Ever wonder if your teachers play video games?
Well of course they do. Stealthily, an entire generation of kids that grew up on a regular diet of Mario and Mortal Kombat are now in the classroom by day, and play some of today's best games by night. This eclectic collection of writing tackles everything from Star Wars Battlefront to Street Fighter V. By blending narrative criticism and creative memoir, the teachers in this volume reflect on what makes video games unique achievements in story, gameplay, and visceral experience.
In 2019, everyone is a "gamer," even your teachers and professors. In What Your Teachers are Playing, Select Start Press offers a fun and thoughtful collection of essays on games from Street Fighter V to Star Wars Battlefront as played and examined through a scholarly lens. – David L. Craddock
"The collection of essays gives us an insight on what it means to be part of the gaming world and why it's important to view games as something more than just a way to kill some time."– Amazon Review
Street Fighter V: Go Beyond The Battle
By Neftali Albert Adame
On August 1st, 2004, fighting game experts Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong met head-to-head in what would become a storied rivalry in the competitive video game scene. Taking place in the Evolution Championship Series (Evo) in California State Polytechnic University, it would only take a matter of seconds in recorded footage to capture the culminating mental fortitude and proficiency that would further shape two lives, two careers, and an entire subculture forever. The events that transpired would be dubbed Evo Moment #37 and would showcase Daigo Umehara fully parry Chun-Li's Super Art II, Houyoku Sen, before countering with his own variation of a combo, which earns not only a comeback round, but eventually the match as well. The events would transcend the video game franchise Street Fighter, specifically its third multi-iteration, Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, into new heights of popularity and potential in competition and skillful depth. Evo Moment #37 currently has over 2 million views on YouTube and has arguably become one of the most iconic scenes in competitive video game history. However, one has to wonder how many people who make up those 2 million views actually understand the mechanics and dexterity in 12 seconds of climaxing footage capturing the parry, spacing, patience, and reactions among many other facets unseen to the untrained eye. And most importantly, how many would truly understand that knowledge and ability transferred to the newest iteration of the fighting game franchise titan, Street Fighter V.
The parry found in Street Fighter III: Third Strike is a gameplay mechanic that is reaction and timing heavy. Players are forced to maintain a level of innovation in their individual play style that is not predictable, and would otherwise lead to an easy, one-sided defeat. Competitive fighting games in general thrive behind an inside out knowledge of the game's frame data, which allows its players to fully study each character's attacks, speed, and movement in order to hypothesize what is known as a match-up. These match-ups tell and create a chart which, on paper, state how each character fairs versus another. Frame data is comprised of the amount of frames in any given move within the cast of characters which is found in any video game, in general. Today, most fighting games run in 60 frames per second (FPS)—1 frame being the equivalent of 1/60th of a second. These frames work with a startup animation, active animation, recover animation, block and stun animations. The speed at which these frames hold advantage over another rely on a priority system of each respective form of frame, and also a player's reactions towards exploiting their perfectly timed, prioritized attack. Like any video game, certain characters have weaknesses and strengths. Therefore, there will always be characters with greater advantages than others, but it is up to the player to adopt each character and infuse it with his or her own knowledge and ideas in order to possibly shift the initial disadvantage into a strength rather than a weakness.
For example, the Street Fighter franchise works on a two-dimensional (2-D) plain where two characters are always facing each other. Players can attack high, low, or from above with a jump attack. While one character may have a damaging aerial attack, it would not be in the player's best interest to consistently perform that attack which can easily be countered if the opposing player preemptively reacts against it. This is where the science behind a fighting game delves into deeper depths of quick thinking mind games, which is comparable to chess or even high stakes poker. One can create a linear pattern of gameplay as a bluff before capturing an overconfident opponent off guard, for example. Unlike some athletic sports or forms of competition, a better defense is not always the best form of offense and vice versa. There is no team or coach to rely on in the heat of the moment whether players are seated across from each other at a family friendly pizzeria, or in a Las Vegas ballroom with thousands of spectators watching their every move. In fighting games there are no teams or partners—there is only you.
With each iteration of Street Fighter, developers have further advanced the core mechanics as a challenge to new and older players. This keeps the gameplay new and the competitive level even. However, after many critically acclaimed titles in the franchise successfully carried the brand, 1999's Street Fighter III was the last of its kind before the series was met with a 9 year hiatus. It was not until 2008 that the fighting game genre would be reborn with the release of Street Fighter IV. With the advancements in technology and social media, all information about top players, match-ups, and footage was spread globally through popular websites such as Facebook and Twitter. No longer were secrets and strategies kept personally hidden, but instead they were made public in order to advance gameplay, and garner further attention from newcomers and old-school players alike. While some criticized the game for simplifying the learning curve in its attempts to attract a wider audience, Street Fighter IV would go on to sell over one million units before its eventual near 10 million units sold mark with the aid of recurring updates and additions to the existing game. The fighting game genre had been revitalized and began capturing media attention with the growth of the Evolution tournament that had also graduated from a college campus, to sold out Las Vegas ballrooms. However, if one seeks to understand the grassroots of fighting game culture before embarking on the strenuous journey towards fighting game supremacy, not much research will be needed beyond that of a few years ago.
Before players faced each other in head-to-head fighting games, competition was a dedicated race towards reaching the top of high score leaderboards. Classic, pop culture defining games of the past such as Donkey Kong and Mrs. Pacman similarly required instantaneous timing with hand-eye coordination atop intense memorization. However, throughout the years the Street Fighter franchise would transcend leaderboard boasting into the personified bravado of a handshake signifying "good game," but most importantly "I beat you." The methodology towards learning and overcoming an opponent through analyzing their patterns and overall thought process is why fighters have become prevalent in electronic competition. Unlike other genres of video games, with contest comes rivalries; and with rivalries comes regional antagonism that ironically further forges a community and commonality striving to advance strategies and discover exploits within game mechanics in order to establish superiority. However, it was not always so easy to train from home and attend such information like it is today.
In the yesteryear of the San Fernando Valley, CA, neighboring sectors were a hotbed for arcade culture and fighting game competition. Just a little over 4 miles away from my home, sat Family Fun Arcade in the city of Granada Hills. The establishment was dark, gritty, and noisy with a euphoria of nonstop button pressing; the ambiance created a mantra of exasperation and sanctification when one would overcome the odds and boast in victory. With twenty-five to fifty cents, one would establish the challenge and await their turn at facing the current placeholder of the title, champion. Unlike the comfort of home, at the arcade you were distressed to perform at the highest personal level while onlookers judged, criticized, and rarely congratulated. In this setting, victory did not signify celebration in groups. Instead, it threatened supremacy—further exacerbating the passion and devotion that fueled every dedicated player willing to spend hard earned money in order to become the best. To the unaware, a quarter was expendable. To the fighting game enthusiast, it was one of the few Sankara stones that established preeminence and glory. Unfortunately over time, arcade culture became a struggling business venture that could not financially persevere. Video games were beginning to be ported onto home consoles, and no longer did the youth need to travel towards the darkened corners of pizza parlors or laundry mats that had two or three sticky, graffiti littered, 300lbs arcade cabinets. They could simply enjoy these games from the comfort of their own homes playing alongside siblings or single player modes without the worry of running out of change. Still, if one was asked to describe the sounds—the cacophony of an arcade, they factually cannot. Today's gamer and geek culture has become a fashion statement outside of fighting games. However, if one seeks to challenge themselves and continue to strive towards prominence in current iterations of fighting games—Street Fighter V is the latest installment that not only provides resembling experience to arcade culture, but also presents continuous opportunity towards global fame. Street Fighter V's tagline to "Rise Up" is not only meant to garner consumer attention, but also revitalizes a call to arms on a personal level.
In 2016, the Evolution Championship Series became the biggest fighting game tournament to date. With over 5,065 dedicated Street Fighter V players, the 20th anniversary of the tournament series became the pinnacle of marquee competition. 53 countries were represented with players filling the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada which has attracted sponsors further incorporating prestige to being crowned the best in the world. Having attended Evo from the years 2008 until 2013, the atmosphere of excitement and tension is one that strains a player's mental fortitude. However, what made this particular year exciting outside of the financial fortune, was the inclusion of Street Fighter V—the latest entry of the Street Fighter franchise that introduced new mechanics, characters, and gameplay which would also attract thousands of new players.
With a diversifying cast of 20 characters and more planned for future digital release, players have more than a few options in finding preference with their respective fighting style. Zangief for example is an original character that first appeared in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in 1991. He is a Russian professional wrestler that first introduced the fighting game style of being a grappler. In order for Zangief to have an effective offense, players must learn to intimidate opponents into remaining stationary much like a professional wrestler would. His move set requires users to constantly be in up-close range to execute his devastating piledriver and powerbomb specials. 25 years later in Street Fighter V, Zangief still holds true to his initial fighting style and can frustrate those unaware into a quick submission of defeat. Another example of the diversity in play style can be seen with Dhalsim. Also first appearing in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, Dhalsim is of Indian nationality who, unlike Zangief, requires users to develop timing and mental reactions to its zenith in order to keep distance. Dhalsim is arguably most effective when afar due to his low damage output and stretching limbs. Again, these diversifying fighting styles are found within each particular character. It is entirely up to the player to choose whom they are most comfortable with; to do so, many factors come into play. The cast of characters in Street Fighter V offers a variety of tactical choices that are capable of allowing players to outthink an opponent, and may resemble real life combat sports closer than one would think.
"Styles Make Fights," is a popular saying in the sport forums of boxing. In Street Fighter V, players lay traps with fireballs which force opponents to jump into a powerful Shoryuken—similarly, a heavyweight champion such as Wladimir Klitschko maintains distance with his prolific jab, frustrating the enemy into lunging into danger. Street Fighter V is based on this sort of discipline as it took a grassroots approach towards its Meta gameplay style. Gone are the flashy 50-hit combos in exchange for emphases on spacing, reactions, and ultimate awareness of one's character. The game introduced a Crush Counter mechanic which allows players to prioritize hits, which create a stunned state upon successfully connecting against opponents. Think of it as the equivalent to professional boxing where head-movement and proper footwork led a prime Floyd Mayweather Jr. to counter hook the late Diego "Chico" Corrales into many knockdowns in their 2001 clash of future hall of famers. In order for this counter system to be highly effective, players must trap their opponents into panicking, further pressing buttons unaware of the repercussions it may lead to. It is for this reason that Street Fighter V has taken the leading role in competitive fighting games. It is not only a game that requires reaction and germane offensive action, but also filters out the lethargic button mashing from the committed seeking achieving prominence.
Having dedicated a decade of my youth towards vehement study of fighting game mechanics, Street Fighter V holds a distinguished sense of influence towards my banal existence in society. Reality asks of all to pursue the wistful attraction of stable financial comfort and family. From the moment we enter academic institutions day in and day out, the pursuit towards happiness chronicles mundane patterns of what society deems acceptable and unacceptable. For example, the 2016 Evo grand finals of Street Fighter V was broadcast nationwide through sports coverage titan ESPN 2 this year—garnering over 2 million unique viewers in the process. However, naysayers took to social media degrading those who dedicate their lives to the mental labyrinth that requires deep meditation in fighting games. Many stated disparaging comments, quickly dismissing the mental fortitude in display ignoring the prominence and prestige of holding a championship medal.
Much like any hobby or subjective opinion, those who viewed Evo adversely or reviewed Street Fighter V from a negative perspective ultimately may never understand why the latest iteration of this historic franchise represents a mesmerizing discourse of skill, artistry, clout, and mental prowess. Here, I have reflected on memories that not only spawned the building blocks towards my own critical thinking skills and ability to apply theory into action utilizing an arcade stick, but because of arcade establishments—because of Street Fighter V, I have also come to understand the necessity of substance in elevating oneself not only through fighting games, but towards a unique sense of accomplishment.
"Whatever you find worthwhile in life, is worth fighting for" – Ryu.