[In this column, writer Michael Walbridge describes the real-life adventure of going to a complete stranger's house just to find a challenge in Street Fighter IV -- and discovering the secret to the game's mainstream appeal on the way.]
Recently I found myself going to a stranger’s house to play video games with a bunch of other strangers. No one knowing anyone. This is not a typical occurrence, not even for someone who writes about the way gamers organize themselves, but here it happened.
I really think there’s only one kind of digital game that has that intense of a driving force to make a bunch of awkward nerds come out of their crawling places to meet someone, anyone who will play the game they play.
Fighting games, especially Street Fighter
, have the peculiar property of turning its most devoted players into the subject material, and I say this with all seriousness. Pokemon
fanatics might actually strategize like some of the characters, but they don’t spend their lives like the characters or Pokemon
Those who admire science fiction and fantasy characters are often subject to ridicule because they don’t know how little they resemble the characters when they imitate them. But fighting game fans become like the characters: glory is important, and they do anything to find a good fight.
Even the strategy guide by Prima has tiers, notes on competition and how seriously to take online play. “There will be many occasions when you’ll face a well-known Street Fighter player in online combat. If you beat this player, even if you didn’t abuse online tactics, it’s almost guaranteed that the outcome will be very different if you played this person at a major offline tournament,” the strategy guide chides. References to EVO
There is no game love deeper than the love given to fighting games. This is the only genre of digital games for which people will travel long distances in order to play others. Even though you can play fighting games online now, the old memories of arcades and neighborhood friends doesn’t die. Plus, in the mind of competitive players, the lag affects the action much more than it would even an FPS.
This is why, even though we can now have each other’s GamerTags, we will travel across counties and go to strangers houses just to play other people at a game. If you play Street Fighter
enough you become a street fighter of sorts, complete with the grudges, friendly rivalries, an earnest desire to prove one’s worth, and a desire to achieve glory amongst one’s peers.
Even the way the game plays—the difficulty of the moveset, the ability to execute them all in practice but rarely able to execute them all on command at a moment’s notice (and even then, there is always a challenge awaiting); all of it turns the players into street fighters; people who take incredible beatings on a frequent basis but don’t actually get hurt, people who are always looking for a fight, usually of the friendly sort.
This diaspora of player-traveler-fighters has always existed; the EVO tournament has been around for years, and the forum at Shoryuken.com
have regional sections so people can find their local scene. Even Salt Lake has had one for a long time.
Some people went way back. Someone commented on what looked like a new poster: “Konqrr...dude. YES! I'm glad that you're back. I'm guessing that you never left, though. Guys, this is quality people right here. He used to play up at Trolley Square when they had a scene...early 2000's? Late 90's? Anyway, when I got active with Tekken, he'd travel from Tooele to be a part of things. Good, good times.”
At the stranger’s house, it turned out to be only partly a stranger; HadoukenMD was my high-school valedictorian, now a doctor. The only other two of about five or six who said they’d show up had driven over 30 miles. They’re twins.
“We’re triplets,” they tell me and HadoukenMD. “The third one has a girlfriend, so he doesn’t really play so much anymore. But his favorite is Zangief too. All three of us love Zangief.” After they leave, me and Hadouken catch up.
“Well, I get out almost every night off with the guys at the hospital,” he tells me. “But none of them game—they don’t get it. I miss Street Fighter. I’ve been itching to play it again,” he tells me. “I know how you feel,” I say.
There’s another meetup soon after. Lured perhaps by the reports on the Utah thread that HadoukenMD is not crazy or weird and also gives free pizza, the twins brought another friend from the adjacent county while four others in Salt Lake showed up. The mix was curious: the two youngest were highly quiet brothers that mostly played Smash Bros. but were interested in trying something new; another fellow with the most expensive stick looked like Chuck Klosterman, only with darker hair.
He casually mentioned a Street Fighter IV podcast. I thought, “listening to a podcast about something proves you care a lot.” He tells me to go to Gootecks.com
. Another guy is young and only vaguely gamerish: he doesn’t seem to try very hard or take it very seriously but is highly talented and versatile. Lastly, there’s a 30-year-old father of two children who has been out of the loop but is so interested he travelled with the two triplets. He now wants to organize a tournament.
Talk was typical and masculine, but it mostly focused on all things Street Fighter: characters, experiences, EVO (“You going this year? We can carpool”), 360 vs. PS3, Street Fighter III, our schedules, and of course the pricing, differences, and preferences of arcade sticks. Plenty of matches were played. Only two people can play, but it’s so fun to watch and analyze that no one seemed to mind waiting his turn.
I’ve seen HadoukenMD three times already, and there are even more people to meet and play. Meetups seem like they will be occurring frequently in the future and perhaps for a very, very long time.