Fighting Games: The Harsh Realities

editorials by Sean Halliday

The fighting game genre has always been a harsh mistress for me. For every happy memory I have of the genre there’s about 3 bad memories that shortly follow.
From a young age I became interested in fighters and my first experience with the genre was (unsurprisingly) Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 on the Super Nintendo.
From the first minute of the game I was hooked. The characters looked visually interesting, the environments dazzling and the action thrilling. Playing solo was fun but lets face it, fighters are meant to be played against people and not AI.

Playing Street Fighter 2 against friends (and some times family) is still one of my most treasured video game memories. Booting up the game and selecting our favourite characters before arguing over which level to fight in was tradition. Button mashing in a desperate panic was also tradition.

In the process of pressing all the buttons in any given order a special move would normally be unleashed, leaving me and a buddy in a stunned silence. “HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!” was often the question on our lips, and the answer to that question was ALWAYS “no idea”.

Even with a limited knowledge of the game and its controls each match was always a great slice of fun. These sweet natured days were numbered however as I began to grow up.
As time went on, and I played more and more fighters, my longing for victory became stronger. Button mashing was no longer a style I felt happy to use, it had become ‘messy’. Instead I would try a few characters out and learn the move sets.

By the time I came into possession of a Dreamcast I had a decent amount of knowledge of Soulcalibur. I wasn’t a master by any means but I had learned at least a few moves for each character. Suddenly playing against friends had become more of a practice session than just a few games in the name of fun.

Losing felt a lot worse, victory felt less meaningful, it was a strange feeling. For the most part I would be able to take down most of my friends, this resulted in the game becoming a little boring for them to play. Understanding the game had ultimately led to the ‘fun’ of the game being drained away.

The likes of Capcom Vs SNK, Street Fighter 3 alpha and Marvel Vs Capcom had returned all the fun of fighters. I applied a much more laid back approach to these fighters in order to keep the game fun for my friends to play against me. By this time in our lives we preferred to learn the game rather than button mash, this led to competitive, but fun, matches.

It seemed the perfect middle ground and a great time to enjoy some top class fighting games. The enjoyment of the genre (and fighting friends) hit its peek with Marvel Vs Capcom 2. Given the popularity of the PS2 all of my friends owned the system and Marvel Vs Capcom 2. This allowed everyone to stand a fair chance of learning the game and forming an effective team.
Many a battle was fought, plenty a laugh was had, this was the highlight of my time with the fighter genre. There was always a giddy feeling when it came to each team being down to their last member. A single hit would decide the match, the aftermath involved boasting and looking back at the action.

I had went from casual matches with friends, that were all about the fun, to competitive games of knowledge and technique. One day (well when I got my own computer) I just stopped playing fighters.

From 2004 to 2008 I honestly can’t remember playing a fighter for more than a few days. I kept an eye on the genre, watched it develop, but I never got back into the swing of things. 2009 saw the return of the franchise that started it all for me, I am of course referring to Street Fighter.

The fourth entry into the franchise was a first day purchase for me. After a first few runs on arcade I decided to hit up the online options. This is where things got rough.
A large segment of players from overseas had been playing Street Fighter 4 for roughly a week. This earlier release date had created a huge divide in terms of player skill. Time after time I was matched up with players who had already learned the mechanics and moves of a number of characters.

My arse was getting well and truly kicked.
I was now feeling the way my friends did when they used to play Soulcalibur against me; it wasn’t fun. I tried to learn the game, learn some strategies, but alas my efforts were met with more defeats. Only a few of my friends had bought Street Fighter 4, this limited my chances of casual fun matches. When they did happen, more often than not, I’d end up winning purely because I had learned some easy moves of a certain character.

My friends soon began to grow tired of playing me and I was once again forced into playing online. While I did improve my overall play, the huge gulf in skill and experience was still too much to overcome. I enjoyed Street Fighter 4 a lot, I kept it in my collection in order to play when friends came over or my father fancied a game. Online I was nothing short of a easy win for any given player.

For a large length of time I kept my activity within the fighter genre strictly offline. Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat (reboot…or 9 as some wish to label it) became my fighter of choice. While Marvel Vs Cacpom 3 was a little light in terms of content, Mortal Kombat was jam packed.

With plenty to do in terms of single player I was more than happy to play Mortal Kombat offline. The lure of playing online is hard to resist however, and yet again I found myself being beat down by veterans. All the enjoyment I had experienced with Mortal Kombat offline was now being replaced with defeat and defeat.
The sheer amount of spam I became the victim of was heart breaking.

Seeing Stryker spam his ranged attacks over and over killed my motivation to play Mortal Kombat online, it was nothing short of brutal. I was awful at the game, but my lack of enjoyment online killed any motivation to improve.
Fast forward to EVO 2012 (and again in 2013).

I’m sitting at my desk browsing Twitch TV, and I’m once again interested in fighters. After watching the majority of the Marvel Vs Capcom 3 tournament my interest in the game re-surged. I knew for a fact I was going to lose, and lose hard, but either way I was going to try my hand at the online portion of the game.

My assumptions were proved to be correct, I did in fact get my arse kicked (again), but I didn’t mind. I oddly didn’t mind losing. My competitive nature had taken a back seat. With my rediscovered relaxed nature towards the game, I began to sit and learn how to lose.

While defeat is never fun it did allow me to experiment and tinker with my team selection. Before I knew it I was presenting a viable challenge to some players, some times even winning. The thrill of the fighter genre rushed back, everything I remembered had returned. In a moment of nostalgia I dragged my father into a game and began to play. It was like being young again playing Street Fighter 2 for the first time.

My love affair with the genre has been long and eventful. It’s had highs and lows; at times I had fallen out with the genre only to make up with it some time later. Learning to handle defeat is key to enjoying the fighter game genre, whereas expecting victory is a recipe for frustration.

It’s now 2016 and the selection of games is mostly the same, but with extra flair. Mortal Kombat X, King of Fighters, Street Fighter 5 and Killer Instinct. The latter, even when played poorly, still manages to entertain. Even after being juggled and slaughtered by the 97th Jago that day, I still enjoy the game. Small victories are appreciated, never taken for granted. Defeats are just another lesson.

This is why fighters are such a rewarding genre to play, the defeats are lessons. Sure you may feel salty at first, but picking up on your errors soon follows. Much like sparring in real life (which my nose can testify for), winning comes after you learn from the defeats. It’s why I like fighters so much, even though I’m awful at them.
Remembering why I loved the genre in the first place was key to recapturing the thrill, enjoyment and fun that I had all but lost.

About the Author

Sean Halliday

Bargain bin version of Henry Rollins. Ex-Byker Grove cast member, former member of Ant & Dec

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