Thinking back to my first experience with martial arts, before I had seen my first martial arts movie or experienced the choreographed complexity of a Jet Li fight scene, I witnessed the fast-paced Karate moves of Street Fighter II’s Ryu in a matchup against the Kempo expert Chun-Li.
With the prevalence of martial arts being portrayed in video games, more often than ever before, children and youth are discovering and practicing martial arts because of characters like Tekken’s Jin Kazama or Mortal Kombat’s Liu Kang. The history of the portrayal of martial arts in video games dates back to the 8-bit era and tended to be the highlight of any arcade from the 1980’s.
Utilizing the presence of martial-arts most frequently, the fighting genre has had examples of games that are considered classics, household names to anyone who has played a video game system, some more realistic than others. Other fighting video games leave developers and martial artists wishing they remained in development in perpetuity. Ultimately, with the continued technological advancements, martial-arts in video games can feel more engaging and can even teach players actual moves with the assistance of motion controls.
The first part of this series on the portrayal of martial-arts in video games will look at the history of martial arts in video games, the use of marital arts stars in order to sell games. The advances in technology that allowed for the portrayal of martial-arts in video games to reach a complexity and realism that matches some of the best fight scenes in movies.
Martial Arts Movies Get Famous
During the seventies, martial arts movies gained fame and a significant following in the United States. For many, this was the first time kung fu or karate had been seen, however, most movie watchers and game developers knew very little about the different martial-art styles. Coupled with the technological limitations, the first portrayal of martial arts in video games lacked any real depth.
The first generation of video game systems (1972-76) is best personified by the game pong, simple graphics and even simpler controls. Gaining more attention and enthusiasm, the next generation (1976-83) boasted slightly better graphics and increased processing power, but remained limited game dynamic options.
It wasn’t until the third generation of video game systems (1983-87), with their higher power 8-bit microprocessors, that some of the nuances of martial arts could be captured in games. Taking note of the increasing success of video game sales, martial arts actors, including Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan, began to see their likenesses used in video games, both intentionally and not.
At first glance, these games sowed very little innovation compared to there video games at the time, with similar platforming to Super Mario and fighting that was limited to upwards of three different punches/kicks.