If you know me at all then you had to know this was coming. While other far more intelligent & involved people have commented on the subject, there's no way I could keep quiet about something like this...
If you haven't figured it out yet, we're going to be talking about the Evo 2017 Donation Drive today in this month's Dynamek Perspective. Just a quick precaution: this is going to be a long writeup because I have a LOT to say on this matter. While I'm not vain enough to presume that mine will ever be the last definitive word on a subject, I'd be betraying your trust if I simply kept quiet. Before getting started, however, I need to make something crystal clear: I have/had no horse in this race. The three games that I have enjoyed & played the most since last July -- Guilty Gear Xrd REVELATOR, King of Fighters XIV & BlazBlue Central Fiction -- were announced as part of the main lineup right out of the gate. That being said, I didn't have to jump through any hoops. I didn't like the idea way back in 2013 and I don't care for it now because I feel that all it does is seek to monetize the thinly veiled animosity between different communities within the FGC. That simply isn't the type of competition I signed up for when it comes to our shared passion, brothers & sisters.
However, in order to frame my opinion properly, we have to take a little trip back in time. Back to before I became the Voice... back to before I even knew the FGC was a thing & Chinatown Fair was just a weekend destination when I had saved up enough money. Back to even before I had earned the tag "Aphro" (yeah, THAT far back). Here's something you don't know about me: I originally wanted to be a psychiatrist. From about the age of 10 (I just turned 33, for reference), psychiatry fascinated me. Partially because people always seemed comfortable confiding in me & I would do my best to help, but mainly due to my favorite show at the time: Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. I loved that show because it made me laugh to the point of tears on a regular basis and it was animated. They used Squigglyvision, which was made famous by shows like Science Court & Home Movies. Since I was only a child at the time, the show offered me a very simplistic introduction into what I would come to learn was a VERY complex profession. Fast forward to my college years and me coming to the realization that modern psychology is simply too impersonal for my tastes. I wanted to help, not just write prescriptions. Something I learned over those years stayed with me, however... the concept of operant conditioning.
To sum it up concisely, operant conditioning is when a subject is put into a situation that is being controlled by external forces who will either reward or reprimand said subject's behavior. In a roundabout way, carefully worded rhetorical questions can be a form of operant conditioning. (Probably why I hate them so much, but neither here nor there.) The absolute best practice that I ever got to see of operant conditioning came from -- of all places -- the WWE. Think back to before the brand split... before the SHIELD... even before the "YES!" movement. Back to when they used the WWE App to gauge fan interest in different matches & whatnot. If you paid close enough attention, you'd eventually notice that the choices given were always pointing in a particular direction. The best example of this is when they were looking to choose a name for the tag team of Daniel Bryan & Kane. During a broadcast of Monday Night Raw, the multiple choice question was posed about what their team should be named. Ultimately, they chose "Team Hell No" in order to make use of both wrestlers' gimmicks at the time. But it wasn't a real choice, though... that's the "beauty" of operant conditioning.
Now, if you paid close attention to those multiple choice questions WWE would ask of their app subscribers, a noticeable pattern emerges. Always three choices: the one they were obviously going to use the whole time, one that had no business being an option in the first place and (in order to sway the results) one that was feasible enough, but less than appealing over their desired result. That's how it works... the illusion of choice. Pretty sure you can see where I'm going with this by now, can't you? When they announced the lineup for this year's Donation Drive, the same pattern that the WWE used so proficiently was there in plain sight. Only real difference is that they went with nine choices instead of three. Here's where I wax philosophic on the choices, so grab a snack and/or drink & get comfortable... now, in order of importance:
- ARMS - This game hasn't released yet... hell, the system it's on hadn't even come out at the time of the announcement! Outside of choosing to troll the FGC at large, this game's inclusion was a joke. As Terry 'the Legendary Wolf' Bogard would say, "C'mon, get serious!"
- Nidhogg - I have only ever seen this game played at Mashfest. On that merit alone, the probability that I've never seen this game played sober shoots up considerably. While I can appreciate the game's retro factor, it has no business being considered for Evo 2017. No community can complain about how a game looks and then, with a straight face, suggest this be on the lineup.
- Windjammers - Admittedly, this game is fun as hell. However, and I know that this is merely a technicality, but it's not a fighting game. I'm sure the day will come when it'll maybe go competitive, but that hallowed weekend in July is neither the time nor the place. Let a more consistent & structured format find its footing within the FGC -- not just side tourney stuff, a legit stage/stream presence -- and maybe we can talk.
- Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo - Yes, I'm aware that this game is getting another re-release. Yes, I know that this was the game that planted the seeds of the FGC before MVC2 helped us blossom. All that being said, are you really going to give a serious competitive timeslot to a game that's older than a majority of the people who intend to watch the (alleged) best of the best compete on our grandest of stages? Heart's in an admirable place, but the brain needs to step up & get a little more involved on this one.
- Skullgirls - As someone who was convinced to keep playing fighters because of this game, its inclusion is a slap in the face. Especially after the treatment in the previous Donation Drive and the detrimental ramifications of that whole sordid ordeal. I don't know of a single member of the community who would go out of their way to attend Evo without already having a commitment to another game on the lineup. They moved on to better things, plain & simple (more on that in a little bit).
- Mortal Kombat XL - Regardless of how much money gets thrown at this game or the level of support it receives from NRS, MKXL already had its most dramatic moment possible with the SonicFox/Tekken Master match last year. You couldn't script a more cinematic storybook ending to a game's competitive shelf life if you tried & had Christopher Nolan punching it up... pun intended. Trying to recapture that kind of lightning would only serve to cheapen that glorious moment the game enjoyed.
- Killer Instinct - If I had my way, this would be the 9th game at Evo 2017. While I originally despised its first incarnation, KI has developed & evolved into a complete title. It provides me, as a member of the stream's audience, a different type of experience from most other games... and that's not just because of its XOne exclusivity. However, just like Skullgirls, both the game and its community have moved on (honestly, I'm getting to that in a minute).
- Pokkén Tournament - I look at this title the same way I approached the idea of another game that came out a few years ago: Hyrule Warriors. It was a huge gamble to try combining the aesthetics of the Pokémon universe with the mechanics of an arena fighter. Lo & behold, the gamble actually paid off. The crowd that's into PT are pretty much every shade of passionate about their game as you can imagine. Although I feel it suffers from more than a few pacing issues, the game itself is genuinely satisfying.
- Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 - The "desired result" of this whole experiment. Look, I've never really been a fan of this game... if you've followed me at all over the years, I'm always upfront about it. I've made peace with the place that UMVC3 has within the framework and at the heart of the FGC. Here's the thing, though, that aforementioned disdain has way more to do with the company's almost perpetual mishandling of things and the community's mild sense of entitlement. However, there's no denying that it deserves its swan song... this simply wasn't the way to go about it.
What surprised me the most about this is that, given the FGC's position right now, is the spectacle of it all. First off, you have the shock from the Mahvel community about their game not automatically being given a spot. It's not so much that their inclusion was challenged that gets me... it's the fact that they (apparently) never even considered that that was ever possible. No offense, but that's not a mindset ANYONE could afford to have nowadays. In this "Era of Escalation", there are going to be a lot of casualties in the form of games excluded from big events. Ironically, a lot of games & their communities are taking it upon themselves to organize. Both Killer Instinct & Skullgirls now have community-grown event series that culminate at major tournaments completely separate from Evo. That practice/mentality is going to be essential for the FGC's future survival as most major events go the way of Comic-Con. (An unfortunate comparison, but not inaccurate.)
The saddest thing to me is how this whole ordeal will be perceived by -- as Tom Hardy's Bane called them -- the "uninitiated". When I use that word, I'm talking specifically about the people who don't take part in our shared passion on a regular basis. As far as they're all concerned, they'll see the bottom line of the $150,000 or so raised for charity & that will be that. For us, that didn't really register. It was an afterthought, at best. Unfortunately, none of that matters because the committee running Evo know exactly what they're doing. A man smarter than myself referred to Evo as a "celebration of fighting games more than a showcase for them". That's all fine & good, but it just means that what we do isn't really the focus anymore... it's just the background noise of a spectacle that momentarily draws more and more attention from the media. In the 24-hour, clickbait, report-first-research-later newscycle that has inundated our lives, that can be a possible recipe for disaster once you start peeling back the layers.
Okay, I'm going to end things here because 1) there's a storm coming that has the potential to be an iceberg to the FGC's Titanic and 2) KPB|Parappa is currently sharpening his fangs to take a bite of this topic himself. Also, and this is something I'm really excited about, but I need to start getting ready for Final Round 20. I'll see y'all in Atlanta.
Until next time... keep fighting the good fight, my friends.