Fighting Games = Spectator Sports

Street Fighter III: Third Strike makes an awful lot of sense in the right hands.

When I say “right hands”, I of course mean Hands Like These, who in a professional bout in 2004 was about to lose before pulling out the games controversial Parry System. Something that requires almost pinpoint timing, he proceeded to parry 14 hits of a super move and take no damage before soundly countering with his own.

It required knowledge. Patience. A zen-like state of consciousness. And suddenly, Third Strike and the usual Capcom state of tweaking Street Fighter endlessly was entirely justified.

However…

Let’s be clear on this. Third Strike is a spectator sport.

That’s not be being unduly harsh on the game – because it is, technically, a brilliant game. It’s perfectly pitched, well balanced, interesting and not that difficult to play all told. There’s no good reason why you can’t enjoy this game.

But I have come to the conclusion that most of us mere mortals, who can’t even begin to dream of performing a similar feat to that in 2004, are not the ones who the game is aimed at. And I level this at fighters almost in general – they are all guilty of the same crime.

The pitch is simply this – there are tournaments, professional tournaments where people win actual money for being amazingly brilliant and fantastic at this. Like Starcraft in Korea, people get funded. They have personal trainers to make sure their diets are okay. That they are fit enough to slip into that zen-line trance and perform the button-configurations required to be the best in the world. SoulCalibur, Street Fighter, Tekken – even Mortal Kombat.

The shame is this – that in doing so, they have systematically phased out us mere mortals from their game circle.

That isn’t to say we can’t enjoy the games on an intellectual, hobbyistic level. But we aren’t going to dedicate the time, effort or energy a professional would in learning every nuance, every dodge, every inch of the arenas, the millimeter precision of each weapon. To keep this – their core market – happy, the games have become more complex, more deep, more difficult.

And for the majority, less enjoyable.

I’m not meaning to have a serious downer about fighting games because I do like them, but I think that fighting games don’t particularly like me. They’re not made for me, or most of us, who just want something to smack away with whilst we patch something, or download the latest from the internet, or simply just have fifteen minutes to kill.

I don’t much want them to become less complicated as that would come too far the other way. Tekken 3 was the last fighter I truly enjoyed – something that rewarded you with some cheeky, amusing FMVs at the end. Easier modes were easy, harder modes were when you wanted to get better at it. And it was a good post-pub brawler. It was great.

There surely must be some middle-ground here somewhere for us all? Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike may be a decade old, but it was one of the first fighters to spark off this odd situation where rather than a game genre, it has become a sport. A profession. People in this circle can win tens of thousands a year and live comfortably off the proceeds. The bar of entry is abnormally high. It’s like gaming athletics – if your fingers aren’t supple, nimble or trained enough, it’s like Eddie the Eagle at the Winter Olympics. You just look a right prat.

And in doing so, for most of us, it has become a spectator sport. Something we can watch, admire and go, “Wow! Wish I could do that!”. But we never will. Because we can’t.

In most walks of life, this is acceptable. But in the gaming world? Hmm. Jury is out. Most of us will enjoy kicking a ball about – we won’t get signed by Man Utd. But it’s good to have a kickabout with your mates, kids or family.

The fighting game genre is perhaps, sadly, becoming too nerdy and complex for most. Like Olympic Diving. We can appreciate it. We can go “oooooooh!”.

But the truth is, most of us will just bomb off a board in reality. We don’t really want to learn. So whilst the games are there, on sale and interesting – internally, they’re just out of reach of the majority of us.

And that… is frustrating. But maybe we should just accept it.

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