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How fighting games helped me K.O. real life

Examining how a love of fighting games has impacted my approach to situations in the real world in a positive manner.

I have a secret: I love fighting games. Okay, maybe I don't actually make much of a secret about it. In fact, I proclaim it rather loudly off of every social media balcony I can. Why? Well, partly because I think that it's an underappreciated genre, and partly just because I can. But most importantly, because they've helped me learn how to handle real life situations.

You heard me. I said that fighting games have helped me in my never ending quest to K.O. real life. "Riiiight...." I can already hear some of you thinking in your mind. But I'm serious. Allow me to explain.

See, fighting games, especially in today's gaming culture, exist in this weird little niche that has trouble expanding to reach your average gamer, who would probably pick up titles like Call of Duty, GTA, or Minecraft. Part of this stems from their deeply rooted origin in the subculture of the arcade scene, which (at least in the United States), is unfortunately not far from extinction. Another part of this stems from their inherent design. Put simply, most fighting games are hard.

Now, I'm not trying to say that fighting games are absolutely without exception somehow the hardest games in the world. What I am saying is that fighting games are inherently designed to be competitive. Sure, most of them have some sort of single player experience - which for the most part looks roughly the same for just about all fighting titles: an arcade ladder, a score attack mode, maybe a survival mode, and training mode (if the developers had any sense when building the design document).

Obviously more recent examples, such as NetherRealm Studios' new Mortal Kombat entries and Arc System Works' BlazBlue games have included fairly fleshed out Story Modes that exist separately from their Arcade Ladders. But until recent years, such a thing was not common in most traditional fighters.

Here Comes A New Challenger!

Nonetheless, even with the inclusion of single-player content, the primary reason that most players pick up a fighting game is the multiplayer experience - whether local, or (more likely in this day and age) over the Internet.

This brings me to the second thing that serves perhaps as the genre's biggest barrier to entry: the learning curve. Even with a training mode, or a story mode that might contain some sort of very basic tutorial, most fighters don't actually do all that great of a job at actually teaching you how to play, much less play well. Combine this with the fact that the primary method of play in the genre is inherently competitive, and this can oftentimes lead to a wide skill gap between would-be newcomers to the genre, and those who already have experience.

The genre as a whole tends to place the burden of teaching new players onto other players. This doesn't sound terrible in principle, until you consider the point that the same genre encourages a competitive "win/lose" outlook. Due to this, new players struggle to get the help they need from those with more experience. It could be because those experienced players don't want to take time that they could be using to further hone their skills, or because some of them think teaching more players how to play will hinder to their ability to win.  

Now, I realize that everything I've said up to this point about the genre may make it sound like I'm condemning it, but I assure you, that isn't the case. I'm simply able to acknowledge and point out that it does have shortcomings. Despite them, however, I have an unabashed love for anything that lets me beat the pixels out of other like-minded individuals. Furthermore, the things I just described as shortcomings of the genre, in a way are what made them impact my life.

Quarter Up!...Sort Of

For starters, when I decided to really get into fighting games, I was the only one in my immediate circle of friends who had a genuine, specific interest in them. Thus, it wasn't like I had a stable of training partners or teachers at my disposal.

Instead, I did the only thing I really could at that point: I ground it out. Which meant getting my ass beat. A lot. First by the AI on medium, then by the AI on hard, and finally, when I thought (mostly erroneously) that I was ready, by other, usually vastly more experienced, human players. This "trial by fire" approach was long, grueling, and usually involved a significant backstep every time I picked up a new title.

This was perhaps most true when I decided to truly enter the realm of Street Fighter, with its absurdly tight execution and complex inputs. I struggled for so long after picking up my copy of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, that I genuinely considered giving up on the game altogether. Having since passed that stage, I'm very glad I didn't. This was the first big lesson that fighting games would teach me: patience.

Before I started playing fighting games in any kind of "serious" fashion, I liked to consider myself a relatively patient person. I didn't really have a problem with tasks that took a long time to complete, or required significant attention to detail. What I did have a problem with, as I would discover early on, was tasks that I felt stuck on - any endeavor where I felt I was producing more frustration than headway. And that was pretty much exactly how the early stages went in every game I jumped into.

For whatever reason, I refused to throw in the towel though, no matter how many times I felt like I didn't really know what I was doing, or questioned whether I ever would. Thankfully, the answer to that question was yes. After hours and hours of long, painful, ego-bruising grinds, I began to notice my skills improving. Maybe one match, my spacing was really good, maybe the next I learned to anticipate my opponent's setup. The point is, the patience I exhibited had been rewarded with steady, visible increments of progress.

In turn, I took something away that I could apply to everything I did. I came to the conclusion that no matter just how frustrating an endeavor I was pursuing might seem in the short term, if I just stuck it out and didn't quit, I would see the progress I so desperately craved. And guess what? I haven't been proven wrong yet.

CRAZY COMBOOO!!!

The other big thing that fighting games helped me hone was my analytical skill. Not that I considered myself bad at conducting detailed analysis of a situation in the first place, but after jumping on the fighting game train, I noticed I looked at things...differently. I considered a lot more angles that I probably wouldn't have thought of before, and made more connections between them. I feel like I can attribute this to what became one of my favorite activities within the games themselves: combo practice.

See, while I understood the principle that knowing all the combos in the world wouldn't help me if my fundamentals were garbage, I still couldn't resist the allure of learning how to do a ridiculous combo. It was just something I found viscerally satisfying. And while I didn't realize it at the time, that love of awesome combos was forcing my brain to engage in extremely fast-paced, detailed analysis on a level it hadn't before. Not only did I need to learn all of the tools in a certain character's moveset, I also needed to figure out how to effectively use those tools in combination with one another, and generate and test hypothetical situations one after another.

I could easily continue, and spout off further examples of how fighting games have benefited my ability to make decisions on the fly, or both my situational and behavioral predictive skills. But this piece has already gotten fairly lengthy, and I feel like I've effectively made my point.

Get more than what you see.

Really, I'd just like to close by saying that despite what people might think, certain things you enjoy doing that don't necessarily appear to have any immediate practical value, could very well be producing small-scale, long-term benefits in your life - and you yourself may not even entirely realize it.

So don't sweat it too much when someone offers a dissenting opinion, and try to just focus on moving forward and making the best out of life. And of course, game on.

Published Jul. 26th 2015

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