I can still remember the days when it was possible to drive from the suburbs where I lived up into the outlying areas of the Twin Cities and stumble across a whole slew of electronics boutiques. Here in Minnesota, the place I grew up, there was quite the selection to be found. Sure you had the stores that would eventually turn into the now infamous chain such as EB Games and of course Gamestop itself. Add to that however stores like Funcoland, Hi-Score, Toys R' Us (Yes believe it or not for awhile they actually had a fairly large area dedicated just to gaming itself) and a whole host of others.
Don't misunderstand, I'm not one of those people whose nostalgia tinted glasses saps them entirely of their ability to be unbiased and realistic. While yes, on the one hand it was great to have such a large variety of sources to shop at on the other they still all engaged in the same exact practices then that Gamestop is loathed for now. One of the better examples of this that I can personally recall was a trip to Funcoland that took place around the time I was 11 years old.
I had been becoming more and more of a fan of the Megaman series as I grew older. I played it nearly everyday for extended periods of time and my devotion to the franchise boarded on a near religious fanaticism. Nowadays we call it fanboyism but back then we simply called it being a dork. At the time I owned a handful of the titles for both the NES as well as the SNES and I loved each and every one of them equally. However I always wondered what it would be like to play the first in the series; the game that started it all.
For weeks I pestered my parents driving them to the verge of nearly putting me up for adoption but eventually they relented and we began calling around to see who might have a copy in stock. Finally after much trying we stumbled across a Funcoland in Maplewoood, a suburb farther South than where we lived, that happened to have one on hand. My mother drove me down to the store and to this day I can still recall the look on her face when the man behind the counter told her, "That'll be 79.99 please."
What can I say I was a spoiled kid. With copy in hand I went home and played the game until my little thumbs bled. Now you'd figure after all the money spent and the love which claimed to hold for the series that my copy of the game would still be sitting on a mantle located somewhere within my home. Perhaps amidst a blue bomber shrine located below a life sized painting of Rock himself. But kids will be kids and after a year or so some other game came along that ended up catching my interest.
Of course by this point in time I was no longer the cute and cuddly little preteen that could melt my mothers heart. Those cherub like days were well behind me and now I was an angsty little shit who was old enough to "get off his ass" and "go mow some lawns or something". My cute factor had expired, thrown out alongside last weeks leftover milk and that thing in the corner of the refrigerator that had turned a molded green.
And so I did what any rational teen would: the stupidest thing possible.
With game in hand I returned to that very same Funcoland which I had visted a year or so earlier. As I entered I was already counting the money in my head that I would be getting back. Imagine my shock when the man behind the counter mistakenly handed me one ten dollar bill instead of eight of them.
"Excuse me, there seems to have been a mix up." I said, "Did you mean to give me a hundred dollar bill and accidentally handed me a ten by mistake?"
"It's worth ten bucks kid. Take it or leave it."
Oh I took it alright but not before leaving that fine gentleman a tip for his troubles. I still don't know if his bank ever accepted all those "fuck you's" I left him or if he still has them stashed under his mattress at home.
Either way the point I'm making is that game stores have always tried to minimize cost and maximize profit. Yes Gamestop is terrible and yes I'm sure Satan himself personally shits inside every single case right before a sale but if you honestly think about it most electronics stores were just as bad. That Toys R' Us giraffe was about as kid friendly as a crack dealer.
Fast forward to more modern times and that little 11 year old boy is suddenly standing once more in the same exact position. Now instead of a Capcom game in hand and a tear in his eye at the financial injustice he's enduring he has a mathematics textbook and a look which more closely resembles constipation than capitulation.
"What do you mean only 35 dollars!"
"I'm sorry sir but that's all we're buying them back for at this time."
Of course the lady behind the counter isn't trying to be cruel, she's just doing her job. But than again so were the nazis.
"But I just bought this 4 months ago and it cost me 145 dollars. How the hell did it drop in price that much?"
"Like I said I'm really sorry but that's the best I can do. Did you want to sell it back to us or would you rather just keep it."
Touche you fucking bitch. Touche. Of course I don't want to keep it. What the hell would I possibly do with it? Use it as a makeshift table, the worlds largest fly swatter perhaps, or possibly study chapter 8 long enough to calculate the amount of rope I'd need to hang myself with after being forced to keep the damn thing. The worst part is that she knows and damn it, I know that she knows. They've got me by the balls.
"Fine. I'll take the 35 dollars."
"Alright then that brings your total cash back to 76.50."
Maybe it was the start of a fast acting aneurism or maybe I had somehow walked into the twilight zone by mistake, perhaps my campus was really a part of Rod Serling's University all along and I just never knew it. At that moment though all I could feel was the rage building inside me and it was almost enough to make me completely oblivious to the line of 80 or so other students directly behind me all equally as annoyed but at me rather than her. Of course I understood, they just wanted this over with as much as I did. They want me to just shut the fuck up, take my money, and fuck off on out of there so they can get robbed themselves. I get, really I do.
It was just hard to do that is all. At the start of that particular semester I had spent more than 600 dollars on my textbooks, now at the end of it I was looking at less than a hundred for the whole lot. That's damn near six times depreciation in value. How does that even happen?
"We just aren't buying those ones back this year."
Really? Did evaporation and condensation suddenly decided to switch shit up for the fun of it so some authors had to go and rewrite basic earth science?
"There's a new edition of that one out so this one just isn't worth as much."
Oh I see, that makes sense. History is always changing after all. I mean I remember back in Junior High School when we all still believed that Washington was a founding father and the first President of the United States. So it's nice that they went in and fixed that all so that we now know he also enjoyed long walks on the beach and that his favorite Backstreet Boy was A.J. McLean. Totally worth the extra 200 dollars.
"How about just fuck you? How about that?"
Finally some honesty.
Of course I took the money though, just like I did when I was 11 because what the hell else am I going to do? I sunk my head, loosed my shoulders, extended my hand, and made sure to return my balls the next day to the nature store because, well, after an experience like that I really wouldn't be needing my manhood back any time soon.
Fast forward to the next semester and what do suppose I see greeting me when I walk into our campuses bookstore? Why the same thing I saw years later in that very same Funcoland. There on the shelf amongst all the other books was what I had sold back to them, not at the meager amount they paid me nor for even a moderate mark up but at damn near 80 percent of its original value.
Well that's at least what I'd have liked to have screamed but what with the whole Virginia Tech and Columbine thing I'd probably have been tackled and tazed for so much as even coughing in the wrong direction at an educational facility.
It still amazes me to this day just how similar college bookstores really are to the used video game business. They handle merchandise in nearly the same manner. A consumer who goes in and pays money for a game which is brand new will more than likely receive a pittance when it comes time to sell it back. This is the exact same way in which college bookstores operate. If you buy it for one hundred dollars you'll get thirty back when you resell it and they'll turn around and mark it up for eighty.
They know, just as much as any Gamestop does, that the reason you walked in with shit to sell is because you have nowhere else to sell it and you want to get something with the money that you'll get for it. And boy do they love to work that angle against you. I suppose what surprises me most is that when you compare the two and see the similarities that no one then turns around and says:
"What a minute. I fucking hate college bookstores. And if college bookstores are practically the same thing as Gamestop than why the fuck do I like Gamestop?"
I'm sure you've all met him, in fact I can almost guarantee it. He's that friend of yours that suggests everyone should get together for a nice night of multiplayer and then bails out an hour later because he's suddenly "tired". In reality when he says tired what he means to say is that he's angry because he isn't dominating whatever it is that you're playing at the moment. Maybe you scored a few more headshots than him because you're just naturally quicker on the draw than he is, perhaps your dragon uppercut hit home before he could fully block it, or it could even be that you somehow managed to kill the boss while he was still trying to unsheathe his sword. Either way your night is ruined and it's all thanks to him, "that guy."
Our groups "that guy" is Marco. Let me tell you a little about him and what he does to our group dynamic. You see we love playing video games, in fact we look forward to it all week long because most of us either work or go to college and so by the weekend we're all more than willing to welcome the small reprieve that gaming grants us from our daily lives. By Friday night everyone is usually already prepared. Some go out and stock up on alcohol while others swing by the supermarket and buy enough sugar laden crap to kill a diabetic. Once everyone's spent all their money, sometimes that includes all the banks money (Let me tell you overdraft fees are a bitch) we all gather back at our homes and plop our fat asses down in front of the tv in anticipation of what's to come.
We set out all the shit we've bought before us, put our game into the console, check our mics to make sure they're working, double check the computer and make sure skype is up and running, and prepare ourselves for a night full of nothing but pure fun. Or at least that's what we'd like to happen until he - that guy - screws it into the ground.
It's not that he's a terrible person mind you, they never are. He's fun to talk with, to hang out with, to generally be around. He's nice, affable, and has a fairly well adjusted sense of humor. That is until, the gaming starts. When it does that all goes out the window. It's almost as if you had somehow mistakenly reached into a Robert Louis Stevenson book and friend requested Dr. Jekyll instead of your buddy from online.
As per usual everything seems to start off alright. You and your friends divide off into groups and start playing whatever it is that you recently bought for the nights entertainment. Most everyone is having a great time, well most everyone except for him; "that guy".
When you get shot in the head and stare in wonderment at your characters corpse being desecrated by the crotch of one of your bros characters you can't help but laugh a little. When your ultra-super-mega-supreme combo knocks your pal's button mashing ass into oblivion and back he laughs as well. But "that guy", well, he starts to go quiet instead. That silence slowly builds upon itself, growing louder and louder as the minutes tick by. Soon it reaches a deafening level and everyone starts to take notice that someone in the group is not very happy.
Next come the sounds. You know the ones I'm talking about. They start off as grunts but after awhile begin to coelase and take shape. What were at first non-intelligent umphs and ugghs soon turn into fucks and damn its. Within in a short period of time they're joined by other words and form into sentences. "This is bullshit.", "Why can't I fucking hit you.", "God you're so fucking cheap.", "This game is broken, this is totally fucking unfair."
Maybe a small sigh escapes as you already know where this is all headed; the same place it always goes. You know that its only a matter of time now until he says that he needs to take a break.
"Hey guys let's go hang out in synchtube for a bit."
"Let's take a short break or something and go chill out in skype for a while."
"Can we play something else instead guys?"
The night is now officially ruined. The fun that everyone was having, the enjoyment you were all looking forward to, it's all now down the shitter right alongside "that guys" personality. Losing is their kryptonite, alcohol their accelerant. Whatever entertainment was to be had is now long gone.
And so you relent. After all you don't want to be a dick, your friend is asking and being the person you are you acquiesce and say ok. But those ok's come at a cost. They pile atop each other, merge into one another and after weeks and weeks of being uttered slowly begin to grow into a resentment and potentially even a hatred for "that guy."
Everyone in the group notices, it's impossible not to. The air itself takes on an almost tangible nature of unease. Even once you've stopped playing the game there is still more left to be ruined by him. Though the game may be off, the activity of the night put on hold, "that guy" is still bitter and he wants to make sure everyone else in the group knows it.
As they sip their drink their anger slowly builds, it festers into some perverse thing that turns a loss by a handful of points into the worlds greatest slight. Before, during the game, the friendly shit talk that everyone loved to take part in now transforms into deliberate attempt by him to hurt other people.
The slew of shit that spews forth from their mouths appears never ending and now other people want to take a break, not from the game but from him.
"Oh hey man, I... Uh... I'll be back in a bit I'm going to run to the store to pick up some more stuff."
The don't come back though.
"Oh hey, I've got another call on skype brb."
No one else was calling them.
"Jeez, I'm just... I'm just really tired. I'm going to call it a night."
User [Insert Name Here] has logged on to PSN.
The night is now officially dead, "that guy" rammed a steak through its heart. Soon messages start to pour in from all the people who dropped out from the group chat. Secret PM's saying secretive things. Things like: "Why do we even play with him?", "God wtf is his problem?", "Dude if you still want to play hit me, just don't tell HIM!"
Of course you're angry, justifiably so. Another night has been ruined and all because of their shit attitude and inability to ever just let things go. Another game wasted because they weren't winning the most. But "that guy", well he's your guy. And so come the morning you get the same message you always do, the one which usually awaits you after such an event. The one that rings more and more hollow with each passing week.
"I'm sorry about last night, I guess I was just in a bad mood. It won't happen next time."
You know I really am starting to hate "that guy"... Even if he is my friend.
The Autobot leader met his fate against the far side of my room around 1:15 this morning. Of course it's not his fault, after all inanimate objects rarely ever do anything bold enough to justifiably provoke the rage of an owner. Yet there his pieces lay scattered about a now even messier corner of the room. To be honest I can't even really recall why I bought him in the first place. More than likely it was on a whim or in response to some nostalgia driven urge to reconnect to my childhood. Either way it's 20 dollars flushed down the toilet along with a fair share of my self respect.
So what sort of motive lays behind such a heinous act? Well earlier this week I picked up a brand new copy of Street Fighter X Tekken when it was released here in the US. My plans for it were like most other games I get: Go out and make a purchase, come home to practice a bit, then go online and experience the multiplayer with friends. The group I game with has done this regularly now for a few months running and the genres we've done so far have run the gambit from FPS to co-op hack and slash. All in all it's generally a pleasurable experience and more often than not ends in a slew of shit talking and massive hangovers for all who participated.
It really hadn't started out all that bad and for the most part myself and the others really did seem to enjoy our time with it. That's even taking into consideration Capcom's ridiculous on the disc DLC approach which has been chapping the collective ass of gamers since the build up to Street Fighter X Tekken's release. In cases like this I find it helps if you bring along your own bottle of Vaseline so when a company like Capcom decides to fuck you it doesn't end up hurting as much. That's just a little protip from me to you though.
This particular evening progressed like any other and while there were a handful of bizarre audio issues that occasionally popped up and a bit of lag for those in the lobby who weren't actually in the fights themselves but just watching it was, for the most part, a good time. People talked shit, some found themselves on winning streaks, and others cursed their little heads off at the injustice of that "one bullshit move" that was repeatedly spammed against them. I mean what more could you ask for? It was 60 dollars well spent.
Take a moment and check out one of the better examples of high level competitive play in Street Fighter from EVO 2004. In the following clip you'll see Daigo (Ken) perform an amazing parry of Justin Wong's (Chun-Li) attack and completely reverse the momentum of the match.
My first mistake, and yes there were many, was in thinking that just because I did well against a group of people I normally play with that I'd do well against complete strangers. Holy shit was I wrong about that one. Call it arrogance, call it confidence but either way I felt secure enough that I'd do alright wadding into the big kid pool that was Ranked multiplayer. After all I had played the shit out of the more relaxed Endless Attack mode and seemed to do quite well at it so how much more difficult could it really be?
For those of you unfamiliar with the mechanics of the game they're fairly simple especially if you've played a Tekken or Street Fighter game before. The basic move sets are all there, damage and time limits are standard. The only substantial difference to be found is the gem utility. What it basically boils down to is each character having three slots in which they can equip a gem each. Each gem is color coated and those colors correspond to an area of influence.
There are some gems that will increase your speed, your strength, your health, fill bars, autoblock, autododge, ect. To activate each of them it usually requires that you either get hit or hit the opponent a set amount of times in a specific manner. And oh boy when those little fuckers finally do pop off they turn your character into a technocolored autist that looks like someone took a rainbow colored dump inside a Karate Gi. Know what's better than a flowchart Ken? A flowchart Ken that glows neon green and makes epileptics seize up like they were at a rave sponsored by strobe lights.
I suppose now would probably be a good time to mention that I'm not a huge fan of the games gem system. Now before you start to say something this isn't me bitching I can assure you. I made sure to clean out all the sand from my vagina long before I ever sat down to write this post and besides I needed all of it anyway to bury Optimus in the backyard next to the old willow tree. What I mean to say is that I just don't like using the gems. I have no problem with others using them though. Doesn't actually bother me to be honest and I figure if I want to get good with a character I should learn to play them without random speed boosts and damage modifiers kicking in during matches.
After all if I want to become proficient at maining Juri and Hwoarang I first need to get accustomed to their move sets, combos, and cross overs attacks. To me the most efficient way of doing this seemed to be learning their timing and damage dealing capabilities as they naturally were and to do that I'd need to play them pure. No bells and whistles, no pretty sparkling rainbows that made me go supersonic or preorder specials that made them shit boulders instead of throwing punches. I was going in naked so to speak.
The victories I had stacked up against my friends, the completion of the challenges and trial modes, the clearing of the game quickly on the default difficulty. All of these things contributed to me believing that I was fairly decent at using the two chars I had chosen. I was ready, or so I thought. And for a short while it appeared as if I really was quite good at the game. My first two matches even went well. I played against two people who were also fairly new to Ranked gameplay and I handily defeated them. This was going to be easy!
That was until my first of many encounters to come with the Hadouken Duo. I suppose it really shouldn't have come as a surprise, I mean shit this is Street Fighter after all but the sheer amount of times and the varied combination of it were a bit unnerving: Ken & Ryu, Ken & Sagat, Sagat & Akuma, Akuma & Ryu, Ken & Akuma. It was like some perverse version of musical chairs in which the object of the game was to see how many hadoukens you could launch at me before I threw a chair at your head. The answer is five btw.
Now I wasn't completely defenseless against this as both Juri and Hwoarang each possess moves which allow them to either absorb or move through such an attack. It simply comes down to a matter of timing and with enough practice you can actually get around someone spamming this fairly well. The problem though was that this set me into a defensive mindset. I was no longer the aggressor who nimbly weaved their way towards the opponent in preparation to launching a massive combo, instead I now found myself huddling in the corner waiting for my tears to somehow drowned the asshole at the other end of the stage.
Eventually I began to lose focus, I started getting angry and god help you if that happens when you're playing a fighting game because your skill will decrease in an inversely proportional manner to your rage increasing. Whereas before, in my first two matches, I had done well I now suddenly found myself making stupid mistakes which compounded upon one another until I was reduced to a sperging idiot incapable of landing even a minor hit. It was in the midst of this hugbox sized meltdown that Optimus suddenly learned how to fly, albeit for a very short duration.
And so ended my experience with Ranked competitive play in Street Fighter X Tekken. Well at least for that particular day. After all who the fuck quits a game and never returns to it just because they lose a handful of times?
The most painful thing about it all isn't the fact that I was fighting against "unfair" bullshit "spam". No, what hurts the most is the fact that I didn't just fight against it but that I lost to it. You see in my mind if I were really good at the game, if I was honestly a solid player than I would have been able to win even against tactics such as those. But I didn't, I lost. That more than anything is what killed me, or in this case what killed Optimus.
In the end I just need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and practice more. Learn the characters and their moves until they're second nature to me and then start over from there. After all that's what gaming is all about. And should there ever come a time when I get tired of practicing, of continually losing to never ending Hadoukens I'll just have to look outside my window and see the little mound of dirt hidden under the willow tree to remind myself of the sacrifice of one of the greatest robot in disguise ever. ;_;