If you were around in the mid-1990s, it almost doesn't matter what you were doing or how old you were—you'll remember the arcade game Mortal Kombat. You know…because of how everyone's parents and neighbors and senators lost their ever-loving minds over its violence?
Of course, nowadays, it's pretty tame compared to the violent things we see in games and movies and even on network television, but the popularity of the game at the time cemented the already formidable company Midway as not only a technological powerhouse, but as a company that took risks that would shape the gaming industry forever.
Director/Mortal Kombat voice actor Joshua Y. Tsui enters the documentarian world with Insert Coin, a lovingly told retrospective of a little Chicago company called Midway (originally Williams) that would develop some of the most enduring games of all time (Narc, Terminator 2, Smash TV, NBA Jam and the aforementioned Mortal Kombat). For a time, we learn, the company raked in billions through coin-operated arcade cabinets. This came from digitizing tech created by devs that flung open the doors of photorealism and laid groundwork for forays into sports and music licensing, the pivot to film (who among us will ever forget Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat movie—even if we badly wanna?) and the revitalization of the medium following the cash-grab bullshit of the late 1980s.
Tsui interviews everyone from John Tobias and Mark Turmell (big names for gaming folk) to director Anderson, Ernest Cline and company folks in between. We hear from present-day gaming journalists who grew up with Midway to developers who still revere the company's works. This is all to say, it doesn't much matter whether or not you're into games, these people created something firmly lodged in the cultural consciousness of an entire planet.
Tsui weaves in the '90s explosion in home gaming, pointing out how Midway's refining the medium led to more gamers looking to get out of the arcade. In the end, it's almost like the company shot itself in the foot. Devs moved on, the company was absorbed by Atari and the rest, as they say, is history. Still, for anyone who ever loved grasping a joystick or can recall writing down the button combo for whatever Mortal Kombat fatality can tell you—it was a long, crazy ride and one that made so much possible.
+Fun history for an important medium
-This one's for the nerds alone
Directed by Tsui
Jean Cocteau Virtual Cinema, NR, 101. min.