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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Super Street Fighter IV: All Day, Every Day

There was no time to be lost. Momo stepped through the threshold, crossed into the living room and took his seat. Sticks were brought out, USB ports plugged in, and a new challenger took the floor. Louie Chen nodded. It was already two in the morning and the battles have been raging all night. The small gathering was wrapped haphazardly about the TV. Frank Wu was sitting at his computer desk, watching. Alex Kim watched from the dining table, eating next to Ilija Bibc. Everyone in the room was students at the University of California, San Diego, all except Frank. Wu graduated close to one year ago and is in the process of looking for a stable job in the San Diego area. A native to San Francisco, Frank first attended the University of California, Santa Cruz before transferring to UCSD for his second year. Not exactly a formally established group, these students have been gathering here almost religiously for the past 3 months, all for the single purpose of meeting each other on the fields of Super Street Fighter IV. Louie Chen and Mo took up their positions and began their umpteenth game of the night. On the screen, Guile and Dudley stepped forward.

Louie was beginning to sweat. His character on screen was near the end of their allotted health. His first mistake came with the “flash kick”, a back-flip that doubles as an offensive kick. Mo read the move and blocked the hit with ease following with a combination of heavy punches and light jabs that carried the defenseless Louie to the end of the screen. Louie’s character on screen is Guile, an ex-Major for the United States Air Force. Momo is commanding the form of Dudley, an upper- class heavy weight boxer from Britain, the upper-class explaining the ruffles and suspenders, or the being British is explanatory enough. Louie sat on the floor, back resting on the couch, stick resting on his crossed legs. His white wifebeater was moist at the neck, his eyes latched to the TV. Mo sat shirtless on the couch to the right of Louie. His black basketball shorts extended over his knees and his sockless feet extend away from the couch. Mo’ own stick rest on his lap, his eyes as well fused with the screen. The sticks held by both players are approximately 15” by 10”, a rectangle that houses one joy stick and a range from 6 to 8 round keys. The walls about them are bare. The living room is simply furnished. The silver computer desk is spartan in design. A small monitor rests at the center, with a myriad of odds and ends scattered about the desk. The large TV rests on a table from Ikea, sagging at the center, clearly not meant for something of that load. The surround sound speakers encircle the couch that stands across the TV. Two lamps, a dresser and small coffee table round out the room.

Their fingers crawl and claw at the control pad in an unending flurry. There is no time to stop. “I missed it again, Frankt.” Louie cries angrily, linking each move with perfectly timed precision is a necessary part of the game. Frank, roommate to Louie Chen encourages him quietly, “Focus it, focus his hits.” “K.O.”, the voice blares out from the speakers. Louie sighs and sits up. Dudley swings his fists about and the letters A, C, and C appear next to his face, representing the player’s offense, defense, and technique respectively. The night’s first game of Super Street Fighter IV has come to an end. A sequel to a long living series, Super Street Fighter IV is played on a relatively simple premise. Defeat your opponent with a combination of unique special moves and simple hand-to-hand combat. In tonight’s set of games the best of three will continue to face the next challenger. As the final addition to the Street Fighter Series, Super Street Fighter IV is one of the most widely acknowledged fighting games. But, game play is not nearly as easy as the concept of the game. During the 24 years of Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise the players analyzed the game and thoroughly sucked it dry of every tip and trick possible, until a player cracks a whole new in the strategies dam and brings the whole culture to its feet. Within the last 24 years, a seemingly simple fighting game has evolved into a physically and mentally taxing affair.

Sitting about the TV, Momo seems pleased with his performance. The man is in good shape. Although rather small in stature, his form defines him as one who cares for appearance and physical fitness. A first year graduate student at UCLA, Mo is visiting La Jolla for the sake of playing once more against his friends with whom he attended UCSD as an undergraduate student. Momo has been on the Street Fighter scene for years. And with the years of experience came the natural set of skills necessary to truly challenge the game of Street Fighter. Louie Chen sits frustrated on the floor. This third-year undergraduate student attending UCSD is not considered a veteran to Street Fighter. A resident of friendly in-house tournament, Louie sighs in vexation, “Holy shit, that does so much damage.” As frustrated as he looks, Louie is in good spirits. He hands over the stick to Frank, all the while talking about the incredible damage a character like Dudley is capable of dishing out. The room is relaxed and care-free, but heavy with a focused intensity. Although Louie took the loss there is no animosity. Besides Frank, Louie, and Mo, other players were present in the room and there was no tension among any of them. Throughout the course of the night they would lose, win, lose, and win again. Yet, through it all the players continued watching, offering advice and shouting in excitement. The air was charged with something more than just excitement. It was camaraderie. These weren’t just enthusiastic gamers, they were friends. And the friendship ran deep.

Both Frank Wu and Momo grew up together in San Francisco, attending middle school together and losing touch through High School, they reunited in San Diego at the University. What brought them together was their old friendship and deep connection through the Street Fighter culture. Louie Chen on the other hand, acquainted himself through Frank. Frank and Louie had begun partying together for three years now. After a few conversations, Frank pulled Louie into the world of Street Fighter and the three of them grow together as avid followers of the Street Fighter world.

It was the day after the night long game fest. Momo was back in the apartment again and both Frank and Louie had awoken near the same. Frank is a tall individual. Standing on the balcony at a towering six foot four inches, he is well built and carries himself with confidence. His hair is cropped short, left to style itself to its own accord. His casual, dark blue dress shirt is emblazoned with thin, golden ornamentation on the back. The black jeans are laced above with a black, leather belt. His True Religion shoes are neat and well maintained. Taking a short drag of a cigarette he listens to Mo talk of a recent tournament he participated in. “I think they just didn’t know what to do against, Yang.” Frank nods in agreement. Yang is a new addition to the Super Street Fighter IV game. Only available in arcades around the world, Yang, and his new release counterpart Yun, are to be released in the near future to all console gamers as well. Mo was looking more meticulous than his relaxed former self from the night before. Wearing a blue SD cap with an untouched and crisp bill, Mo say lazily on a chair on the balcony, his dark blue jeans rather tight and his white T-shirt loose. “You don’t know what to do against all of those cross-overs.” Frank says as smoke is pulled meticulously out of his mouth. “He’s got some sick links though, and I have to say his ultra is by far the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Frank laughs at Mos description of Yang’s Ultra Combo. “Yea his Ultra is pretty sick.”

Frank is by far the more involved of this culture. Talking with the other players, it seems that Frank seems to be the most adversely affected by the lifestyle they lead. In an earlier conversation with Alex, a regular to the scene, “I mean, I play a lot, I’ve been playing for a while, but it’s not like I don’t do my shit. I stay up late a lot, studying and catching up, but it’s not too bad. If you’re not keeping up, you’re not doing it right.” Even for Louie, Frank’s roommate, “No playing tomorrow. I’ve gotta study.” He said this as he was watching the regular group clicking away during the eighth week of school. But to Frank, this isn’t just a hobby he acquired while in college, it’s a part of his life. In the third grade, Frank had his first encounter with the game culture when his father purchased for him a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES. “Just like everyone else, I start with Super Mario and Megaman.” And from there, his relationship with gaming grew. The point he realized that video games were a large part of his was in High School, but it didn’t begun to take hold of his life until his first year of college. Barely graduating UCSD with a 2.3 GPA, it’s not surprising to hear that gaming was a large part of his life. Frank wasn’t the only one who had a deep understanding appreciation for games. The same game Frank Wu can be seen playing on a nightly basis, has a final boos named Seth, after Seth Killian. Seth Killian grew up bicycling to a completely different town in order to play Street Fighter II. After hustling what he says is close to nine thousand dollars playing street fighter in the summer times, Seth went on to graduate from the University of Illinois and currently holds a PhD in philosophy and is an active member of the gaming community, acting as a community manager for Capcom. Frank, of course, has heard of Seth Killian, a legend in his time. “I wouldn’t want to exactly be like him. It’s cool, really, it’s great what he’s got going but I want to be working with my hands. I just don’t know what it is. I never had a subject I liked. Ever. That’s why I didn’t care about college. I did what I wanted and got through it.” In comparison to Frank’s other friends, it seems like it’s more of an issue on aspirations opposed to the effects of gaming. Other than falling behind in school, or not so much for the others, this group of gamers does more than just hang around a blazing TV screen talking about the game.

11:35PM the apartment is filled with a students. A long table is pulled to the center of the room, newspapers and towels surround the table on the carpeted floor. The humidity and temperature in the room is increasingly uncomfortable. An intense game of beer pong rages over the table. The kitchen light is harsh against the gentle living room lamps. College students surround the kitchen counter and raise their shot glasses, “Man shot!” With that said every male in the room downs a shot of clear Bacardi. The room reeks of alcohol and cigarettes. People sit about the couches and floor, they encircle the computer and different corners of the room. Frank is easy to spot. His height provides a simple guide to the center of the room. Frank and Louie are listening to Alex Kim explain to the girls, “No, no, no, you’re doing it wrong.” He lifts the bottle of Bacardi and tops of each of their shot glasses. Frank laughs, “Alright, here we go, to Fungod.” The group echoes in unison and downs the shot. The atmosphere is not far from what you’d expect at any college party. But there’s a difference in this one. They are all street fighter players or have in one or another been exposed to large amounts of it, even the females. It’s a community. Looking a little sick, the girls take off to have a seat and Alex helps them to the couch. There’s no fear of foul play in this apartment, not when this community is so tightly knit. “God, I missed this” Frank says as he pours himself another shot. “It’s a fucking sausage fest though” Louie is ever the optimistic fellow. “It’s not too bad, everyone’s having fun. That’s all that matters.” Louie nods, of course. The sentiment is the same amongst everyone here. Alex motions for one of the girls to help one of his shot binge female victims to the restroom. Drunk or not, everyone was taken care of. Mo sways his way across the room, away from a table already reset for the next match. Frank pulls himself away from the fridge, “Game time. Let’s go.” He pats both Louie and Mo and makes his way to the TV.

In a few moments, the sticks will be pulled out, the USB’s plugged in and brilliant lights will play out across the room. Cheering will ensue. The persistent clicking and clacking will drown out the bouncing ping pong balls, the slam of bottles on marble. The clicking and clacking will flank the groans and sounds of excitement. It’s always the clicking, always the clacking. The day starts with clicking and ends with clacking. The click of the sticks, the clack of lighters, the click of ping pong balls, the clack of touched glasses, the click of keys and then once more, and always, the click of and clack of the sticks.

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