Mortal Kombat 11 has met with critical acclaim for its popularity among casual and competitive fans, but drama unfolded after players defeated one of the main story modes for African-American character Jax Briggs. Defeating the main antagonist allowed Jax to control time, and he used the power to change some of the worst historical atrocities associated with colonialism and slavery. A vocal minority expressed their outrage at "politics in gaming" through review bombing.
For those not familiar with the term, a review bomb consists of sudden influxes of negative user reviews in online forums that attempt to harm popularity or sales. In some cases, the act of review bombing is done to call attention to an issue that may be problematic, while other times it is simply coercion or trolling.
The term is mainly seen with video game review sites like Metacritic and online retail platforms like Steam, which combine the sale of games with forums for discussion and the critical review of its content.
Where else do we see review bombing?
Review bombing has seen its ugly head come up in film releases, as well. The 2016 Ghostbusters film met with a vocal minority taking to Rotten Tomatoes for the announcement of having an all-female starring cast. The 2019 film Captain Marvel faced a series of low review scores at release because of leading actress Brie Larson making comments which were perceived as activism. The latter received more than 50,000 mostly negative reviews within hours of its release - mostly, we can assume, from people who hadn't yet seen the movie.
Valve has seen its fair share of incidents where angry users manipulate Steam reviews towards their own political agendas. One of the most recent examples came when Borderlands 3 was announced as an Epic Games Store exclusive, and it wouldn't be coming to Steam where the series has been for years with Borderlands, Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and others along with a long list of Downloadable Content (DLC).
For reasons we will not get into here, there is currently a debate about Epic’s signing of games to exclusivity agreements, and when the vocal minority decided that this business decision was not to their liking, they review bombed every previous Borderlands game on the Steam platform. The video below by YouTube content creator YongYea discusses this in detail, and is worth a watch.
Both Valve and Rotten Tomatoes have since acted to combat these “reviews,” which many see as breaking the spirit of a user review system. Valve added review histograms to Steam user review scores, allowing users to see if there has been a sudden influx of negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes meanwhile will now require reviewers to verify that they have seen the film with adequate proof of purchase.
How was Mortal Kombat 11 review bombed?
Mortal Kombat 11 released to favorable reviews from critics, garnering mainly a slew of well-earned 8-10 out of 10 scores. Despite this, the current User Score on Metacritic is a staggeringly low 3.1 out of 10. So-called “Reviews” left by users who gave the game a score of zero had things to say like “NRS has decided to go ‘woke’ and a lot of their themes and costumes tend to reflect that”, and “The women look unrealistic and ugly. Jax get's woke, NRS go broke. I don't need politics in videogames.” It seems that second user could not decide whether to be angry at the story ending for Jax or to simply pursue general misogyny, so they chose to wrap both into one nonsense statement.
The low score is an average of a current 619 User Reviews and is a testament to the perceived impact that a vocal minority can have on a game. Those 619 opinions are drops in the ocean of the 11 million copies of the game sold, yet they no doubt affect how the game is perceived to someone not well informed.
What is fascinating with this Mortal Kombat 11 review bomb is how the broad description of Jax’s ending has been blown so far out of context in a negative way that one would believe it to have been some explicit declaration of a political statement. Instead, by watching the video below, it is clear how ridiculous the outrage is.
All Jax states, throughout history, “Most people who look like me haven’t had that chance [to live the American Dream]. I owe it to them to put things right”, with an image of colonists leading a group of enslaved Africans onto a boat, presumably bound for a slave trade in the New World.
The ending resolves with Jax stating, “I don’t get it right the first time. Or the second. Or even the third. But eventually, I know it out of the park. My family’s back. The world’s a better place for everyone.” Jax worked tirelessly over and over with his control over time to establish a world that is literally an improvement for everyone, and likely this means an alternate history where slavery never existed as we know it. I am not sure what kind of person would object to that hypothetical reality, but they deserve pity more than scorn.
Potential drama in the future with Mortal Kombat 11’s upcoming characters
The first upcoming DLC for the game was announced only a few days ago, and if Jax has been problematic for some, wait until they get a load of Nightwolf. The character debuted in Mortal Kombat 3 in 1995 and is a Native American from the fictional Matoka tribe. As a shaman and a historian, you can be sure that Nightwolf knows a thing or two about past atrocities committed in the name of colonization. A recent post on Reddit says it best: “If y’all upset about Jax’s tower ending, I can’t wait to see how you guys will react to Nightwolf’s ending when he just yeets the colonists out of America”. There are all sorts of ways that ending could go, but that reddit user probably isn't far off.
Other incoming DLC characters could also incite reactions of review bombs. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, an anti-hero who fights “evil” such as pedophiles and engages in a long battle between Heaven and Hell, is also being added. We are sure there is nothing political that could be made from those types of confrontations.
In the end, review bombing is the work of a minuscule proportion of the population. While Valve and Rotten Tomatoes have done a good job in their countermeasures, the best thing we can do is remain vigilant, critically analyzing situations on our own, and casting aside the trumpets of bullshit blown by a few angry people.