Live to run another day
So I am fortunate enough to live five minutes away a particularly awesome mall-based game store called ‘RU Game?’, which deals exclusively in retail sales of all kinds of retro titles (they even have a stockpile of Famicom and Super Famicom games!), and represents the single greatest threat to my bank account since the discovery of Amazon Prime.
It is not uncommon for an impulse visit to “just look around” to end in the acquisition of gray cartridges en masse and the smell of lukewarm plastic to emanate from my wallet. This is usually an exercise of catharsis via commercialism. No matter how good, bad, or unspeakable the day is, i’d feel THAT much better picking up that copy of Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos in original packaging or random whatever “Thing” I can find at the store.
Anyway, one day, upon one of my frequent sessions of uppercutting my finances, I noticed a small and friendly blackboard posted at the entrance to the store, announcing a call to arms – a challenge to young and old alike, for the conquest of prizes and the like.
SUPER SMASH BROS BRAWL TOURNAMENT.
SATURDAY. 3 P.M.
Buy In – $15.
Grand Prize: A Wii U Console (or $200 store credit.)
And for whatever reason, my brain says “Yeah. You should do that. You have to work, but you can easily ask for that day off. Playing in a Smash Bros. Tournament could be the best goddamn decision you’ve ever made, especially considering you could just win a Wii U. For Basically nothing.”
I inaudibly commit to the idea as I leave the store (I think I bought a copy of Shatterhand for the NES with a pretty ratty label, as well.) and promptly make a few phone calls to commemorate the occasion with friends.
“Fuck yeah, holmes. I’m gonna play in a Smash Bros. Tournament at RU Game! I’m gonna get a Wii U!…no, I don’t know what i’m gonna play on it. But look. That doesn’t matter! That thing’s basically mine for the taking, and i’ll beat any chump who dares to think otherwise!”
After a few minutes pass, the phonecalls end, and I pull into my apartment complex’s parking space, I start to think a little upon the past, and events that have involved competition, particularly in the forum of video game challenges. One after another, after another, I seem to remember a repeating trend of a comment I have made to myself, following a predictable outcome.
I sat in my car a second before getting out, and sorta stared out at my house. An evident truth became frightfully apparent to me.
Every single time I have been so sure of winning at ANYTHING, it hasn’t ever happened. In fact, i’m pretty confident I’ve damn well lost. Each and every single time.
Let’s take a minute to flash back to the hey-days of 1994. I was then living in my hometown of Oceanside, California, where the fighting game experience in the arcade was king, the closest thing we had to a next generation console was the Sega CD, and junior high assembly yards were talking about one thing, and one thing only.
Well, there was that, but some of us, the more awkward, unsociable weirdos were talking about Mortal Kombat II.
- Oh yeah. Shit just got real.
I know for a fact that I talked more about Mortal Kombat II in my entire seventh grade school year than I did anything else. I was absolutely obsessed with how much of an advancement that game was over it’s predecessor, and how much better it was to it’s ‘Obviously inferior’ counterpart Street Fighter II. (look, I was young. Look at what kids wore back in the 90s. There’s no accounting for style or taste then.) Move lists, EGM and Gamepro pull-out strategy guides laying out combos, I had it all.
In fact, there were kids that came up to me and knew that if anybody remembered how to to a Babality, it was me.
Again, here’s the problem. I didn’t live anywhere near an arcade. And save for a birthday, or whenever the hell my family would think I needed to do something that wasn’t involving ‘just sitting around playing SNES at the house’, we’d occasionally go there maybe five or six times a year. So my actual experience PLAYING MKII was vastly dwarfed by the amount of experience I had playing it. It was the have-not obsession of a game that hadn’t (yet) made it to home console.
One day, some juvenile classmate punkass approached me and told me that he knew a kid who could absolutely schellack my ASS in MKII. And not knowing any better, but knowing that I was going to the one particular family fun center that had a standup big screen Mkii cab that weekend, I responded with an counterattack of “Yeah? I don’t know nothing about no chump you’re talking about. That guy is fucking toast.”
The weekend rolled around, and I remember my heated challenge taking a backseat for overall fear at what kind of challenge I issued. I had played a couple of games upon arrival, and remember not really getting past the third or fourth fighter on the novice tower, and began to question the shit out of my game.
I hoped. I prayed. Please don’t let this dude show up. Please give me this bit of dignity to save face in light of schoolyard challenges at vidja games.
If god exists, he must’ve been in the shitter. Here comes kid, with other schoolyard punkass. “You ready, (socially acceptable vulgar slang word that kids said in the 90s)?”
Quarters up. Fighters chosen Versus screen prompted. It was, in fact, go time. (I’m a Kitana man. Whoever this dude was was a ‘everybody and anybody can totally beat your ass five ways from Sunday’ man.)
The rest is a fog. But I recall these three facts about what transpired.
1) I became $20 lighter in a phenomenally short amount of time.
2) I will not deny that tears, at some point were shed.
3) And I think I vaguely recall winning once, no fatality was had, and I think I did that thing where you accidentally shin kick someone instead of perform a finishing move
And as you can imagine with children in a public school environment, my ass did not hear the end of it until I had the good fortune to move to the eastern continental United States and start a new life under a different identity – one capable of denying such collosal personal failures.
I snapped too. Went into the house, and began promptly preparing a valid excuse to leave my real-life grown up desk job for a day in order to play in a video game tournament meant to target a whole generation younger than me and win to beat some ages-old personal demons for self validation and a game console that i’m not entirely too thrilled about owning.
I also threw in SSBB. Played a couple of rounds with the CPU cranked as high as they can go. (to give you an idea of how that went, let me throw in the fact that I’m insistent about playing ‘Ice Climbers.” …yeah.)
When that failed, I played a couple of rounds with the CPU cranked to difficulty 7, rather than 9. And then 5, than 7. Then I bumped it down to 3.
Eventually the system gets turned off, and I swear at myself. A multitude of times, even.
History may be repeating itself.
So game day rolls around, right? And the store is packed. I look around at the glass displays at all of the ‘hard to find’ games and nonchallantly observe the sad fact that I am EASILY the oldest person in the store.
Uncomfortable silence, a hesistant breath, and I pay the clerk for a copy of Starflight for the Genesis (great game, incidentally. I’ll have to talk about that at another time), and give him my fifteen dollars for entry, and ask a couple of innocuous questions.
“Hey, bro. Prizes pay off at fifth place for this thing, right?”
“Oh yeah. At fifth place, you can earn your $15 back.”
“Cool, cool. Hey, how many people are in this thing?”
“Oh. We’ve got about forty kids signed up.”
The number singed my brain. Forty. Kids.
Oh. My. Jesus. A 31-year old grown ass man is about to place 38th, (if i’m lucky,) at a goddamned video game featuring nintendo characters smacking each other to Earthbound music and shit.
Not to worry, I’ll save face. Walk around the store a bit. Hey, some kids are already practicing. I can validate myself by watching them practice.
Mother. Of. God.
Smash Bros, in light of how i’ve played it in all casual settings, with people who are at best, casual gamers, is not, in fact a simple button mashing experience, but rather a symphony of orchestrated moves perfected by those still within the vantage point of ‘being publically schooled, and living in their goddamn parents’ house, with no responsibilities to anything except to sit on their asses and have ALL of the time to practice and therefor EXCEL at things like Super Smash Bros Brawl.”)
Even the nature of the d-bag kid callously knocking various licensed properties off the screen, exclaiming (for reasons that escape me) an obnoxious exclamation of “SWAG!” every time he did a special move, or landed an infinite combo with a variety of characters. (Which you may imagine, to be rage inducing in any moderation. And kid, well, felt it was necessary. Every. Goddamn. Time.)
I blankly stared. I mouthed out a couple of words that didn’t even make sense. I felt my balls climb up into my chest and ask to be notified when springtime was in effect.
And I realized at that exact moment, I didn’t really wanna place last in something. Again. Especially in a crowded store of people almost half my age.
Enough was enough. I walked back to the counter, and felt that it was time for some true Joe Martin ingenuity. The art of the fucking far-fetched fabrication.
“Hey, listen, retail guy. I just got a text from my job, and I’m not going to be able to play, because I’ve gotta go back into work. Would it be possible to trade out that buy in cash for store credit or something? Perhaps I can pick up that Saturday Night Slam Masters for SNES that I see in the display case here.”
“Oh, sure, dude. I can do that. It sucks that you won’t be able to play, but, I can understand where you’re coming from.”
I lie through my teeth, a veteran at life. “Oh yeah. It sucks getting old. But you gotta do what you gotta do for money sometimes.”
A followup of exchanged pleasantries, and I left the store humbled, with a bag of games, and a further twist of the knife from an age old life lesson.
A paraphrased quote from Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War — “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” – which I feel is highly relevant in this case. I left with my fifteen dollars exchanged for Capcom Wrestling-dude Vidja Game fun, rather than being meeting a wasteful escape in shame as it was passed into the pockets of some smug, undesirable fuck kid’s pocket.
I left a champion in my own right, as I have a full time job, my own vehicle, can choose to come home, stay up all night, eat candy whenever the motherfuck I want, and have felt the comforting sexual embrace of a woman at least once.
And you don’t get that sorta life experience from knowing infinite combos with Kirby. You get it from knowing how to be the best coward you can be and running from any chance of embarassment you can ever encounter.
If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got consoles to play and potential cowardice to embrace.