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Tag Archives: Fighting Games

 

 

Mountain.

 

 

Christmas. 1990. California.

I was seven.

I spent an entire year asking my parents for a Game Boy.

I didn’t think I’d get one.

Christmas morning and we opened our presents.

And there it was.

I ran out of the room.

I was confused about who bought it. I thought it was my uncle.

I ran into the living room. I tore into the box.

Popped in the batteries. Caressed the system.

I turned it over in my hands. I enjoyed the weight of it.

I enjoyed its thickness. I was in love with its density.

I grabbed the only cart I had: Tetris.

The label was beautiful. The cartridge had a fulfilling proportionality.

It felt more promising and better designed than NES carts had been.

NES game carts were too long and too thick.

There was too much space on them. They had no visual impact.

Their faces were empty.

The Tetris cart was beautiful: Thin. Asymmetrical.

A subtle rectangle.

I slid it into the back.

I turned the system on.

The sound was crisp.

I burned through the options.

I wanted the game.

After a few rounds I thought I understood what it was.

I started at 0 and cleared lines as fast as I could.

The Game Boy was my first portable video game system.

Tetris was my first portable game.

I didn’t understand any of its subtlety.

I didn’t care to seek out its language.

I didn’t see what was so enthralling about its design.

I dropped Tetris.

I chased after Super Mario Land. Kirby’s Dream Land. Ninja Turtles.

I needed environments I could relate to.

I needed an imagined narrative.

Tetris was cold.

It fell away and I moved on.

 

Doughnut.

 

Summer. 1997.

Lebanon and the village is dead.

I gave my cousins my first-gen Game Boy one year earlier.

I now have a Game Boy Pocket.

The electricity is out. The water’s off. The arcade closed.

We revisit Tetris Attack.

It’s the first time I engage with the ‘Tetris’ brand since 1990.

I play through the stages. I enjoy the characters and the dialogue.

Puzzle mode feels more genuine than the original’s ‘B-Type’.

Endless mode is a meditative training ground.

Tetris Attack is Tetris inverted.

The pieces climb up from the bottom.

The cursor can switch two adjacent pieces horizontally.

The game pieces were blocks with symbols on them.

The object isn’t line clears, but matching blocks.

It was a proto-Bejeweled with Yoshi characters.

Tetris Attack was small, but full.

Strategic, but not complicated.

It had the sticky touch of Intelligent Systems.

Tetris Attack wasn’t Tetris.

It released in Japan as Panel de Pon.

Nintendo wanted name recognition in the West.

They wanted the Tetris name. They settled on Tetris Attack.

The Tetris Company cleared it.

And regretted it.

Henk Rogers felt it diluted the brand.

But Tetris Attack was an alternative.

It was a solid, strange experience.

It presented unique tools to rethink the Tetris universe.

Like Majora’s Mask and Zelda: It planted the seeds for the series’ deconstruction.

It brought warmth to the series.

It brought a crooked heart.

 

Hall.

 

Winter. 2015.

I try to consolidate my games.

I look for my Game Boy carts. I find Tetris Attack again.

It holds up. It still has warmth and life in it.

I find Tetris again.

I slide it into my SP.

25 years later and I decide to give it another shot.

I start at level 7.

25 years later and it feels different.

Something clicks and my hands start buzzing.

I begin to see its elegance and the subtleties of its design.

It was never just about line clears.

It was about setups. It was about adapting to flaws.

It was about recovering.

I hear about the AGDQ Tetris run.

I learn about Tetris: The Grand Master.

Developed by Arika and the series only released in arcades.

I loved what they had achieved in the past: The PS2 version of DoDonPachi Daioujou.

I seek out and download the entire TGM series.

And TGM 3 is dark, fun, and beautiful.

TGM 3 is the Daioujou of the Tetris universe.

Its presentation is clean.

Its music is engaging.

It’s difficult, but it doesn’t push the player away.

It dredges up the will to do better.

TGM 3 presents four modes of play with two different rulesets.

Easy teaches the game.

Sakura is a variation on a previous release: Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura Eternal Heart.

Master is Tetris with speeds that gradually increase over time.

Shirase is Tetris at blinding speeds coupled with odd challenges.

Classic rule maintains the rotation style of the two prior iterations of TGM.

World rule is a set pushed on Arika by The Tetris Company in order to unify newer Tetris games.

The multiple modes and rulesets give TGM 3 a depth not seen in the arcade puzzle genre.

It gives the player the freedom to decide what sort of game they would like to play.

TGM 3 is difficult and obtuse.

It doesn’t explain itself and it doesn’t care.

It only wants to pull the player in as fast as possible.

The entire game is a boss fight: It seems impossible.

In Shirase, you can’t see the pieces fall.

The higher levels in Master require instinctual reaction times.

But it’s these elements that make the game so enjoyable.

In most fighting games, the curve seems vertical.

Inexperienced players become frustrated and turn away.

Fighting games require study. They require a deconstruction of situational behaviors and habits.

They bloom and open as the player’s mind and technique does.

TGM 3 must be approached the same way. It requires study.

It requires the player to focus both on the game and themselves.

It’s no coincidence that the TGM series and fighting games were both born from the arcades.

They both ask that the player be efficient and aware.

The payoff in fighting games is convincing wins against human opponents.

In TGM 3 the payoff is watching yourself calculate, strategize, and play at speeds you never thought you’d ever be capable of.

In 1990 I had no idea what Tetris was.

I dismissed it for having no heart.

I misunderstood it.

2015 and I realize now how much I’ve missed in the last 25 years.

Sometimes you just need the right kind of eyes.

Sometimes the heart is so big that you only catch a small piece of it.

Ignorance has a slow, enduring momentum.

And time isn’t always enough to kill it.

You need something savage and raw to tear through the filters you’ve tied yourself in.

Tetris Attack. Eight years on: It’s joyful and enduring.

Tetris. 25 years later: I wake up.

 

Tetris The Grand Master 3. 2015: My hands tremble, my teeth rip, and my brain is pummeled into the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Evolution And Development Of Mech Games.

 

 

RPS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artillery.

 

 

When I started playing fighting games seriously, there were things people would tell me.

There were things I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand the difference between a link system and a chain combo system.

I didn’t understand what DP meant.

I didn’t understand what spacing was.

Someone would always insist that spacing in a fighting game, especially Street Fighter, was important.

It was an ethereal concept to me: What does that mean? What do I do with it?

Because I was usually the most inexperienced person in whatever FGC (Fighting Game Community) I was a part of, I focused on more obvious points.

I practiced combos in training modes. I worked on my blocking technique. I tried to pry open different fighting games’ design philosophies.

I couldn’t understand spacing, so I avoided it. I convinced myself I would get to it later.

It wasn’t obvious.

Capcom keeps their systems hidden. This is part of what led to Capcom’s ascension in the United States over SNK.

Capcom leaves guidance and discovery up to the community. They depend on the FGC to figure things out.

Because of it’s difficulty, Street Fighter mastery is considered one of the pinnacles of success in the FG genre.

SNK, though, enforces the subtle. SNK transforms the subtle into a lesson.

I believe this is why SNK has found success everywhere else in the world.

SNK fighters are lessons.

Every SNK fighting game has a shakiness to it.

From Fatal Fury to The Last Blade to King of Fighters, SNK games tend to either be mechanically broken or make viable only a handful of characters.

But SNK does something that Capcom does not: Force the player to pay attention.

Starting with Fatal Fury 2, SNK implemented an at-will two-plane system, the first of its kind in the genre. This allowed players to jump between the foreground/background of a stage.

With a two-plane system, the player had to be aware of which plane their opponent was on, the best way to move to that plane, and to avoid level hazards.

The Last Blade series had a deflect button. If the player pressed the deflect button just as an opponent attacked, the attack would be parried, leaving them open for a counterattack.

This forces the player to watch their opponent carefully, to read frames carefully. The Last Blade drills players’ focus faster than any other fighter I’ve seen.

Capcom tried to do something similar in Street Fighter III with the introduction of the parry mechanic: The player taps forward when an opponent’s attack connects and the attack is neutralized with no damage taken.

The parry mechanic along with a flood of other innovations led to SFIII becoming one of the most highly regarded fighting games ever made.

But because SFIII was tailored with immense precision, it garnered vast critical approval, but nowhere near the financial success of its predecessor.

When SFIII: Third Strike came around, the game was dead in the United States.

Even the ‘Daigo Parry‘ couldn’t save it.

Capcom tried to out-SNK SNK.

By building a solid, tactical, mechanically coherent fighting game with polish and little brokenness, Capcom suffered.

People didn’t expect that from them. They just wanted another SFII.

It would take Capcom 10 years before they would release another game in the Street Fighter franchise and Street Fighter IV was an exercise in back-tracking.

(Here is the best review of SFIII: Third Strike you will read).

 

Clack.

 

At the same time Capcom released their most complex and technical iteration of Street Fighter, SNK put out its last iteration of the Fatal Fury series: Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

Garou and 3S are often considered companion games.

Both are beautiful. Both innovate on their established franchises. Both are technical.

Garou pushed the limits of what was capable on SNK’s Neo Geo system.

Even though Neo Geo was incapable of semi-transparency and 3D effects, SNK was able to simulate them using complex 2D techniques.

Like SFIII, Garou was a reset.

SNK even altered the signature look of Terry Bogard, the series mascot.

They also eliminated the two-plane system Fatal Fury had introduced and become known for.

With Garou, SNK pruned away all the excess a decade of half-finished ideas left them with.

Fighting games are usually loud. They scream. They affirm their place in the arcades.

In the mid-90’s, you couldn’t walk into an arcade anywhere in the world without being pummeled with SFII audio.

Garou is a quiet game.

Garou is serene.

The introduction shows nothing but Geese Howard‘s death and a small montage of Terry Bogard raising Geese’s son, Rock Howard.

Garou’s music is comprised of low-key, modern jazz and dance tracks. The music keeps the atmosphere light and reinforces the game’s growth.

No loud guitar music. No pop music with nonsense lyrics.

Keeping with this minimal style, SNK also paired back the roster of playable characters from the previous iteration by almost half.

Garou only has 14 characters.

There is a sense of intimacy in Garou’s world. There is a sense that the characters and places are all familiar to each other.

Because of the limited roster, each character has personality. Each character feels important.

The game does a profound job relating both characters and players to places in the world.

Garou’s greatest innovation is the stage introductions.

Before each fight, the stages are presented in short, animated clips.

There is no music. There is only ambient sound from the stage itself.

They are so well-done, so elegant, so subtle: They could be meditation objects.

Garou is a cohesive game.

All the aesthetic innovations are matched by the mechanical.

It introduces the ‘Tactical Offensive Position’ (T.O.P.). TOP is a customizable comeback mechanic.

After selecting a character, the game asks the player to choose a portion of the character’s lifebar (roughly one-third).

The player can choose the beginning, middle, or end.

During the fight, if that portion of the character’s lifebar is reached, they will begin flashing, indicating that TOP has engaged.

TOP grants the player access to a move that isn’t normally available, some health regeneration, and increased damage output.

TOP is a proto-X-Factor over a decade before Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

SNK also introduced a ‘Just Defend’ mechanic similar to the SFIII parry. If the player blocks just before an attack connects, they recover more quickly from block.

All of Garou’s mechanical developments lead to an encouragement of offense.

Many of SNK’s fighting franchises are defensive and tactical.

Garou is a massive divergence from SNK’s traditional formula.

Lifebars disintegrate as fast as they did in SFII and the game’s offense functions on how well a player can use their normal attacks.

With its speed and small levels, Garou reinforces the importance of spacing.

It is a perfect exercise in learning what spacing is.

There is nowhere to run and attacking without thinking is easily punished here.

Garou wants the player to be offensive, but not stupid.

It wants the player to not only think about what attack to use, but about the potential space of that attack.

With Street Fighter III, Capcom sought to slow the game down. They wanted players to take their time and think. They wanted each hit to count.

Defensive players flourished in SFIII’s space.

Garou taught players how to attack. It was the antibody to a generation of SFII button-mashing.

It is by no means a perfect game, but an important one.

It is a game I would encourage anybody to play.

Garou is important as a whole work.

It reinforces FG basics in a soft, clear, beautiful way.

Brandon Sheffield once referred to Garou as being ‘holistic’.

And it is.

This is a game designed with clarity.

This is a game that balances light and seriousness with grace and perspective.

The gaming world has never been as toxic or as melodramatic as it is today.

 

And Garou’s softness, humor, and expectation are both reaffirming and cleansing, 15 years on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Print.

 

 

Before I got an iPhone, I had a red LG flip phone.

I enjoyed that phone more than I probably should have because it’s UI felt more intuitive than all the Nokia and Sony cells I had before it. The buttons on the LG were a joy to press, low profile, but very ‘clicky’.

Nokia’s buttons were always very solid, but I felt they had no weight to them. The buttons felt floaty, like pressing on partially-burned marshmallows.

Sony’s problem was a combination of bad quality (the phone would constantly fall apart) and the buttons being too squishy. Sometimes the buttons were so soft that they wouldn’t register presses. The only thing Sony had going for it was a neon-blue backlight that made me feel like I was in the future.

Then I got an iPhone. It wasn’t a choice I made, I was still a skeptic on touchscreens. Someone in my mother’s family had bought one for me as a graduation present. I was more curious than excited.

As I spent time with the phone, I began to enjoy it. I enjoyed the simulation of swiping and the responsiveness of the touchscreen. I liked the idea of having access to apps that would increase the utility of the phone. I enjoyed the solid build quality. It had a nice density.

But I missed the buttons.

Occasionally, I went back to the LG and would just click around to remember the sensation of really great button presses. I was sad at the loss.

When I really dug into the world of the iPhone and Apple, I realized because my phone had been purchased by a relative in Lebanon, it was jailbroken and unlocked. This meant I had access to the Cydia marketplace.

Cydia is a black market app store that bypasses all of Apple’s strict standards. Anyone can put anything on Cydia and I used it to see what people on the margins of this ecosystem were doing.

A few months into this process I came across something called HapticPro. The app claimed that it would create haptic feedback when typing by generating small vibrations with each press of the virtual keyboard.

I downloaded it. I was excited: Maybe this would be just what the iPhone needed to feel right.

After using HapticPro for a while I noticed that my typing was more accurate and fulfilling. The phone had evolved.

Still, though something was missing from the experience: The iPhone lacked tactility, it lacked texture.

Nokia phones always had a wonderful feel. Whether the case was metal or plastic, you could run your finger along all the pits and grooves. The Sony phone I had was encased in a dense, white rubber, I loved its spongey friction. My LG did not have any compelling texture, but the click of the phone opening made up for that.

The iPhone was nothing but cold and slippery, lifeless.

I struck out into midwestern suburbia to solve this.

After searching around, I eventually settled on a thick, black rubber case with small grips on the sides.

Now I had something in my hands that felt alive. It buzzed when I touched it. Its skin was soft.

I have always admired Apple for their minimalist approach to design. However, in their quest for technological purity, their products have misunderstood the sense of touch.

A cell phone is a very personal thing. It needs warmth, warmth through texture.

The iPhone had no warmth.

No blood.

No friction.

 

Esoteric.

 

When The Elder Scrolls V was released in 2011, it was celebrated by both the games industry and media as a grand and amazing work, a shining example of what games can be. It won countless awards including multiple GOTY nominations and wins. It was a phenomenon.

It was also a bad game.

Prior to release, I had been very excited by the idea of a single-player open-world fantasy game that featured first-person hand-to-hand combat. I had just built a very powerful desktop then and I had been looking forward for just this sort of thing to release.

Once I was able to finally sit down with the game and run through the beginning, I realized how unsatisfying the game felt.

None of the characters (including the player) had any weight or density to them. Everything just felt as if it was hovering inches above the ground like a world of balloon animals.

The first-person melee was equally terrible. It all felt vapid and inconsequential, a self-important pillow fight simulator.

The first person to accurately describe how it felt was Tim Rogers.

I wish I could say that this problem is only limited to Skyrim and games like it, but this is actually a big problem for most games today.

Much like cell phones, games are very personal things. The player is trying to inhabit a space, making it their own by virtue of their own personal experiences, and expressing themselves through either strategic thinking or action.

People get lost in their phones, people get lost in their games.

Modern games lack density. They treat movement as a given rather than as a draw. It seems like every game today is built around the idea that no one will notice the lack of physicality.

No texture. No beating heart.

Compare Elder Scrolls V to Gungrave. Movement in Skyrim is light and airy, there is nothing of significance in it, there is no joy in it. In Gungrave, movement is important. Everything has weight, there is a loud, sharp pulse in everything Gungrave does from shooting to jumping to swinging.

I don’t just blame 3D games for this problem, Modern 2D games suffer also. I’ve made the argument over and over again in the Shoryuken forums that the reason Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the least appealing in the series is due to its  lack of  ‘presence’  in the characters when compared to the previous entries. MvC1 had real weight. MvC2 had friction and texture.

It almost seems as if the games industry has been slowly withdrawing from the physicality of the arcades. Even the worst fighting games (for example) have some of the best density. Sengoku Basara X and Hokuto no Ken have wonderful frictions. The hits have powerful momentum.

But those are broken games.

Even games that are marketed as ‘arcade’-like today never seem to get the density right. In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden’s hits never have any impact, any feedback. Every enemy in the game hits harder/is heavier than Raiden.

There are a few games in the mainstream that seem to occupy a very nice density. Games like Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Tekken, Gears of War, and Killzone carry their weight well. However, the industry as a whole needs to put more time and thought into a game’s physical presence.

The indie scene is doing this by drawing inspiration from older games where movement and tactility were fine-tuned.

I’m not sure what it would take for the entire industry to follow-suit and change, to focus on the texture of their games, but I am getting tired of just floating around in places I barely occupy.

Fundamentally, the physicality of a game assists in immersion. Speed, force, momentum, velocity, density, friction: These are parts of the machine that absorb the player.

What good is world-building if every interaction with the world is lifeless?

What good is the scope of the game if in exploring it, the player never inhabits it?

In order to be immersed, the player has to feel that they occupy a space, that there is some warmth there.

This is not something that can ever be fixed by money, only heart can fix this.

 

Only pulse can drive this change.

 

 

 

 

 

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.