While practicing 3S execution last night, my new roommate, let’s call him Ryan, walked in and asked “What’s up? Is that Street Fighter?”
“Yeah, SFIII. 3rd Strike.” I replied, distracted as CPU Alex finished the round with yet another Boomerang Raid. “Huh. What system is this for?” As I considered how to answer his question without coming across like even more of a nerd, sitting on the floor with a Tekken 5 stick and a CPS3 emulator, it occurred to me that perhaps my grand designs for transforming my housemates into sparring partners were doomed from the start. Despite the polite inquiry, he was clearly not looking to learn how to play.
I decided to go the console route: “It was an arcade game ported to the Dreamcast, but I also have it for PS2.” “No way, this is a PS2 game? I’m surprised because it looks so crappy.” My heart sank, even if he was accidentally correct. “You know, 2D,” he continued, “I thought it would have been 32 or 64-bit.”
My first thought was to take umbrage at the mid-90s Sony-executive mentality that inexplicably regards the third dimension as inherently superior, but that would have been counter-productive. I then considered pointing out the gorgeous animation and mentioning how the art style overcomes the technical limitations of the board, but it did not seem worth the effort. If he wasn’t struck by the game’s aesthetics, no amount of explaining why he should appreciate sprite-work was going to change his opinion. Instead, I shrugged and kept playing.
“Nice,” he complimented, as Akuma’s low fierce finished the next round and I accepted the praise without clarifying it was supposed to have been a Dragon Punch. “I wish I was good at video games,” he lamented.
This last remark struck me, because, as you probably gathered from the blog name, I am in no way a good player. However, that innocuous, offhand comment really speaks to the issues facing the genre and community today. Fighting games have grown dramatically more complex since the heyday of SFII, but even back then, relatively small differences in ability resulted in severely unbalanced matches. Depth is necessary for a fighter’s longevity, but it can easily discourage new players from trying to learn. The number of times I have invited someone to play Street Fighter, Guilty Gear or Virtua Fighter, only to be declined with some variation of “I suck at these kinds of games,” is rather disheartening. You can’t get better if you don’t try. I can’t get better if you don’t try…
I am a scrub, a n00b, a fighting game neophyte and almost resigned to staying one. Don’t get me wrong, there is no shortage of enthusiasm; I play frequently, lurk on SRK and Dustloop, read character guides, follow gootecks’ podcasts and the Dogface Show, study frame data and watch entirely too many match videos. All that is lacking is the most important element: superior opponents, preferably in the form of an accessible arcade scene. Recently discovering GGPO and 2DF has been an incredible boon, but as any tournament veteran worth their salt will tell you, there is no substitute for live, lag-less competition.
For such a crappy player, why blog about the area of my in-expertise? Mostly, I hope to give a different perspective on the scene. In my experience, new players are often insulted or ignored, which only serves to shrink and weaken the community in the long term. Granted, some of the scorn is deserved and not everyone helps themselves as they much as they can, but I want to show that not everyone who makes stupid, beginner mistakes is hopeless. Or maybe not; after all, I am just a scrub.
As for Ryan, it was wrong to dismiss him outright, without even asking if he wanted to play; this is exactly the kind of exclusionary, elitist attitude that needs to change. How can we expect to keep the games we love healthy without a steady stream of novices to bring new thinking, styles and commercial success? Of course most of them will not stick around for long; fighting games are an inherently niche hobby that require a dedication anathematic to anything mainstream. But maybe, just maybe, if a greater effort was made to reach out to new players, we could make more converts and really revitalize the genre, instead of just using them as short-lived punching bags.
I certainly would not be as engaged as I am today if not for the enthusiasm and determination of another friend…