Mortal Kombat X released yesterday to generally favorable reviews and plenty of controversy regarding the inclusion of microtransactions. Well, it seems that MKX’s PR woes will not be over anytime soon, as NetherRealms Studios has now drawn the ire of a real-life fighting combatant.
What Are the Details?
It appears that UFC fighter Felice Herrig believes that NetherRealms Studios directly used her likeness to create one of its characters in the game. The character in question, Cassidee Cage, does bear a striking resemblance to Herrig.
Both the real and fictional fighter like to chew gum and each has a fascination with taking selfies. Their similarities melt away during actual combat, though, as the fictional Cage enjoys removing the jaws of her victims, a feat that the real Herrig is legally prevented from attempting.
Whether or not Cage’s design was inspired by Herrig’s own looks and escapades is a question we might never get the answer to. A denial from NetherRealms would not do much to assuage Herrig’s complaints, while a confirmation would never be uttered, for fear of a copyright claim.
Hasn’t This Happened Before?
Controversies involving perceived fictional rip-offs have become commonplace in the games industry, especially with the vast improvements to facial recognition and motion tracking technology over the years.
In late 2013, TMZ reported that Lindsay Lohan was preparing to file a lawsuit against Rockstar, claiming that a minor character in Grand Theft Auto V was based directly off her likeness. The suit officially claims that Rockstar “used her image and created a character based on her without her permission” and argues that the character Lacey Jonas bears an uncanny resemblance to the star.
And, although less serious than Lohan’s legal claims, Ellen Page famously had a beef with Naughty Dog over the character of Ellie in their 2013 hit, The Last of Us.
Upon learning of comparison between herself and the in-game character, Page responded, “I guess I should be flattered that they ripped off my likeness…But I am actually acting in a video game called Beyond: Two Souls, so it was not appreciated.”
Why Does This Matter?
Ultimately, the issue of game developers potentially using known celebrities’ likenesses without their permission is a slippery slope that could lead the industry into an era of legal battles that it simply does not need.
Having already gone to war over issues such as violence, the treatment of women, and the impact of video games on society, the industry cannot afford another culture war.
In addition, as video games attempt to expand their reach and broaden their scope as a form of entertainment, it certainly does not help that developers need to field questions about their work’s authenticity.
Simply put, game developers such as NetherRealm Studios need to be more conscious and more aware of the imagery they include in their game and must be ready to defend themselves with a concrete answer when issues such as this arise.