Street Fighter II is not a game that I would not stop playing just because Bison was lying motionless and broken at my feet.
I was twelve the first time I played Street Fighter II: The World Warrior at a bowling alley. I was ten seconds into my very first game when some snotty little ten year-old popped in his quarter and destroyed me. I kept coming back to get pummeled, until I used up my final quarter. Like a masochist, I fell in love with the game right then and there.
It was the first game I ever rented for my SNES (I'd been a proud Genesis man for years before Mario Paint worked it's mojo on me. I became a turncoat in the first Great Console War). In the two and a half days I had with the game, I barely slept. This was a game that even once it was beaten, you couldn't help but come back for more. There was always another challenge waiting for you.
At first, the cpu served my ass on a platter. I definitely needed a lot of work. Luckily there were 8 levels of difficulty. When you first play a fighting game, you know how it starts. You spend time experimenting with the characters, trying to find the one you suck the least with. And I felt like a kid in a candy store with a selection of eight characters (yes, eight. This was before the bosses were playable. Long before any New Challengers had entered the tournament). Then you pour over the instruction manual to figure out how to pull off the special moves. Finally I knew how that little bitch had thrown fireballs at me the year before. Once you feel slightly oriented you throw yourself into the game. And continue to get hurt a lot. But over time slightly less.
After about an hour I beat the game. But it didn't end there. I beat it on the easiest level. No fancy endings. Only a congratulations screen challenging me to try a harder difficulty. It took a lot more effort, a lot of continues and a lot of character switching to work my way up to beating level 3 and a proper ending.
I had reached the end. But it didn't end there. I was amazed to find that the ending was personalized for my character. It gave me a glimpse into the life of Blanka, a mutant beast reunited with his long-lost mother. This was incredible. And I had 7 more stories waiting for me. I spent the rest of that weekend uncovering the victorious lives of the Street Fighting combatants. I learned that Ryu was a true warrior, who lived only for the purity of battle. I learned of revenge, and coming to to terms with those feelings through Guile. And the emptiness that lies within after achieving that revenge through Chun Li.
I'd uncovered it all. But it couldn't end there. I had to own that game. Coming from a family that didn't have a lot of extra money, new games only came along twice a year. Christmas and birthdays. Even renting games was something that would seldom occur. But when my next birthday came along, I knew what I wanted.
Even though I had already beaten the game with every character, I still felt that I had much to accomplish. Harder levels still awaited me. I was no master, yet. I couldn't even pull off a dragon punch, unless it was by accident. This game and I were going to spend a lot of time together. And we did. I kept playing that game until I was able to beat the hardest difficulty setting: level 7. I'll admit that I threw my controller around the room until I broke the R button. But I kept at it. And I had succeeded.
But, it didn't end there. I had achieved the extended credits scene by beating the hardest level. But after mastery comes perfection. I needed to take out Bison without continuing. And later without losing a round. I needed to keep reworking my strategies for every character, until I found the ones that worked. I needed to get a feel for patterns and a feel for lures that my opponents would fall for. I finally got the ending screen with all 12 characters in their victory poses, congratulating me on my ultimate victory. As far as the game was concerned, I had achieved everything that I could.
But... you get the idea. I never would stop playing that game. I've put more hours into Street Fighter II (and it's updates) then any other video game ever made. And I keep coming back for more. Achievement was no longer driving me to continue the fight. In the end, I would play for peace of mind. Street Fighter became my form of meditation. I would put it in when stressed out or when I needed to concentrate. I would lose myself in thought. And after sometime had passed, I'd be sitting with a controller in my hand, the game beaten, and I wouldn't remember anything past the first match. And I was much more calm and clear than when I had started.
Beyond simply playing a game, having fun and moving on to the next, Street Fighter II gave me a fuller experience than any game I'd encountered before or since. It's given me calm. It's given me a respite from the toughest of times. Given me an outlet to clear my thoughts. After all this time, it still does me a lot of good to don Ryu's headband and Dragon Punch my way to victory. But, "Victory means nothing. The fight is everything."