, censorship and even government congressional hearings. In honor of the original’s 30th anniversary Deadly battlewe wanted to laser focus on the controversy it faced and the ramifications it would have on the gaming industry forever.
Released on October 8, 1992, Deadly battle set the arcade world on fire. Sure, there were games that street fighter who already perfected the fighting game concept and had become a household name, but Deadly battle broke the mold by presenting extremely graphic violence using digitized actors. The violence ranged from blood splattering all over the stage throughout the fight to match-ending deaths that would outright murder the losing player in gruesome fashion. It was unusual to have a game graphically depicting someone having their spine shredded in a bloody fashion at the time, and predictably some sections of the public didn’t take too kindly to the idea of a child randomly coming across this level of violence in their local arcade.
Enter Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman had been approached by his chief of staff regarding the level of extreme violence in the Sega Genesis port of Deadly battle (The Super Nintendo version was notoriously censored, replacing the red blood with gray “sweat”). Lieberman had heard about increasing levels of violence in video games and had conducted his own investigation into Night trap, a horror game with (at the time) very mature content. Lieberman took it upon himself to hold a press conference with other children’s advocates and make the argument that the video game industry promotes extreme violence against children based on statistics; he said at the time, “We’re talking about video games that glorify violence and teach children to enjoy practicing the most horrific forms of cruelty imaginable.” What followed would develop into pure moral panic that would change everything.
This was eventually presented to the US Senate in December 1993 with the intention of passing a bill that would allow the government to come up with its own content rating system. The gaming industry banded together and announced on the same day as the first hearing that they would develop their own content rating system in place of a government-controlled system. This would allow them to assign their own ratings and content warnings rather than being at the mercy of a presumably more brutal government board. In 1994 they presented to Congress Electronic System Ratings Board (ESRB). A voluntary industry-wide adopted rating system that would list content in each game and rate it according to an appropriate age demographic. Satisfied with the outcome, Congress decided not to get involved in gaming content classification and the ESRB became the standard for the industry.
But where does it Deadly battle get into all this? Aside from kick-starting the whole political moral panic, it established itself as one of the first “Mature” premiere titles. Gone are the days when video games are only associated with children and teenagers Deadly battle would lean into the “hard edge” of gaming and advertising. For better or worse Deadly battle was free to keep upping the levels of violence in sequels. The identity of Deadly battle franchise was born. The “Mature” rating became a trademark of the series as much as the Fatalities or its cast of colorful characters, to the point that when a game comes out in the series that is NOT M-rated, it raises many eyebrows. Such was the case in 2008 with the release of Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe; that game was rated “Teen”, and gone was all the graphic gory violence that Deadly battle fans expected from the series. As a result, the characters from the MK side felt much less interesting.
Deadly battle but persevered. Despite being sued over the levels of violence the game had, it did include those aspects. It all became the core of its identity and the moral panic and outrage only ended up making the series more and more popular to the point where it is now a household name. Sure, a leaderboard may have been created as a direct result of that and forever changed the gaming industry along with it, but now… well, the violence of Deadly battle is as expected when the sun rises at dawn.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy 30th, Deadly battle!
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