Being the Best There Is, but not in the Wolverine Way

Here’s a clip I never get tired of watching:

If you’re not sure what you just saw, here’s a quick summary: Daigo Umehara (one of Japan’s best 2D fighting game players) is playing Street Fighter III against Justin Wong (one of the USA’s best 2D fighting game players) at a major tournament in 2004. Daigo is Ken and Justin is Chun-li. Nearing the end of the fight, Daigo’s Ken only has a sliver of health left – he’s holding his own, but he knows that Justin can use Chun-li’s super move, which deals a small amount of damage even if blocked. When the super move comes out, Daigo has only one option: to use SFIII’s parry mechanic, where if you input a command at the exact instant an attack connects (within four frames – just over 1/10th of a second), you can block it without taking damage. Since Chun-li’s super hits 15 times, he needs to perfectly time 15 parries in a row (at different heights – note how he has to jump half way through). And he does it, leaving him at an advantage, so he can retaliate and win the match.

The best bit is the crowd reaction – you don’t need to know what’s happening on the screen to appreciate that; the way the cheering goes from “holy shit, he’s going for it!” to “holy shit, he’s actually doing it!!”

On one hand, I appreciate witnessing real skill. I don’t play SFIII myself, but as a bit of a gamer, I can see how hard that was – not just the physical skill of timing your inputs so precisely, but in reading the situation and getting yourself ready for it in the first place. See also how enrapturing the Olympics always are, even if, like me, you don’t give a shit about any sort of sporting activity the rest of the time. There’s a genuine thrill to be had in watching human beings being The Best There Is.

On the other hand, it’s kind of depressing. Personally, I like to work at things until I’m good enough to have fun at them*; it’s a bit dispiriting to be reminded that in order to be really good at anything you have to devote a huge amount of time and effort (10,000 hours, if Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is to be believed), and in order to be the best, you have to devote your entire life.

This is really driven home when it involves an activity I do myself. While I don’t play Street Fighter games, I do have fun with other fighting games, and I know that to be among the best, you need to practise for hours and hours every day, and be constantly coming up with new tricks and tactics. To give you an idea of the level of detail they go into, Daigo apparently has joystick techniques for disguising the clicks that his fireball motions make, to prevent his opponents from getting a split second’s warning when they recognise the distinctive sound…

This all brings me back to excuses for not writing. I mentioned before that “there’s too much writing out there that’s better than anything I could ever write” – it depresses me to think that in order to get any good at writing I’d need to do it for years and years. Then it occurs to me that I have been doing it for years and years – recreationally since 1999, and professionally for almost as long. So in effect, the “Work sucks the will to write” excuse has cancelled out the other one. I think I’m on to something here – I need to find a way to get all my excuses to fight against each other in a Mortal Kombat-style tournament, until only one remains. Then I’ll, I dunno, have that one assassinated or something. JOSH WIN!

*Sidenote: I’m also a big fan of the Rock Band games, which, now that I think about it, stands in contrast to my earlier complaint about simulation games not being 100% accurate. Rock Band isn’t at all an authentic experience, but in this case, that’s why I like it. If I wanted to be able to play a guitar like a rock star, I ‘d learn to play an actual guitar – to me, Rock Band strikes the perfect balance between being letting you feel like you’re doing something cool and actually requiring you to be able to do it for real. The newer music games that do actually try to make you learn to play a real instrument can fuck well off. Anyway.

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