Mortal Kombat 11 Developer Describes Psychological Effects of Working on the Game’s Violence

Mortal Kombat 11 Developer Describes Psychological Effects of Working on the Game’s Violence

An anonymous developer for Mortal Kombat 11 described adverse mental health effects in working on the game's violent sequences.

Fans of Mortal Kombat 11 may be gleeful when performing the ultra-violent Fatalities of the games, but crafting those moves and sequences is an entirely different story. An anonymous developer working in the game’s cinematic team disclosed to Kotaku about the mental toll that work and research took on them, eventually leading to a PTSD diagnosis from a therapist.

Those following Mortal Kombat 11 since its announcement have gotten used to the animations—a spine being torn out, a face being ripped off followed by a brain being eaten, and so on and so forth. It is cartoonish to a somewhat delightful degree, but remember that developers spend extensive periods of time working on these animations, and as such, they are likely to be more affecting for the developers and the players.

Not to mention, real-life research goes into depicting the blood, gore, and overall violence of these Fatal Blows and Fatalities—NetherRealm can’t just depend on explosions of an unrealistic number of rib cages anymore, so the ways bones crush and organs blow up are based on some real-life point of reference. This developer, who worked on MK11 throughout 2018, described walking around an office and casually seeing images of real-life violence on co-workers’ computers for research.

“You’d walk around the office and one guy would be watching hangings on YouTube, another guy would be looking at pictures of murder victims, someone else would be watching a video of a cow being slaughtered,” they said. Within a month, the work began to take a deeper effect. “I’d have these extremely graphic dreams, very violent. I kind of just stopped wanting to go to sleep, so I’d just keep myself awake for days at a time, to avoid sleeping.”

It is important to point out that according to this developer, there isn’t any formal process or procedure within the studio for anyone working on the game who may need to step away from the violence for some time. At best, they might have gotten a slight verbal warning saying that the work could be “a little violent.”

And look, Mortal Kombat isn’t Mortal Kombat without the extreme violence. Yes, those working on an MK game should know what they’re getting into beforehand, but any professional company should have these sort of mental health resources at the ready—viewing videos and images of real people and animals violently dying is not a normal office job. Plus, on a personal note, as someone who has followed and played games in the series since Deadly Alliance, MK11 is the first game in the series I’ve been really grossed out, giving me a sense that NetherRealm is needlessly attempting to top themselves with each successive game.

This developer also revealed that they discovered that other co-workers had similar concerns and issues. As the developer says:

“We’ve talked a lot about how the end product isn’t so damaging as people make it out to be, and I tend to agree with that,” they said, referring to the industry’s acceptance of violent video games. “But I think the process of making these things can be harmful for people. It can cause them to burn out, or lose a sense of self, sometimes. I would hope that something, at least, that developers can do with their coworkers is just start talking to each other about these things. If we’re not solving things, at least having supportive people around, I think, is really crucial.”

This isn’t the first report of NetherRealm’s practices coming into question: another report detailed stories from former and current employees of the company regarding crunch on games like Mortal Kombat 11.