Thoughts on Fighting Games


You know the basic set-up —you pick a character, and slog through numerous one-on-one battles against other characters.  You beat each other up in a variety of ways, most of them incredibly painful and some of them difficult to even imagine being done in real life.  Yet fighting games are incredibly enjoyable, to hard core fighting-fanatics and the casual fighter alike.

There are as many different fighting games as there are gamers to enjoy them.  Some are based in fantasy with fireballs hurled back and forth, some in the mystical with magic spells tossed around like fireballs, and others set closer to the real world with stricter hand-to-hand combat.

The genre is an incredibly popular one; it seems like there’s always some new Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Capcom versus Everything in Existence —and those are the popular ones.  You also have lesser-known franchises like BlazBlue.

Unlike a lot of other game genres, the main appeal of fighting games isn’t the single-player version, or “mode”.  It’s primarily combat against another human player that’s the draw of the genre.  It’s been this way for years; they’ve been a staple of video game arcades for a reason.  They draw in players —gamers of my generation might remember walking into the dimly lit arcade, seeing the crowd around the latest Street Fighter or the like, a long line of quarters on the machine signifying who had “next”.

(Digression down memory lane —the last time I walked into a video game arcade and saw a group around a game, it was Dance Dance Revolution, and the only things on the cabinet left by players were a button, a movie ticket stub, a bit of popcorn —it was either trash, or things really have changed.)

Fighting games are no less popular for arcades now than they were before; arcades may be on their last legs, but the ones that are still holding on usually count on fighting games to draw in the players.  It’s not hard to see why, really —the genre tends to hover near opposite ends of the difficulty spectrum —either the artificial intelligence is a cake-walk, or it stomps the player into the ground and never lets up.

That’s fine, really, since playing against the computer for anything more than unlocking alternate costumes or secret characters isn’t, again, really the appeal.  Most of the fun times are with playing against someone, whether a friend in someone’s living room or a stranger in an arcade/over a X-Box Live or PlayStation Network connection.

Sometimes it’s about simply who is better-skilled; there’s a definite “rush” as one pulls off an amazing combo that destroys most of the opponent’s health bar.  It’s even more fun if you do it with a joke character, and shows other players they need to bring their A game.

Sometimes it’s about camaraderie, slapping the back of a friend as they trounce you in hilarious ways.  There’s enjoyment and laughter shared, as the fight itself isn’t necessarily the focus, but the fact that friends are playing together.

Somewhat more rarely, there’s interest in the game itself, usually game mechanics.  Maybe a character’s fighting style catches a player’s attention, and it makes them interested in seeing what else the title can offer.  Or perhaps the mythology of the setting is presented in an interesting way, and the player wants to see how the developers will weave it around such a basic conceit as “you and you, smash each other’s heads in”.

Myself, I tend to fall into the latter two categories most often.  I got into the Dead or Alive series because of Christie, a woman who not only would kick anyone’s butt just because they looked at her funny, but the game engine actually displayed her fighting style with amazing accuracy.  For the Street Fighter series, it was Blanka, a bestial character who was different than nearly everyone else, in move-set as well as back-story.

I also get my tuchus handed to me in fighting games by a friend, but that’s not a bad thing.  We usually enjoy just the playing, because we’re both gamers.  It’s the fun that’s important, the playing.

One of the things I’ve said numerous times on this blog is that anything that brings gamers together is a good thing, and fighting games, as a genre, do just that.  It isn’t the only genre that has players playing the same game together, of course, but it’s one of the few where that is, at least tacitly, the entire purpose.  Further, the genre does it with such a simple concept —you pick someone, they pick someone, and you smack the heck out of each other.

It’s a simple concept, but elegant in that simplicity, and allowing gamers to not get bogged down in anything but the playing.  Other genres can throw all kinds of concepts and mechanics at the player, and we will enjoy them, but that’s not what fighting games are about —and I hope it stays that way.

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