Sunday, December 21, 2008

Welcome to (Street)Fight Club

I’m going to start with something ridiculously mushy here. I’m willing to look like a fool here, and say Street Fighter as a series has profoundly impacted my life. Stupid eh? I’m just some kind of freak right? Well, before I lose all credibility, please hear me out. Street Fighter has provided me with a social AND competitive avenue, one that is fun and, by its nature, introduced healthy rivalries into my life. I really think - and yes even in my mid 20’s I still think it’s relevant – that it’s not the game, but the community the game builds in us, that makes it so special.

And now, with a new Street Fighter coming out in a couple of months, it's the perfect time to invite everyone to join me in my favorite hobby.

At this point you’re probably still rolling your eyes, but I’d like for you to just give me 5 minutes of your time to read my reasons. If you still aren’t interested after reading them, then by all means, you can bail.

3 reasons to fight

1. Why should I bother?

Like any game (video or other), Street Fighter is a competitive tool, in exactly the same mould as basketball, poker, or chess. However, SF is unique in the near-absolute purity if its rules. How so? Basketball (and all sports in general) have nearly impossible-to-enforce rules. How many basketball games have you seen in which a bad call decided the game? How many lame “and-1s” ruin good pickup games at your local gym? Likewise, poker, which is definitely a game of skill, always has an element of luck involved. You can play your opponent flawlessly, but still get beaten on the river.

Street Fighter, like all those aforementioned games, is rooted in “Yomi.” Yomi is the Japanese phrase for “reading your opponent’s mind.” How satisfying is it in Poker when you know exactly what your opponent has in his hand? Why is drawing a charge or blocking a shot the most satisfying play in basketball? I suggest here it’s because of Yomi. Now imagine a game that is built ENTIRELY around the concept of Yomi.

That is Street Fighter.

Okay, so poker is a high Yomi game too, so why should I learn SF if I already play poker? This goes back to the notion that SF is “pure;” the rules of the game never change, and the limits of the game make it impossible for you to act outside them. There are no unknown factors to sideswipe you, no teammates to blame; you are in a match alone against your opponent with a finite toolset of moves. In essence, you are in complete control of your own ability to win or lese. The onus is on you, and you alone, and that purity of experience, in my opinion, is hard to find anywhere else.

2. Why are you telling me this now?

For those of you who might not know, Street Fighter IV (ten years in the making, so to speak) is coming out on February 17, 2009. I’ve played Street Fighter for more than a decade now, both casually and competitively, and I’m telling you right now, as a competitive tool it can’t be beat. It has all the purity of chess, but with the pace of many sports. I’m also telling you this because the producers of this game have tailor-made this game for newcomers. Many of the complicated systems from the past (parries, custom combos, etc for those who know what those mean) are all gone. They’ve all been replaced with a system that was specifically designed to be simple, yet deeply rooted in Yomi. The hype around this game is high (and having played it, I can tell you right now it’s a solid game), and come February 17, there will be a LOT of newbies online. The best way to learn anything is always to have opponents of equal skill to play against.

Put together all those factors leads to this conclusion. If you ever wanted to try really learning Street Fighter (and I encourage you to), February 17th and on will be that time.

3. The game is so complicated and I haven’t played ever/in a long time, aren’t I too far behind?

I won’t sugar coat this. If you want to start, you’re probably going to lose at first; probably a lot. Against more seasoned opponents, against the computer-controlled AI. Many of you probably last played Street Fighter II on your SNES, and considered the ability to throw fireballs and hurricane kicks the epitome of your success. There’s no other way to say this…

You will suck.

But before you all click away, I’m going to explain why this is a good thing. Like all sports, Street Fighter consists of two levels, the mechanics and the meta-game. Golf sucks when you’re still learning to swing. Basketball sucks when you still shoot like a granny. Hockey sucks… well, hockey just sucks (*kidding!*). What I mean is that, a lot of people get hung up on the mechanics and quit there, never even reaching the warm-gooey centre that is the meta-game. But once you get the mechanics, they will come to you just like a golf swing or a basketball shot, I promise you. Then the entire meta-game opens up for you. You will grow, you will get better, you will start to match wits with others who’ve figured it out too. Rivalry breeds the best competition, and I 100% assure you, you will accrue rivals.

Everything the game gives to you after that is sooooo worth it.

Closing Words

One might look at Street Fighter and just see “another videogame.” That isn’t accurate. Most games last a month or two. You start at stage 1 and progress linearly through the game. The game gets harder and you adapt until you reach the final stage. As the end credits roll, you sit back, pat yourself on the back, and then think about what game you want to get next.

That is NOT Street Fighter.

Street Fighter doesn’t have a story (not one that matters anyway) and it doesn’t have linear progression. Stage 1, in a sense, doesn’t exist in the game so much as it exists in you. As you “progress” in the game, you devise your own tactics, you learn from the tactics of others, and this is the progression you experience in the game. You’ll keep playing the same characters, keep fighting the same opponents, keep fighting on the same levels, but somehow, you’ll continue to grow and progress. The final stage is whatever you yourself become when you decide to hang up your gloves or put away your controller for good. Hopefully by then you have a positive win/loss record. = )

I didn’t write this as a lame attempt to force people to play. I didn’t write it because I just wanted fresh meat to beat up on. I wrote this, because Street Fighter provided me with an amazing base of competition and self-evaluation I’ve never gotten anywhere else. I wrote this because I’ve already trained people with only a “passing” interest, into rivals who can now out-spar me.

But most of all, I wrote this because competitive Street Fighter with good friends is one of the most enjoyable ways I can spend an evening, and if I can teach even one more person the beauty of that, then writing all this was worth it.

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