No joke, no exaggeration. I first learned about politics, and began following it because of the video game Mortal Kombat. Yes, the early 90s arcade game with all of the punching, kicking, eviscerating and decapitating.
I first played the game in the arcades (remember those?), and I was completely blown away by the graphics. The characters looked like people, not drawings of people, and I just thought that was the coolest thing. The gameplay mechanics were neat too, but what set it apart was the look and the fact that you could effectively execute the opposing character in really creative ways when you won.
When I read that the game was coming to home consoles, I saved for months to purchase it. I hadn’t saved money for a video game before, in fact, I had to negotiate an allowance just so I could get my hands on a few bucks here and there.
As I was nearing the necessary amount to triumphantly make my purchase, I learned that there were a lot of parents who didn’t want me to have the ability to purchase or play the game. It was the slaying of your opponent and the presence of blood that caused all of the trouble. They thought it would turn good kids like me into murdering psychopaths. I had no understanding of philosophy, freedom of speech, or the Bill of Rights, but I knew that those parents were wrong.
I knew they were wrong because I had played the game, and I knew that it wasn’t real. Hell, even if I thought it was, I knew I couldn’t shoot electricity from my hands like Raiden, breathe fire to torch a man with my mouth like Scorpion, or punch my fist through a person like Kano. Sure it was pretend violent, but it wasn’t any more pretend violent than my friends and I running through the woods shooting toy guns at each other.
When the Super Nintendo version was released without blood, I knew that it was because some parents thought that would make the game less pretend violent. It didn’t, it was a joke. The game was the same, and I was happy when my mom let me buy it.
That experience of learning that parents other than my own could possibly have an impact on my life was the first time I became aware of the outside world in a non-abstract way. Over the course of the following two years I learned more about government and politics, and by the time I was 10, I was following politics on a daily basis.
The Mortal Kombat franchise has had a lot of weak titles over the past decade, but it still has a special place in my heart because it opened my eyes to the world around me. It helped me learn that censorship is wrong, before even I learned the word, “censor.” It made me examine what impact the games I played had on my own actions. Most of all, it showed me who the enemy is. It made me realize that there are people in this world who like to meddle with other’s work, their creations, and their lives. It showed me that there are people who when faced with something they don’t agree with, attempt to destroy it.