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Tag Archives: FGC

 

 

Scrape.

 

 

In the arcade dark, desperation blazed.

Late 90’s: Everyone knew the trade was dead, that arcades were unsustainable.

That didn’t stop new ones from opening.

Like the euphoric hallucinations of a dying hermit, the hardware was twisting.

It became about size, flash, otherness, heat.

Some cabs grew large, some lit up like Vegas, some flowed with murals.

Arcades became desolate cities, the hardware became the graff and the alleys.

Before this, my passion had settled in the rapid flows of STGs.

As the death knell grew louder, STG cabs stood unchanged.

Smooth and fluid, they understood themselves better than other games.

They were simple to understand, beautiful to look at, exciting to engage with.

Their fundamental design was perfect and exhilarating.

For almost a decade, STGs colored the base of my arcade experience.

As the late 90’s began, as stranger and  more surreal cabs manifested, I celebrated the end by expanding.

I understood what the other genres were. I waded in their ideas enough.

Light gun games, fighting games, racing games, puzzle games.

Arcades gave us multi-game literacy.

Shuffling through the exposed subconscious of the era, I came across a new kind of fighting game.

I messed around with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II. I was terrible.

But in this time and place, I had lost the self-consciousness that had driven me away from the fighting genre.

Marvel vs. Capcom was strange, brash, and flashy.

It did not care what you thought about it or yourself.

It had something to say and it celebrated the end like a lone tank crew charging down an enemy battalion.

 

Share.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom was not the first crossover title to combine the two universes.

Capcom released two games prior: X-Men vs Street Fighter (1996) and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (1997).

None of the arcades I went to had either, making MvC the first crossover fighting game I was exposed to.

MvC1 released in two variations: a large screen format and the standard cab format.

The local arcade had the large cab which lit up like white phosphorous in the dark.

The first thing you notice about MvC is how much it flashes.

How bright it burns.

The colors are simple and bold, searing.

The levels are dynamic and had more verticality than I was used to in a fighting game.

It was a fireworks show lighting up the heart of a dying industry.

When I got a chance to engage with it, I had no understanding of tiers.

With fighting games I had always assumed that the developers gave all the characters asymmetric, but equivalent tools.

I chose my team based on looks.

Strider/Jin.

The assists were chosen at random (sort of).

MvC is a physical game.

The characters have real weight and density, they have honest friction.

The physicality of the game reminded me of SFII.

Its speed and difficulty of Strikers 1945.

While I found some success in the single-player campaign, I failed competitively.

Looking back, I just didn’t know enough about fighting games.

I enjoyed my time in that world.

I enjoyed the end of that time.

 

Deus.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was released two years later.

One of the most anticipated releases in the arcade world.

The large cab was enormous, with a screen that swallowed everyone’s field of vision.

The graphics were improved and the character roster had expanded to levels never before seen in the genre.

With the breadth of character choice, Capcom also expanded from a tag-team fighting system to a full trio.

MvC2 was more explosive, faster, more chaotic than its predecessor.

It suffered for this.

I still had no idea about fighting games so I ended up sticking with my MvC1 team: Strider/Jin.

I put Jill Valentine in the third slot. I loved Resident Evil.

Something was off for me the second my first match started.

Something was lost.

While the art and levels honed the original’s bold, bright aesthetic, it lost its physicality.

The characters felt lighter, faster, less fricative.

This made MvC2 a better game to watch than 1, but not as necessary to play.

It was a social game before the era of mobile internet.

It was a prophecy.

It was a game you stood around and discussed in awe of what you were seeing.

The initial shock value of the game was high. With 56 characters to choose, it seemed like a game of true expression.

Over time, it became evident that along with Capcom not honing the movement, they hadn’t really taken the time to balance it.

In going for a faster game, a more chaotic game, Capcom had only made a handful of teams viable at high-level play.

MvC1 had been broken as well, but proportionally the player had more, real options with less than half the selection of 2 (22 characters).

MvC2 was bright and empty, like the place it was born into.

 

Era.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 wouldn’t come out for another 11 years.

Capcom lost the Marvel license after MvC2.

By the time MvC3 released, the arcades were gone.

Many of the last remaining, best known arcades in the U.S. had either closed or were on the verge of closing.

MvC3 had no understanding of the time that had spawned its predecessors.

MvC3 was more ‘floaty’ than either of the first two games.

There was even less friction, less density than MvC2.

It also lost a lot of the brightness, a lot of the flash.

The art style was altered, creating a dark, murky, muted world.

This was Marvel vs. Capcom for the home generation.

In spite of its poor physics and boring style, Capcom did mange to improve in a few areas.

MvC3 produced more viable teams.

The game doesn’t just boil down to variations on the same team at high-level play.

Almost every year since its release, the meta-game has changed.

This made it even more watchable than MvC2.

Capcom understood the social draw of MvC2 and honed it further.

MvC3 is a fighting game that generates an enormous amount of discussion and collaboration.

It is often touted as being ‘fun to watch’ by the fighting game community even for those who don’t play it.

While the first two games in the MvC series were about chaos and explosiveness, MvC3 was about experimentation.

In the arcades, a person didn’t have the time or money to poke around inside a game.

Either someone was going to challenge you or someone was waiting for you to finish.

There was always a sense of urgency: You had to be able to develop and pick up technique in repeated bursts of play and in carefully watching the competition.

By turning away from the urgency of its arcade roots (there is no Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arcade cabinet for instance), by increasing the viable options available to the player, Capcom transitioned a series which grew out of the brash, colorful dreams of a dying market to a darker, colder era more geared towards experimentation, technicality, and discussion.

I miss the flash and physicality of MvC1.

I miss the chaos and breadth of MvC2.

But in making MvC3 more social and more open to experimentation, Capcom pivoted the game for a new market.

While the changes may have left MvC3 with a less satisfying aesthetic experience overall, the series has adapted and will survive in a new era instead of going down with the place and the time that birthed it.

 

Italy.

 

Watching STGs struggle outside of arcades has been painful.

With all their elegant design and beauty, to see them collapse cuts deep.

Fighting games tend to be slow to adapt: 11 years between MvC2 and 3. 12 years between Street Fighter III and IV.

But they are able to change and yet carry on the seeds of arcade tradition into new futures and technologies.

The collaborative and competitive nature of fighting games is what made the communities around them strong enough to survive the collapse.

Strong enough to celebrate the beginning and the end without weeping at the ruins.

Something has been lost.

That can’t be denied.

The death of the arcade was tragic and infuriating.

It was a slow decline, like watching someone you love whither away from some terminal illness.

But rather than mourn the loss, MvC embraced it.

The series celebrated what was and what was to come.

The FGC did the same:

Not always with grace, but with an endurance that can only come from profound loss and the enigmatic, joyous love of competition.

 

 

 

 

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Film.

 

Growing up my mother told me to respect women:

“If a woman hits you don’t ever hit back.”

The rest I was going to have to figure out on my own.

As a child, I was always more comfortable in the company of girls. In those early years when identity is at its most fluid, I felt more relaxed in with the opposite sex than I did with my own.

I suppose two things drove me to that point:

1) A fair amount of bullying from other boys.

2) A lack of judgment when hanging out with girls and older women.

It wasn’t until I really got into video games in elementary school that I began to find other boys like me, the outliers.

One of my problems in relating to damn near anyone has always been my attraction to complicated ideas.

Even though I am often struck by starkness and elegance, my mind tends to get lost in the larger picture of things. I would say this has granted me the ability to see very tenuous links between objects or ideas.

In a family of engineers, this has done me no favors.

Games, though, that was a shared narrative. Myself and anyone else in that group could talk about them without the fear of being misunderstood (a big frustration of mine to this day).

So that was my company as a child: Gamers and girls…and girl gamers.

Some of the best afternoons I had living in southern California in the 90’s was playing Double Dragon on the NES with my friend Nadine while talking about Salt-n-Pepa.

I discovered Kirby’s Dreamland while attending one of her swimming competitions.

 

Hello.

 

One of the things that we lose as we grow older is that fluidity of identity and culture that leaks across gender lines.

It was never considered weird or abnormal to see girls on the playground with Gameboys, plugging away at Metroid.

It was never considered out-of-place for a boy to play made-up imagined games with a girl.

But something changes somewhere and the Gameboys are stowed, the imagination falters and things get serious for a while, I suppose somewhere around the time when romantic love becomes a thing.

The outliers remain, but they are not as abundant. From sixth grade on, games become overwhelmingly male-dominated.

This is where things get strange.

After spending the entirety of my childhood gaming and reading, I had absorbed the hero’s narrative. I decided at some point that I could be the savior to all the women that I met. It was almost as if I wanted to repay an imagined debt from my youth, that I owed women something for making the fringes in my life a little more comfortable.

Everytime I became involved with a girl to any degree, my foremost thought was “I have to protect her.” It was such a deep part of me that it felt like instinct.

In my childhood I had seen girls as my peers, I treated them the same as I treated my male friends, but things changed.

The fundamental problem of the hero’s narrative (especially in that dawn of modern games) is that you store the morals of the narrative without realizing it in those formative years. Much like fairytales are told to children to teach them morality and gender roles, games operated in a similar way then and operate that way today.

I was always uncomfortable with the assertive male dominance of Lebanese culture. Assertiveness in general is a strange feeling for me because I see the world as a stark and fluid place with little room for certainty.

In spite of this, I became patronizing. I became a ‘White Knight’.

The problem centers around not viewing women as fully formed people, but rather as stereotypes that either need saving or protection. By the fact of their gender, they cannot function well without a male around.

I’m not putting the blame solely on games for this, that would be ridiculous. Societies and cultures all over the world are coded with this message and I was simply the latest sponge to absorb it.

I didn’t used to understand the problem with my approach towards women, I genuinely thought that I was one of the good guys, a real feminist.

I read Sylvia Plath.

I read Nawal El-Saadawi’s novel ‘Woman At Point Zero’ and rather than really analyze what was going on, I leaned on the idealistic crux that ‘men are jerks, women got it rough!’, missing the deeper points and nuance of a story about a woman choosing to die as a final act of freedom after being pushed around by circumstance and difficulty in patriarchal Arab society.

Fundamentally, being a ‘White Knight’ is really not so different from being outright dismissive of them.

You’re never really listening to them, you’re simply waiting for them to say something where you can jump in and help or ‘correct’ them.

You’re erasing women as people.

Narrative games propagate this. To this day, the narratives simply have not expanded. There are some interesting things being done by the likes of Bioware and Bethesda in the mainstream, but for a vast majority of games, it’s the typical male hero narrative/power fantasy.

I recall a young woman released a game a few years ago that dealt with some of the darker issues of her life (can’t remember the name). It had gained some attention online and I read about it on some gaming sites. Despite what she was trying to do, there was so much hate directed at her mostly coming from male gamers.

They kept deriding her for making some garbage game that talked about ‘girls’ emotions. Some of them went so far as to question the experiences she lived through. They attacked and marginalized her without even giving her a chance.

The darker extension of the ‘White Knight’: Women can’t have a voice, especially not in games.

 

Expansion.

 

In college, I was fairly lonely. No place to fit in.

I took literary and poetry classes where I felt everyone’s writing was bloated, over-reaching garbage. The new attempts at intelligentsia.

I tried taking mathematics and programming to try to strengthen my weakest fields, only to feel alienated.

I attended philosophy and political theory courses where I was most comfortable with the professors, but the students either didn’t care or didn’t think enough about the world.

I wrote for a newspaper, but people really didn’t like what I had to say.

I saw the Dalai Llama speak. That was fulfilling, but unsustatining in the face of the blank confusion lurking in the corners of my life.

It wasn’t until I wandered into a Gamestop in Downtown Madison on a dark, rainy day looking for something to play on my PSP.

I saw the box art for Guilty Gear and I thought: “Hey! Yeah! I remember that game!”

I used to hang out in arcades a lot in my youth, spending a lot of time on STGs and fighting games. While I understood at that time the nuance of scrolling shooters (one-cc, high score, multipliers, etc.), I hadn’t really thought too much about fighting games then.

I bought Guilty and that became a haven for me. I sat outside my classes just practicing all the motions on the awful PSP nub.

Eventually, I bought all the fighting games I could for the PS2.

My first stick was an X-Arcade.

Around this time I met a girl from France: Elise. She had come to UW-Madison to study law for six months.

She was very sharp. She wouldn’t let me get away with my usual bullshit. When I tried to ‘White Knight’ her, she would deflect until she got to my real face.

She made me deal with her on mutual terms, as equals.

Along with that association, I had discovered a professor on campus: Dr. Moneera Al-Ghadeer, a prominent middle eastern feminist and academic with a mind sharper and clearer than many of the Zen masters I read today.

Moneera forced me to come to terms with my identity. She forced me to find my own voice instead of reciting narratives that I had digested. She forced me to synthesize my own views.

While I was still uncomfortable being outwardly assertive, I decided I needed to dig into myself and see what’s in there.

I began to see all the mistakes I had made with myself.

In high school, after 9/11, some other kids would call me ‘Bin Laden.’ Some classmates started making terrorist jokes.

My closest friends didn’t though.

Still, for some, I was the token brown kid.

As if it wasn’t enough that I was a different race, I was also just a weird kid reading Lovecraft and Nietzsche, playing Neo-Geo Pocket at school.

I should have made the connection sooner between my marginalization and the way I had been acting with women.

I don’t know why it took me so long.

So, there I was, learning fighting games and digging into myself all at once.

The greatest beauty in fighting games is the telling. You can tell so much about the player based on how they play and what character they pick.

Fighting games provide a window into a person’s mind. They showed me something I was beginning to become aware of: I lived on autopilot. I accepted information without any critique or analysis.

I had been a sponge for as long as I had been alive.

 

Grip.

 

As I dug further into the FGC (Fighting Game Community), I began to see a place that accepts all kinds.

I began to see a place full of talented, devoted people from a whole host of backgrounds. I was a brown kid among other brown kids, I wasn’t on the margins anymore.

Fighting games, by the nature of their design, also touch on the fluidity across the sexes that all of us experienced when we were young. You have males, females, different races, different ages.

However, the most interesting thing is after awhile, you no longer see them that way. You see the characters as sets of tools, you judge them based on what they do, not where they come from or look like.

You try to find a character that is mechanically and aesthetically an expression of yourself.

While the FGC might be the most inclusive community in gaming, it still has a sexism problem which has reared its head on more than a few occasions in the last few years.

Star female players like Kayane have to work so much harder at getting respect in the FGC, often being viewed as either a novelty or being judged by appearance.

Here again we find the dark extension of the narratives that marginalize women, even in a place driven by multi-racial communities.

My life since college has been a slow, agonizing process of deconstruction.

Deconstructing language, deconstructing beliefs, deconstructing myself, and deconstructing my view of women.

There are times when you can’t start something on your own, but at some point, you are in charge of your own momentum: Fighting games and some insightful, brave women were my trigger.

Its amazing to me how much effort it takes to unclog the mind, to remove all the passive garbage that society and culture dump on you.

I am married now and still looking for that fluidity of my youth. I see the small changes being made by the games industry, I hear the discussions taking place in the fighting game communities, I wish they would grow faster.

I wish people would stop being so damn defensive when confronted with another perspective.

There are some things a person just does not have the tools to understand.

Ever since I stopped my own awkward and dangerous thinking on women, I have become more open to the world as a whole. Things are less rigid for me and through my wife, I am able to gain even more insight into my own interactions with women.

It’s impossible to say that a person can ever understand someone else completely. Language does a mediocre job simply because it is colored by experience.

I think the first step towards growth is the willingness to march alone into the darkness of the self.

Will the games industry as a whole be willing to do that? Are people in general even willing to do that?

 

I hope so.