Two dimensional fighting games are a very interesting genre to me. It's my personal belief that games should be as simple as possible in order to allow everyone who has a natural interest to be able to enjoy them. That doesn't mean I want games to be dumbed down, mind you. This is a matter of good design. I'm seeking to become a graphic designer some day and I imagine it's not just when you're learning design that you're taught this: Simplicity is elegance. When you strip away everything that's non-essential and eliminate all the clutter, you're left with a strong and most importantly pure design. The thing that makes 2D fighters interesting to me is that I feel they're about as elegantly designed as possible, yet not just anyone can enjoy them. You absolutely need someone to teach you how to play if you really want to discover the real meat behind the entire genre.
When you think about it, even the most basic of things need to be taught to you when it comes to 2D fighters. In other games you can just randomly mess around with the controls and eventually something will happen. Not so with this genre; not when it comes to doing any of the fancy stuff. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who wonder why anti-air motions are so complicated, why super moves require multiple rotations of the joystick, and why sometimes you even need to press more than one button at a time. The answer is simple; it's all part of the design. It's not as if these motions are created simply so that new players have trouble playing the game. It's because you cannot accidentally pull them out and they require time to use. Have you ever wondered why 3D fighters traditionally don't have super moves? It's because if you could pull such moves off too quickly they would be too powerful. Maybe we fighting game veterans just haven't discovered a more elegant solution to these examples, but at the moment I would say the basics tenants behind the 2D fighting game genre are polished to perfection.
The fact that you can't just automatically learn how to play a 2D fighter is an unfortunate but necessary thing. Making these games any simpler would distill them rather than purify them. It's not an inherently bad thing, though. In a way it's something special about these sorts of games. Everyone has a story behind how they learned how to play 2D fighters. When I really go back and think about it, I have an extensive history dating back to when I first met some people online playing Gunbound, after which they introduced me to their online fighting game community.
This is way back when I was too young and broke to buy my games. There's a story that chronicles each player's growth and steady development, and the fact that you need other people to help you is part of why fighting games have some of the greatest potential to breed a sense of community out of all the gaming genres. Every player has several phases they need to go through in order to grow as a player, and most of the early phases revolve around pushing past some mental blocks. It all really starts with being able to wrap your head around the game, and I've yet to meet the person who just understood everything on their own.
I won't go into the details of my own history as a player learning from others, but I will say that I nearly hit my limit several times. When you first get into fighting games there is this concept of certain things being "cheap." It's not something that the average person just gets right away, and it's not likely something any person would ever get if they couldn't find people they understand and respect who can properly explain to them why "cheap" doesn't exist. Even if a certain tactic seems unfair logically if you're capable of using the same tactic then it's not possible for that tactic to be cheap; simply "not fun." When you first start out playing fighters you don't really understand the whole picture, and it's the fact that you don't understand some things that make "cheap" parts of the game "not fun." There are a great number of things that you need to keep track of at once when playing a fighting game: how safe your attacks are, where you're standing in relation to your opponent, balancing between offense and defense, and so forth. The belief that something is "cheap" usually doesn't spawn from the fact that it's actually cheap so much as you're still missing a certain piece of the puzzle, where you become aware of the dozens of small details required to become competent in a fight.
I personally had issues with the concept of playing safely. I would put myself at risk in a fight because I would often use flashy moves that left me very vulnerable. These moves were likewise slow and could be easily countered with quicker poking strikes. Because I didn't understand that I just shouldn't constantly use slow and unsafe attacks, I felt that pokes were cheap and because of that I didn't want to use them. Had I been playing with people who didn't help me understand I would have continued to not have fun. Eventually I would have quit playing, still ignorant to the fact that I just didn't understand balance. Because there were people teaching me how to play I was able to overcome this and learn that using pokes myself helped balance out the fact that I was prone to taking risks. There are admittedly several broken tactics in fighting games, but anyone worth their salt has to learn to just deal with these things either by playing a different game or by adopting these unfair tactics for themselves. That is another phase you need go through when learning fighters, and yet another that ideally entails having a teacher. This sort of relationship between newcomers and veterans is something I feel is becoming sparse. I feel it may have had a part in the 2D fighting genre becoming stagnant, when veterans became so well practiced that newbies were too intimidated to try their hand at the game. Only very recently was the genre revived with the release of games like Street Fighter IV and BlazBlue. It's getting to the point where fresh blood is entering the ring again.
What it really comes down to is that really learning how to play a fighting game requires a lot of commitment and personal investment, and you rely on the people around you to provide you with the motivation to put yourself into the game. Whether a veteran decides to help a newbie or not, there are worse things out there for the fighting genre. There are people who don't rely on others to motivate them to play. There are people who play fighting games for the personal satisfaction of feeling they've stomped on somebody. They're the kind of people who only act like they're having fun when they're winning, which means they really aren't having fun at all. They're just using competition to satisfy a selfish need to feel superior. These are what we call destined assholes. These are the sort of shitheads who speak about "pwning newbs" without being ironic about it. I can't say I have a lot of respect for these sorts of people, especially because I attribute them as a strong factor to why fighting games died out.
There's a cycle of life required to keep the fighting game community moving. To push your own skill level you need strong competition, yet to keep your competition strong you must bring in new players. Even if you're playing against some of the best competition available, simply playing the same people over and over will eventually stunt your growth. Not only that, but veterans retire. No matter what you do you cannot keep people playing forever. Everyone eventually burns out and at the very least needs to take a break. If the community never takes it upon itself to teach new students, eventually there will be nobody to play anymore. This is a truth that very few members of the fighting game community seem to realize, as many are averse to going anywhere near a player that isn't of the same level of skill. Too often veterans in the fighting game community see no value in spending time around newbies and avoid them. It's understandable. Most skilled players don't look at themselves as teachers, so naturally they'd see no benefit in playing against people who pose no challenge. It's still possible for these skilled players to foster a positive environment that newcomers will naturally be curious about, it's just that these newcomers will have to feel adventurous enough to forget about the fact that these skilled players may be intimidating. The real problem is there are members of the fighting game community whom actively drive people away.
What happens when a community takes no strong efforts to teach new players while at the same time there are members of that community actively making the community a negative environment? What happens when the first person a newbie meets is another person who has no grasp on the concept of simple pleasantries? Simply put, what happens when a jerk decides to take all the fun out of the game? Easy enough since all these questions have the same answer: players no longer have motivation to commit themselves to that game when the fun has been stripped away from the experience.
A particular example comes to my mind. Among the community I first learned to play 2D fighters from: there was a person that quite clearly, nobody liked. Let's call him E-MO. E-MO was a douchebag. He would argue incessantly because he couldn't handle being wrong, he would try to prove to everyone how good he was because there was clearly no other reason to pay attention to him, and most important he spent all of his time being arrogant and making sure that nobody else could have a good time. There were some unpleasant or excessively harsh people in the community but nobody else compared to how soul sucking E-MO's presence was. The only motivation to play against him was to hopefully shut him up and it wasn't a very satisfying experience whether you won or lost. You just wanted the fucker to go away.
People like E-MO played fighters seemingly because they had personal issues more than anything else. They didn't thrive on the social experience or even the simple satisfaction of getting into a good game. People like E-MO just played so that they could act like the alpha-male. Funny; considering you need other people to care to be an actual alpha-male. E-MO wasn't the only person who wasn't fun to be around; he was just the worst example. Eventually people like E-MO were my primary motivation to leave that community and spend time by myself down at the arcade. Unfortunately for me my arcade has some solid competition, but only sometimes. Going there was a gamble between finding someone fun to play against and wasting my time with random tourists who were going to destroy the arcade cabinet. It wasn't until I came to Destructoid perhaps years later that I really took a serious interest in getting my game back on. People like E-MO continue to keep me away from various "hardcore" fighting game communities.
Everyone knows "that guy." The one guy who as soon as he shows up you want to be somewhere else. Having one "that guy" is enough, so imagine what happens when "that guy" multiplies into "those guys." Because of the fact that people like E-MO were obsessive about winning, they would often gain some skill. Because of this many hardcore communities become saturated while nobody makes an active effort to remove these unpleasant people. People like E-MO have a tendency to stick around while other people leave because people like E-MO don't play games for the same reasons other people do. This is terribly unfortunate because people like E-MO don't have what was required to make fighting games worth playing. They don't have what it takes to make the game fun short of being able to scotch-tape their mouths shut. I blame people like E-MO for what eventually led to the death of the 2D fighting game genre. Seriously, there was a period where the genre was pretty much officially declared a dinosaur. Most people were probably ignorant to the fact that 2D fighting game communities had basically accepted their own gradual death. Street Fighter IV had created something of a miracle that nobody thought would ever occur. It gave the genre a chance to reclaim the limelight when everybody thought there was only room for games like Tekken and SoulCalibur anymore.
The 2D fighting genre now has a chance to make a comeback, but if history repeats itself I could easily foresee another end of an era. I'd rather not see the genre's popularity be bound down again. It's not as if I have definite proof that such a thing ever happened in the first place, but either way the fighting genre isn't just about the game; it's also about the people you play that game with. What really keeps everyone coming back to the game is having a community to spend time with during down-time. Whether you're just playing with friends, joining a posse at the arcade or just meeting up at an online forum: when your community strips away the fun of the game eventually the player-base will fade. The players will eventually find something more rewarding to do with their time.
I honestly don't feel most people deserve to be competitive. The majority don't understand the concept of being a good sport. Hopefully this is something else that can be taught, but I somewhat doubt it. I feel that being a good sport entails being a well developed person, and that's an entirely different walk of life from what I'm talking about. It's a more important walk I might add; but one that people have to go on themselves. When you can't push aside your personal issues long enough to even display the most basic of pleasantries you've failed everyone. You've failed the community that you've done nothing but harm and you've failed yourself for being such an unlikeable dick. Every human being has some basic need to interact with a community on some positive level. An inability to find this sort of positive response from people around you will naturally lead to your own unhappiness. Typically treating other people like dirt only goes to show that you feel like dirt yourself, even if you don't personally realize it.
There are more important things in life than being good at fighting games, especially when it comes to simply succeeding in life as a human being. Trust me when I say there is truly no excuse for being an ass, and I implore everyone out there to consider that doing their best to breed a happy community has no downside. When we've eliminated the people out there who don't play games for fun, we've narrowed it down to all the players with the greatest potential in the first place. We'll have truly simplified everything to the point of elegance. If the community can ever reach this point, I feel we'll have reached the point where fighting games will never die again. When you bring people together who genuinely love what they're doing together there's no reason for them to leave. Rather, there would only be reason for the opposite to occur.
Credits to RoCatr88 from DeviantArt for the above image. I felt a picture of Street Fighter IV and BlazBlue characters being bound had a certain metaphoric punch to it. Truth be told, I just randomly found this in a Google Image Search.
An additional note: From now on my King of Fighters Love Letter series will have an additional home at orochinagi.com. The Web site is undergoing renovations with my introduction as part of the front page staff being among them. Everything I write will show up here first, but I'll be taking some time on the side to try and revive the popularity of SNK fighting games.