Mortal Kombat should do bloody well Killer sales seen for violent video

September 13, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Today is Mortal Monday, and for Daniel Loeb, gore will be very, very good.

That's because today's the day Mortal Kombat, the ultra-violent home video game that is expected to become the hottest-selling item in the industry, goes on sale.

At Mr. Loeb's store and thousands of other video outlets across the country, people will be lining up to land a copy of the much-hyped game that lets them experience the thrill of tearing off the heads, ripping out the still-beating hearts and holding aloft the bloody spines of their defeated adversaries.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's the single biggest video game I've ever dealt with," said Mr. Loeb, who has hoarded his money so that he can stock ample quantities of the game at Video Gamemasters in Glen Burnie. Salespeople at Babbage's and Electronics Boutique outlets also reported that customer interest was feverish.

The appeal of Mortal Kombat is simple. "It's the most violent game I have ever seen," Mr. Loeb said as he awaited his shipment from Acclaim Entertainment Inc., the game's publisher.

Mortal Kombat is the home version of a martial-arts video arcade game that has inspired devotion among players and revulsion among anti-violence activists.

The advance hype has been tremendous, and game magazine reviewers have lavished praise on the game's realistic graphics. Analysts say it could become the hottest video title of all time, with some predicting sales of 3 million copies at $60 to $70 each.

The graphic violence is optional. The game comes in two forms, one designed to run on the Super Nintendo system and the other on the Sega Genesis system. On Sega, players can activate the violent arcade version by entering a secret code available by calling the company. On Super Nintendo, the gore has been toned down in response to protests over violent videos.

For Nintendo, social responsibility has the makings of economic disaster. At Mr. Loeb's store Friday, the score on his Mortal Kombat waiting list was Sega 23, Super Nintendo 2. Howard Anesgart, a wholesale distributor, predicted the Sega version ultimately would outsell Super Nintendo 3 to 1.

Meanwhile, Acclaim Entertainment's trail of gore was leading all the way to the bank. In the past year, the Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based company's stock has risen about 240 percent in anticipation of a monster hit.

One of Mr. Loeb's customers who could hardly wait to get his hands on the game was a long-haired young man in a black mesh shirt and bare-kneed jeans with a miniature sword dangling from one of the heavy chains around his neck.

"If not Monday, I'll be in Tuesday to get it," said Eddie Hower of Glen Burnie. "It's great."

And Mr. Hower won't be buying the sanitized Nintendo version. "It adds the touch. You want to kill 'em off that certain way so you can see it," he said.

At 21, Mr. Hower is older than the average expected customer for the game. Mr. Anesgart, president of Night Life Video Exchange in New York, said the core market for Mortal Kombat are 8- to 18-year-old boys. Distributors agreed that girls are largely immune to the lure of violent video games.

Mr. Anesgart said "you can bet your house" that Mortal Kombat will be the top-selling video game of the year and has a good chance of surpassing last year's Street Fighter 2 as the all-time best-seller.

He dismissed critics who say violent video games are a harmful influence on children.

"I don't think the game is going to influence them about anything -- if they've got the right parents at home," Mr. Anesgart said.

But Mary Ann Banta, a board member of the National Coalition on Television Violence, won't be celebrating the game's debut today.

Ms. Banta, a teacher of young children in Washington, fears that such games teach children to resolve their conflicts violently. "We need to inform parents that these can be disastrous to the children's health," she said. "You might even add it could be disastrous to the parents' health."

Ms. Banta said her organization has no plans for organized protests against the release of the video game, and it might be just as well.

"I love protest," exulted Mr. Anesgart, who said he's hoping to see parents picketing. "Pull it off the shelves -- it'll make the game even hotter."

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