Video Games

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Taking My Own To Task

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Memo to Fighting Game Nerds: THANKS, ASSHOLES.

You know, it's bad enough that I have to constantly point out the evils of dominant-culture privilege from the overly religious in this country, or constantly explaining how a deep, ingrained strain of right-wing thought expresses a belief that women are less than human vessels for sperm and embryos. The last thing I need is to have to take down a bunch of frame-counting basement-jockeys who've digitized their machismo, Tron-style, to let it play out in full on The Grid.

But apparently I do. And it's all because Capcom, in their infinite wisdom, thought people would be interested in seeing what goes on inside the world of competitive fighting-gamers. Yes, in a Web series designed to promote the upcoming mildly interesting Street Fighter X Tekken, you get to see what teams of real-life Tekken and Street Fighter nerds are really like. Shocker #1, they're nerds. Shocker #2, the use of the term "Assault" is turning out to have some hilariously inappropriate confluence.

Basically, there's a lot of nerd trash-talking. And a lot of the nerd trash-talking is... well, let's just go straight to an example that demonstrates the level of trash talk we're talking about here.

"When I go to SoCal regionals and I see a Phoenix on main stage getting blown up and there’s some dude in the audience just yelling 'Bitch! Bitch!' every time she gets hit and then she killed and goes 'Yeah, rape that bitch!' Yeah, that’s totally acceptable! Really? Really? You’re going to tell me that’s acceptable?" - Twitch.tv's Jared Rea, trying to get to the bottom of what, exactly, these gaming nerds found acceptable.

Now, keep in mind, that wasn't a female fighting gamer PLAYING. That was someone playing a female character in the game. Classy, huh? Here's how the guy Rea was arguing with, and the dude who's become the public face of fighting-dudedom, responded.

"Look, man. What is unacceptable about that? There’s nothing unacceptable about that. These are people, we’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea. We can say what we want. People get emotional." - Team Tekken leader Aris Bahktanians.

It's true. People do get emotional. But there's a funny thing about emotions. You get emotionally worked up, and sometimes you reveal a flaw that lies a bit beneath the surface. For example, if you decide that a fighting game character is a "bitch", erupt in glee every time she gets punched, and equate that beating to a rape, you may have some issues with women that are, dare I say it, unacceptable. Not illegal - after all, "this isn't North Korea", but pretty fucking unacceptable.

And when called on it, Bahktanians took the unsurprising defense that this is how they've always been, so why should they have to change?

"This is a community that's, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it's not the fighting game community—it's StarCraft. There's nothing wrong with StarCraft if you enjoy it, and there's nothing wrong with anything about eSports, but why would you want just one flavor of ice cream, you know? There's eSports for people who like eSports, and there's fighting games for people who like spicy food and like to have fun. There's no reason to turn them into the same thing, you know?"

Let me explain a few things for those of you who may not follow video or computer games. "StarCraft" is a real-time strategy game with a futuristic setting where threats of rape are rarely shouted. "eSports" is some kind of competitive gaming league because people still think that's going to be a thing someday. "Spicy Food", "Having Fun", and "Eating Ice-Cream" are all euphemisms for getting together in large, sweaty piles and giving vent to all the violent rage-fantasies built up by nerds over years of rejection as a result of being Such Nice Guys.

Now, clearly, I'm no prude. I play fighting games - casually, with friends. Competitively, with friends. We trash-talk. The words "bitch", "whore", and even "rape" are used. And used, as often as not, by the penisless members of the allegedly "weaker sex" wiping the floor with the guys. But there's a difference between saying "rape", saying "bitch", and saying "RAPE THAT BITCH!". We all know there's a difference. We know irony, we know kidding, and we know bug-eyed hate and harassment peeking out from behind "just jokes" when we hear it.

So fighting nerds like Bahktanians, get your shit together. I don't care how many of you know how to guard-cancel, that doesn't make you special. Even if you're taking all your gender role-modeling from "Fight Club", first, you did watch that movie through to the end, right? And second, even if the movie didn't go out of its way to undermine its own message, those dudes were actually punching each other, not counting frames of animation, Rain-Man style, to determine the precise moment a half-circle forward plus a medium punch button will land an unblockable combo.*

You're not a warrior clan. I know you think you are, because this was part of your apology:

"What I was trying to communicate is that mild hostility has always been a defining characteristic of the fighting game scene. Back when arcades were more prevalent, people didn't like newcomers, and players needed to fight and pay their dues to get respect. The debate I was in was with a person who supported professional leagues, who have intent to censor the community to make it more accessible. I think the sink or swim mentality is something that defined our culture, and if that succeeds it removes something which has been important to help create some of the best fighting game players of our time. I was unfortunately unable to make this point clearly."

See, that's not better. You've now just turned it into the "hazing" debate. And claiming that name-calling is a way of honing the skills of fighting gamers. And not just any name-calling, but a specific type of name-calling that's tied into the specific parts of your psyche that are broken. And I'm betting that the fighting game community could thrive just fine without that bullshit, it's just that a bunch of the dudes in it would have to learn to check themselves. And if checking yourself is such a challenge, then maybe taking that challenge on would provide the "sink or swim" mentality you so desperately crave.

Of course, it's always someone else who needs to be thrown into the water after you've made yourself comfortable with a floating lounge, some bottles of Mountain Dew, and plenty of Internet porn.

*Accuracy deliberately tweaked for readability's sake, in case any enlightened frame-counters are reading this.

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