Answer: Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat was the inaugural release in the long-running Mortal Kombat fighting game series and is both infamous and iconic thanks to its influence on the industry and on the greater culture around it.
After its release in 1992, Mortal Kombat quickly garnered attention from concerned parents, politicians, and pundits. While the game seems dated and tame by today’s standards, in the early 1990s, the level of violence and gore in the game wasn’t your standard arcade and home-gaming fare. In the game, combatants could outright dismember their opponents with “fatalities”—finishing moves that involved exterminating your opponent by ripping off their head, tearing out their spine, or otherwise bloodily ending the fight.
The game was released on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) platforms, but the sales on the Sega system outpaced the sales on the SNES by a margin of 5 to 1. Sega had made no effort to censor the game and Nintendo maintained a strict policy of censoring and minimizing gore and objectionable content in their games.
The protest over the violence in the game eventually reached public-outcry levels and there was a congressional hearing on video game violence from late 1992 to 1993. One of the outgrowths of this hearing was the development of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Whenever you see a rating tag on the corner of a video game box, you’re seeing the work of the ESRB.
The great irony of the rating system is that it ultimately lead to more violent video games. Nintendo, one of the biggest names in gaming, decided that the advent of a rating system allowed parents to make effective decisions over the content their children were consuming and opted to relax their policies regarding censorship and violence in video games. As a result, more video games with the very violent and objectionable content that had inspired the congressional inquiry (and subsequent rating system) flooded the market.
When Mortal Kombat II was released, the uncensored SNES version easily held its own with the Sega Genesis version.