Back to Basics, Getting Beyond the Drama

By on February 29, 2012 at 12:35 am


Capcom wanted a reality show, and boy did they get one.  There was plenty of drama in Cross Assault, but the real surprise for me was how quickly the show bled outside of Capcom’s offices and into the general fabric of the Internet.  Streamers like Arturo Sanchez and LI Joe picked up on the daily controversy and rehashed it, creating a near 24-7 echo chamber of drama for the past week.   Perhaps inevitably, the mainstream gaming media got wind  of the worst of this and pounced on every salacious tweet and stream.

In the aftermath, some are saying that the fighting game scene is being unfairly characterized.  Others say that drama is just a new way of life in the age of the stream monster.  There’s a little truth to both of those, but here’s the important thing: this drama does not represent what the fighting game scene is or why it is so special.  But it’s a glimpse of what we could become if we don’t take this week’s lessons to heart.

The Fighting Game Scene: Who We are Really

In case you’re new, or just need a reminder, this is who we are.  Seriously, watch it.  It’s a great cure for your post-drama hangover.

No drama.  No popoffs.  Just a few thousand or so players from all walks of life who share the same passion.  You don’t have to hear what people are saying or understand the intricacies for Street Fighter IV to appreciate what makes this scene special.  And this isn’t an Evo thing.  This magic happens every week on a smaller scale all over the world.

There are two things I love about fighting game players.  The first is the pure competitive drive that you see in the players’ eyes.  Players love the game and love competing.  Fighting games are a means to measure yourself, whether you’re a new player or one of the best in the world.  Rivalries are a big part of that.  A rival will push you to get better.  The biggest rivalries motivate entire legions of players and account for some of the best moments in fighting game history:  Choi vs. Valle, Watson vs. Lee, Justin vs. Sanford, Justin vs. the whole west coast, and now Justin vs. the whole east coast.

The tragedy behind the Mike Ross vs. Jago setup is not the matches.  Mike says that the matches were legitimate and I believe him 100%.  But the rivalry was clearly manufactured.  Mike Ross vs. Jago wasn’t about the competition.  The competition was a farce — both matches were 5-0 beatdowns.  It was about manipulating stream monsters to believe that they should care about something that was meaningless.  Jago knew that when he said, “it aint about that playin’ anymore, it’s about the paper.”  By playing up a fake rivalry, Mike Ross and Jago conned their way into a $1000 show match that they didn’t deserve, but worse they undercut the competitive spirit that drives the scene.

Both Mike and Jago have done great things on the production side with Cross Counter and Finger Cramp respectively.  They are both good guys who made a mistake.  There’s no need to beat them up any more on this, but we all need to remember the lesson.  Authentic competition is what makes fighting game content so engaging to watch.  Faking it up undercuts the players’ and fans’ confidence in the quality of what so far has been an outstanding product.

Sexism, Harassment, and Us

The second thing I love about fighting game players is how genuinely accepting the scene is.  The scene is the most diverse on the planet, with players from all races, sexual orientations, and walks of life.  Tournaments are social, in-person events where it’s easy to meet new people and make new friends over the game.  My biggest disappointment this weekend is that when Aris said that rowdy behavior and sexual harassment was “one in the same thing” with the fighting game scene, no one called him on it (especially Jared, who knows better).

Yes, the scene is rowdy and uses colorful language.  A lot.  But that’s just the hard candy shell.  It does not define us.  Ask any long-time player about their favorite memories and almost no one will tell you about the time a caster yelled some obscenity, or the time someone popped off in another guys’ face.  People will tell you about their first event, or maybe a particularly memorable grand finals, or the fun times hanging out with friends after the event, or the fantastic trip to a new place where they met new people and became friends.  That is what defines us.

But there is a grain of truth to what Aris is saying, because frankly a lot of players use the scene as a cocoon where they can shed the usual social decencies and behave badly.  I do believe that the scene can be an unwelcoming environment for women.  Some of this is due to the game’s natural, high-strung competitive vibe, but a lot of it is just crass behavior that you would not get away with outside of our male-dominated boy’s club.  This is way too big of a topic for this article, but it’s something that I think we need to face and address.  It’s not about coddling women or sanitizing the scene.  It’s about instilling a common sense decency and calling out the blatantly bad behavior that today often gets a pass.

Back to basics

So what do I mean when I say “back to basics?” The formula that built the scene is remarkably simple.  Play the game.  Play to win.  Watch what happens.  That’s all you need, because when you do that, amazing things happen.  All the time.  What does the scene need to be successful?  Stick to what we’ve done over the past 20 years, because it’s amazing.

We also have to embrace opportunity.  The world of fighting games is now much bigger than just players and tournament organizers.  When others want to be involved with good intentions, we need to be more accepting.  This goes for content producers (who may not be top players), journalists, and casuals who enjoy watching the game but will never attend a major tournament.  It also means having a little more sensitivity to demographics outside 18-28 year old males, but like I said, that’s a topic for another day.

I’ll end this one with one of my favorite memories about the scene.  Please post your own.


Update, 3/1/2012:  In light of events that occured after posting this, I’ve posted a followup article.