The latest installment in the Mortal Kombat series, MKX, dropped two short weeks ago. It’s already making a small splash on the competitive fighter scene with the help of some pretty solid online matchmaking and the burst-and-bloom obsession Twitch has with new fighter games.

Fighters have a long history of polarizing fans. I’m not just talking about the fist fights caused by that douchebag friend in every gaming circle that only knows how to spam Hadoukens. Of course I mean the debate over female character design. These discussions can quickly decay into their own meterburn back-and-forth of hate. Imagine my surprise when I saw a different sort of discussion occurring in the NWM tournament’s Twitch chat. A positive, constructive discourse about the gaming world’s latest gay protagonist, Kung Jin.

Kung Jin is the cousin of Kung Lao, everyone favorite hat tossing Shaolin monk. Jin is one of four new Mortal Kombat characters all tied to the plot along familial lines. He also has a great move set, good combos, and has proven formidable on the competitive circuit (just placed second at the NWM Top 8). His unique fighting style utilizes a bow and arrow – more like a staff with some projectiles than a dedicated ranged weapon. It takes a page out of NetherRealm’s DC fighter, Injustice, and has turned the dial up on awesome.

In an exposition flashback Kung Jin has taken up the mantle of a thief. He gets caught stealing by the God of Thunder, Raiden. After some Kombat, a brief exchange occurs. Raiden tells him to give up thieving and join the Shaolin monks.

Kung Jin: I cant, they wont accept... Raiden: They only care about whats in your heart, not whom your heart desires.

Kung Jin: I cant, they wont accept…
Raiden: They only care about whats in your heart, not whom your heart desires.

It’s a subtle exchange. And, as confirmed by the NetherRealm’s cinematic director via twitter, the community got it.

The Mortal Kombat series isn’t known for its storytelling or for championing LGBT rights. Gore and gratuitous violence have been hallmarks of the franchise. And parents’ need to censor kids fueled sales. I’m not here to have an opinion on video game violence (future post maybe) and I don’t want to play up how revolutionary Mortal Kombat’s narrative is as a whole. There is no expectation for the fighting genre to deliver on story or good characterization. And that is exactly what makes this all the more significant.

The secret lies in subtlety. A writer’s job is nuance. I’ve harped and harped against games for bad writing. I’ve ranted at length about how many of the social problems in our art have to do with bad writers phoning it in. Kung Jin is a testament to my point about better writing. Is the entire game’s story amazing? Absolutely not. Again, it’s a fighter game. But NetherRealms took a hotbutton issue and let the gamers connect the dots. And the reception seems unanimously positive in a community that has been showing quite an ugly side on social issues lately.

More and more genres of games are diversifying their cast.  Mortal Kombat, a gimmicky, testosterone fueled gore fest finally has its first gay character. It’s a small step but it gives me hope for the gaming industry and the gaming community.