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Lawyer vs Mortal Kombat

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
In Mortal Kombat’s nearly thirty-year history there have been a lot of vocal opponents of the franchise’s depiction of violence, and the series has generated much conversation on whether violent video games have a negative influence on society. One of the many stories we looked into, was when infamous 'lawyer' Jack Thompson sent the creators of Mortal Kombat a cease and desist letter.

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Jack Thompson VS Mortal Kombat

In Mortal Kombat’s nearly thirty-year history there have been a lot of vocal opponents of the franchise’s depiction of violence, and the series has generated much conversation on whether violent video games have a negative influence on society. Sometimes constructive things emerge from such conversations (like the creation of the ESRB after the congressional hearings on video games in ’93 and ‘94); and, sometimes it doesn’t. Then, at others times, there are claims and charges against the MK series that are so ludicrous – so absurd – that gamers have to question whether some people are just trying to make a name for themselves. The case of disbarred lawyer/activist Jack Thompson’s very short-lived crusade against Mortal Kombat is one such instance of the latter.

First off, we totally forgive you if you don’t know who Jack Thompson is. Trust us when we say we’re not alone in wishing we had never heard this guy’s name before… So, for those of you not in the know, Thompson was a Florida lawyer (turned activist) who made a name for himself by taking a moral stance against what he considered obscene sexuality, violence and language in popular media. From a Christian Conservative mindset, he rallied against such quote/unquote “social evils” as Shock Jock radio programs and rap music, but his biggest battle by far was reserved for his personal pet peeve: violent video games.

Convinced that games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Manhunt” were nothing more than “murder simulators” that taught and convinced teenagers to kill others, Jack Thompson tied such games to school shootings during the Late 90s and right up through the 2000s, including the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. He gained an audience through his appearances on Cable News stations like CNN and MSNBC, but (largely) his theory was criticised by the mainstream news and the legal system alike.

Mr. Thompson was undeterred, however, and continued to link video games to outrageous cases of real-world violence with little to no evidence. His main target was the “Grand Theft Auto” series during the Early-to-Mid 2000s, when he – on at least five separate occasions – tried to link “GTA” to violent murders across the United States, but his claims were thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. Eventually, in order to get Thompson to stop filing such outlandish claims against its games, Take-Two Interactive (parent company of Rockstar Games) had to take legal action against him, claiming he was violating their first amendment rights.

Unlike Thompson’s accusations, however, Take Two’s case held merit, especially seeing as the Florida-Based Lawyer seemingly had it in for the company, trying to stop their release of “Bully” in 2006 along with “Manhunt 2” one year later.

Fortunately for video game fans, Thompson lost every case he ever put before the courts regarding violence in gaming. That, tied with his very public persona and seemingly endless new cases against various media companies, gave him the reputation of someone seeking the limelight rather than a lawyer out to change the world for the sake of Good.

There’s a lot more to talk about with Jack Thompson and his vendetta against Rockstar and violent video games as a whole. That will all be covered in a video for another day, because there is a lot to discuss about his repeated lengthy legal battles. But today however we want to highlight one case of his that seeming had him gunning for a fight, yet despite his aggressive legal legacy, took a peculiar turn. Especially when you consider the supposedly easy target for a man like Thompson in Mortal Kombat’s controversial history.

In 2006 – Jack Thompson set his sights on Midway and “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon,” seeing as the MK series is one of the most violent in the world of gaming. His claim, however, may have just been his most outrageous yet, and it truly brought into question whether the man even understood the medium he so often bashed publically. By this time – roughly one year before he was hit with a gag order from Take-Two and with little to show for his years of activism – desperation for a victory (no matter how small) must have set in for Thompson.

He claimed in a cease and desist letter to Midway that “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon” used his likeness, name, and image without his consent, and thus he wanted distribution of the game to stop immediately or further action would be required. Now clearly, if the makers behind “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon” inserted Thompson into their game for players to use and abuse without his permission, than Jack had an open and shut case – his first clear victory in the realm of video games.

Buttttt… It turns out that this suspected character was just a create-a-character that looked like the Florida Lawyer. And the footage in question was from an online gaming site – called Gaming Target – that created a Mock Thompson fighter using “MK: Armageddon’s” create-a-character tool and released the specifics online – along with a host of other unlicensed characters like Barack Obama and Hulk Hogan.

Midway’s top brass (probably wondering what took Thompson so long to get around to them) obviously never responded to this absurd cease and desist letter because they knew he wasn’t in the game – nor did they even comment on the issue publically it was so outrageous. While – surprise, surprise – nothing came from this issue legally either, as Jack when silent. It’s not unusual to see a cease and desist letter get ignored, or for no action to be taken, but given the repeated lawsuits he has filed against industry leaders as part of his transparent agenda, this change in direction seemed out of character for him. Though, we can’t say that he didn’t gain a small victory, after all; as, he was successful in getting Gaming Target to remove the YouTube video that featured his create-a-character.

But, then again, the actual article showing how to create this character is still online, so… Hey, a victory is a victory, right? Well, no maybe not… One thing’s for sure, though: Mortal Kombat wasn’t slowed down by the Jack Thompson speed bump. Its 2011 reboot brought the franchise back to the great heights of the Early 90s, “MK X” was critically praised, and the recent release of “MK 11” has ... well lets just say it is controversial, but not for the traditional reasons. On the other hand, Jack Thompson’s brief campaign against Mortal Kombat barely registers in a Google Search.

Though Thompson kept badmouthing Take-Two Interactive after the company filed a lawsuit against him – as he rallied against the release of “GTA 4” in 2008 – the Supreme Court of Florida eventually disbarred him that same year due to his inappropriate behavior and he’s been (LARGELY) quiet ever since (Yup… we’re hinting at something). He failed to have any sort of meaningful impact against Mortal Kombat whatsoever, and he sure as hell hasn’t slowed down “GTA” and Rockstar any… Thompson spent much of the past decade teaching civics classes to inmates at various Florida prisons – which was no doubt more suited to his educational and professional expertise than shouting loudly at video games – but don’t count him out just yet! He made a brief comeback in January of 2018 once again linking video games to school shootings, but since it didn’t make national headlines we’re not sure if he’ll continue on with his Holy Mission or not. Only time will tell…

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