Sitting Centerstage: Mash Over Substance – Part One

Well, it’s been a while now since I’ve been on the stage. Nonetheless, KPB|Parappa is here along with the season of change. Although I’m bummed that the summer’s over, I’m taking in the fun that comes with autumn... mostly how all major sports converge at this time. 

With this in mind, I’ll pose to you an open-ended topic this time around as I reflect on this stage. Contrary to popular stereotypes, a healthy portion of gamers are avid sports fans and vice versa. It’s something a lot of people don’t pay attention to, even ourselves. The underlining theme for the FGC specifically -- and really any sport in the world -- is competition. At the very basic core of Street Fighter and baseball, for example, is that it’s a game about beating an opponent; we are all called ‘players’ playing a ‘game’; it all just requires a particular set of skills. This isn’t the food for thought I present to the public, though. I established the connection between all players and what I’ve gathered from my various debates and observations over the years are a few parallels, none more pressing than the devaluing of defense and glorifying of offense.

You had to have heard the adage at some point “offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.” To bring everyone up to speed, I’ll paraphrase American major sports and the fans in the past 25 years. Rule changes handed down by the leagues, mostly in football and basketball, put defensive play at a disadvantage which leads to more scoring or rather more offense to excite the viewers. The national pastime has been passed over to football with the chief complaint about baseball is it’s boring/too slow. As a baseball fan, I agree it is a boring albeit patient game; an intelligent game with its own pacing and abundance of tense, hype moments.  There’s an overwhelming sense of impatience and thirst for instant gratification these days from spectators and big time push for the ‘explosive play’ from the respective promoters. To my FGC natives, does any of this sound familiar? It should, but as a refresher, let’s skim through what we bring to the table.

You don't want baseball sped up, trust me.

Our premier series are Street Fighter, Marvel, Tekken, Mortal Kombat and SMASH with all due respect to our other fighters. Out of this bunch there’s no doubt that UMVC3 is the most combo friendly & favors outrageous offense. SMASH slightly leads the rest of the pack with its unorthodox pacing & frantic melees as the rest of the fighters are debatable where they stand. Looking at Marvel first, the game where ‘if you block, you’re playing the game wrong’, it has the kill combos and must-see action. So many options and competitively speaking, relative ease to kill off your opponent just off one hit and even with its checkered past with game balance, this is a new meta. The fans of Marvel shun (to put it kindly) anything and everything that mellows the tempo, from other fighters to strategy within its own game. The stream monster mentality vilified Chris G for innovating the one thing that can be considered lockdown defense in an offensive game, for what purpose? Morridoom has been replicated by many & beaten a handful of times… well it’s no big deal the game’s dead, anyway.

Street Fighter or rather ‘Sleep Fighter’ dubbed by our ‘clever’ monsters, has suffered a bit of a rift. The final edition of SF4 is noticeably slower than its predecessors and everyone between old vets & outsiders took their pot shots at it, including myself. You just know something’s different when you have to play Vega lame. Although Street Fighter has always been roughly in the middle in terms of gameplay speed where it’s more so the characters and players dictating the flow of the match than the inner mechanics pushing towards a certain speed. Being slower isn’t inherently bad; it’s a matter of preference. The issue at hand is nothing new; introducing a whole new engine in a new installment spins off branches within the community. The SMASH community is a prime example of this.

Melee set the foundation for everything with its high tempo gameplay, earning it the nickname ‘Mini Marvel’. The mechanics have never been the same, hence the complete disregard for Brawl & almost clean cut division with SM4SH. Again, I’ll be the first to say that things like random tripping needed to get banished to the shadow realm, but a different, more patient meta game was there and fleshed out enough to sustain high level competition. Nonetheless, you have blind worship for Melee and sometimes slander for anything not Melee… not a good look.

Where’s that leave the other mainstays? Make a lineup of people that don’t play Mortal Kombat and guaranteed nine times out of ten, the #1 reason is the block button. The omission of the left/right mixup doesn’t sit well for this particular series, although after ten installments it’s not needed for the franchise. The king of 3Ds as a series is somewhat a defensive Street Fighter, if that makes sense. The neutral game is everything in Tekken, which is why you see basically the dancing around the ring a few times in a match. No one wants to see that though, not fast enough… don’t care about the payoff.

If you’re over 20 years old, you can think back to a time with no cell phones, a lot less media outlets, to some extent less hustle & bustle. Hearing from your relatives how great the 70s Steel Curtain & 85 Bears were or watching the Giants and hearing Bill Parcells dissing the West Coast offense when they lined up against the 49ers. You look at this current generation & see the appreciation for the art isn’t there; along with an itchy reflex by fans & players alike to jump ship when results don’t come quick enough. Bandwagoners yes! They’re all around, brash as ever and a headache to anyone that can use reason. Loyalty is hard to come by in this crop & the reasons are too deep-seeded to analyze here, but you can never describe a fair-weather fan as loyal. This applies to players as well, just another parallel I’ve noticed. Players channel their inner free agent and sign up with the top tiers. This is not a low-tier hero rant because this doesn’t count the lucky sons of guns that legit like a character or walked into a gratuitous buff.  Neither is it aimed at people who pick up a better character because the stakes are high or they reached a ceiling with what they have. Often times, the bandwagon is hitched before the necessary work needed is put in to reaching that ceiling.

The FGC as a whole is very young. The borderline addiction to instant gratification makes you see why 09ers were dreaded. However, that arrogant point of view isn’t right… this mindset extends beyond this generation. Before Kobe & Brady, there was Jordan & Montana with endless chatter about why they are the best ever. After all, instant gratification goes as far back as the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible. These are American sports, as well as Marvel & SMASH, heavily dominated by Americans. Perhaps it’s something embedded in our culture. More on that later, please enjoy yourselves with your loved ones during the holiday season.

Until next time, think about it. *Exit stage left*

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