Yesterday, my girlfriend and I had The Talk. She sat on the bed glaring at me, and asked, “Just how long are you going to play Street Fighter for?”
Ah, the hard questions of life. I told her that I could not give her a definite answer and that a multitude of things could happen; I could start working longer hours and no longer have the time to compete in tournaments, I might lose my interest in the game, or I might simply get too old and lack the reflexes or speed to play the game anymore.
I was failing to wriggle my way out of the situation, when she said caustically, “You’ve been playing for two years already. Who on earth plays a damn video game for more than two years?”
Yes, who indeed would play a mere video game for years and years, manipulating polygons on a screen, clashing hit boxes together? I would like to lie to you and say Street Fighter is more than a game. But it isn’t.
Street Fighter itself is just a game, but it can mean to you or you can make out of it so much more. It probably means something different to each and every one of us who bang on sticks. And far be it for me to tell you what it is. After all, where is the line between unhealthy video game addiction, and the pursuit for betterment of self?
I explain that Street Fighter was my hobby, my passion. She replied that most people have a hobby that improves themselves; like fitness in sports, or an ear in music. I replied that Street Fighter teaches me patience. She countered by saying that she only ever sees me extorting long sighs of frustration and slumping over after losses. I tried to explain that I exhale so forcefully not because of the fact that I lost, but rather over my own mistakes, my failure to execute a strategy or mind game, or attempting to improve but falling short, but I stopped myself. After all, what was the point of explaining?
Street Fighter can be so many good things. For one, it can mean community, and I’ve met so many great people and interesting characters in the scene. It can take you places where you’d never expect to go, and meet people you’d never expect to meet. How many people play basketball, and the best player they might ever play against would be a lower division college player? I’ve gotten to play the Michael Jordan of the fighting game scene, Daigo Umehara himself. I’ve even had the incredible opportunity to interview the most famous Street Fighter couple in the world, Momochi and Choco Blanka, in a WCG game convention all the way over in Singapore. I mean who am I? I’m just a scrub. But Street Fighter can take a scrub places.
And above all, hovering above everything, there is the ever-present stigma of Street Fighter. How many times have you told your friends that you play Street Fighter, and their faces scrunch up slightly in disgust? Street Fighter? They say. Um okay. What about a real competitive game like a first-person shooter or a RTS?
You tell them you’re not free on Saturday because you’re going to spend the whole Saturday stuck in a lecture theatre playing Street Fighter with twenty guys. They look at you like they’re going to say something, but they don’t.
When you call home, and your dad asks you how your weekend went, you don’t tell him about how salty you were when you went 2 and out at your local ranbat. Neighbours hear the sound of Sanwa buttons, and it’s an alien sound, the worst noise pollution possible.
You walk into the Hi-Fi bar for a Fight Nights with your stick under your arm, and two girls in miniskirts point at you as you go past while whispering to themselves. You stop by a Macdonalds on the highway at 3 am on your way back from an interstate tournament, and sputter an explanation to highway cops trying not to shake their heads at you. Apparently, real people play WoW, and after all, isn’t Street Fighter a kids game?
You walk into an arcade, and it’s the greatest place on earth. Put your money on the line and into every uppercut, as you feel a welling in your throat. But back in my hometown, arcades are seen as disreputable locations. Punks hang out there. You’re told not to hang out there as a kid. But your eyes constantly flash over to the blinking screens, players’ hands smattering over the buttons with staccato fury. You wonder if you’d ever be able to do that nasty juggle combo you once saw on the screen, but grow up is what they tell you, no one plays videogames once they have a life.
What’s the point of all of this? Being a stick jockey, learning how to plink. Learning how to read the mind of the other guy on the other side of the machine. Watch as his character moves back and forth, communicating to you meaning and intent. We’re debating without words, staring each other down without eye contact. You learn things about yourself. I learned that I am mentally weak, that my biggest issue is confidence.
Maybe you do this for fun, maybe you do this for competition. Maybe you do this struggling to find something worthwhile within yourself. Whatever it is, we all still have to live,
With the stigma of Street Fighter.