Mortal Kombat X, the latest entry in the extraordinarily violent and immensely popular fighting game series, has recently received attention for its character Kung Jin, cousin of classic character Kung Lao. Kung Jin is notable—at least in the eyes of many video game writers and publications—because he is the first homosexual character in the Mortal Kombat series, a sentiment that has been repeated many, many times recently.
Tellingly, this comes after NetherRealm Studios released a controversial announcement that Mortal Kombat X would feature female characters with “more realistic proportions,” which garnered praise and criticism from concerned violence aficionados and reasonable people, respectively.
First off, Kung Jin is an okay character in his own right, especially for a fighting game character. His appearance fits the bill of a typical benevolent MK character, with his easily identifiable, human facial features and eastern-inspired costume design (which seems to be much more of a common theme among the good characters than the evil ones). The problem with Kung Jin rises from his homosexuality and how it’s portrayed. It’s not out there and heavy-handed, on the contrary: it is very subtly touched on, to the point of being inconsequential, without giving too much away.
Diversity For Its Own Sake
Kung Jin is the most recent example of a completely new character receiving attention and even high praise simply because of their sexuality, race or sex. The fact is this: his homosexuality isn’t a very big deal at all. It’s alluded to in one cutscene with a very, very open-ended exchange and never ever mentioned or alluded to again, at least in the base game (who knows what the DLC will hold for the future of Kung Jin?). In actuality, the exchange is so vague and open to interpretation, Kung Jin’s homosexuality had to be confirmed by Dominic Cianciolo, Cinematic Director for NetherRealm Studios. The cutscene in question:
The praise Kung Jin, as well as NetherRealm Studios, has received over this revelation isn’t surprising in the slightest but completely confusing nonetheless.Why are people happy about being told that Kung Jin is gay? Why aren’t the same people trying to figure out why the game did such a bad job of conveying that detail about his character?
These and other questions are why I’m disappointed in the state of diversity in fiction. For all of the complaining and bellyaching many people do about the representation of minorities in fiction and entertainment, they seem to be very, very easily pacified, as if admitting the fusses they’ve made about people that don’t exist are utterly trivial.
How It’s Done
One unfortunately little-known example of representation of a minority that absolutely nails it is Venom, from the Fighting game series Guilty Gear. Venom is a member of the Assassin’s Guild, a powerful group of assassins that is very important within the Guilty Gear canon. He is fiercely loyal to Zato-1, leader of the Assassin’s Guild, for saving his life and taking him under his wing in the Guild. Venom develops feelings for Zato-1 as a result of his tutelage and these feelings are aggravated by Zato-1’s tenderness and leadership.
Venom is ideal compared to Kung Jin because of how his homosexuality is portrayed. Not only does Guilty Gear (not its developers) convey this itself, Venom’s love for Zato-1 informs many of his actions in the story and is an extremely important part of his character. It’s not just some throwaway accessory to his character made to pacify people who wouldn’t enjoy the game anyway. It’s also a detail we didn’t need Daisuke Ishiwatari himself to step up and tell us, which is great.
Cases like Kung Jin’s are vastly disappointing, not necessarily for the homosexuality but because of the rapturous responses they garner. All it takes for people complaining about diversity to be sated is a quick mention of a small detail about a character, a quick change of skin color or gender, at least until they get bored and find something else to complain about. This isn’t to say that these underrepresented characters need to be flamboyant to the point of being stereotypical; if we’re going to celebrate the fact that such a character is being represented, there has to be reason to celebrate. It isn’t unreasonable to desire a minority who is also a well-written character; anything less is simple pandering.