Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

EP31: Moral Kombat (ft. Liana Kerzner, Cyril Lachel, & Henry Jenkins) [Rebroadcast]

*Programming note: This is a rebroadcast.

You can learn much about a media and political culture by examining when it panics, and who it panics about. And we’ve always panicked about video games, from the early arcades until this very day. Whether you are a prudish Christian conservative, or a concerned liberal-minded paternalist, demonizing video games has long been good politics.

On this episode: guest host and lead producer Jay Cockburn travels back to the 90s, and looks at the story of Mortal Kombat. The game was violent, gory, glorious. It was a youth rebellion in miniature. Parents rebelled against the rebellion, staging their own petulant counter-revolution, and politicians embraced it. It  triggering a moral panic and even congressional hearings into violence in games. But why did it happen, who did it serve, and what does it tell us about our own culture?

  • First (@14:21), Liana Kerzner is a game developer and critic, YouTuber, and gamer. She takes us through her discovery of Mortal Kombat and the visceral attraction to…just how cool and groundbreaking the game was. Then, she looks at the moral panics around games today: panics about sex and nudity.
  • Then (@22:52), Cyril Lachel is a journalist and the editor in chief of Defunct Games. He explains the history and evolution of gaming in the 1990s as Sega tries to differentiate itself from Nintendo as an edgier system for its gamers as they enter their teenage years. Plus, he points out what parents and politicians got wrong about video games and how gaming media evolved around the time.
  • Finally (@39:34), Henry Jenkins is Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of South California. He tells us why moral panics keep coming back time after time, starting with comic books in the 1950s. Then he takes us through their generational politics and sociology. Plus, he takes us back to his appearance before the congressional hearings into video games.


  • Ferguson, C. J., & Colwell, J. (2017). Understanding why scholars hold different views on the influences of video games on public health. Journal of Communication, 67(3), 305-327.
  • Ferguson, C. J. (2015). Do angry birds make for angry children? A meta-analysis of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(5), 646-666.
  • Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Violent video games, mass shootings, and the supreme court: Lessons for the legal community in the wake of recent free speech cases and mass shootings. New Criminal Law Review, 17(4), 553-586.
  • Ferguson, C. J. (2007). Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12(4), 470-482.
  • Kline, Stephen (n.d.). Moral panics and video games (source)
  • Markey, P. M., & Ferguson, C. J. (2017). Internet gaming addiction: Disorder or moral panic? The American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(3), 195-196.
  • Markey, P. M., & Ferguson, C. J. (2017). Teaching us to fear: The violent video game moral panic and the politics of game research. American Journal of Play, 10(1), 99-115.
  • Quandt, T., & Kowert, R. (Eds.). (2015). The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Video Games (1st ed.). Routledge.

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This week, Darts and Letters is hosted and edited by Jay Cockburn, who is also our lead producer. Our editor and usual host is Gordon Katic. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio.. David Moscrop wrote the show notes.

Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research, which provided us a research grant to look at the concept of “public intellectualism.” Professor Allen Sens at the University of British Columbia is the lead academic advisor. This is also part of a wide project about the emerging politics of video games housed at UBC with advice from Lennart E. Nacke at the University of Waterloo.

Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. It is also produced in Vancouver, BC, which is on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

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