I don’t have many memories from when I was very young, but one sticks out clearly in my mind. My mom was shopping at the mall, with my brother and me in tow. As we walked past the Hills department store, a blast of electronic noise caught my ear. An arcade had opened in the mall, and like moths to flame, my brother and I stormed into it. To a kid, no experience is quite as visceral as walking into an arcade. And the first thing I saw was this:
The synthesized guitar, the booming drum samples, the giant showcase cabinet with the huge screen – Capcom’s Street Fighter II had an intoxicating attract mode, and immediately, I was mesmerized.
SFII is easily among the most influential video games of all time. Not only did it define the fighting game genre, it also brought on a whole new era of gaming. It signified the death of the “Golden Age” of arcade games that marked the ’80s. No longer were games about defeating the computer and getting a high score. Who cares how many dots you could eat? Man vs. machine wasn’t interesting anymore. The ultimate opponent is man itself.
Games were now a social event. How did you perform the special moves? Before the Internet era, word of mouth was the only way for these memes to spread. Quarters would line up on the arcade cabinet, each challenger attempting to dethrone the incumbent. Each player had a personality. You could play with honor. You could play cheap. You could have an ego. Your ego could be crushed. For one player, there’s a thrilling victory. For the other, agonizing defeat.
The game was wildly popular, and updates and sequels were plentiful. SF2 was ported to nearly every home console around, and new fighting games flooded the market. Within a decade, there were over a dozen games released in the Street Fighter series alone.
Each new game brought a new system to map out. Strategies would evolve, and an entire nomenclature was developed to discuss the games. Chess masters talk about discovered checks and knight forks; Street Fighters talk about tick throws and option selects. Communities grew, and rivalries flared. Eventually, nations would battle.
I’ve played the Street Fighter series for most of my life, but I was just a Kumbaya guitarist playing a scant few chords. Only in recent years have I gone in depth with the games, jumping deep down the rabbit hole and trying to get better. I regularly get together with a small group of dedicated players to go a few rounds. We’ll have fun, we’ll talk tactics, we’ll talk smack – all in an effort push the bar higher. Even in the most trivial pursuits, improvement is fulfilling. :)
Happy birthday, Street Fighter II.