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Fighting games are not for me. Just to get this out of the way right now, they are in no way my expertise. They are my incredible weakness. I am that button masher. Yes, that guy. I read the combos from the book. I try to memorize the combinations. I try to transmit that information to my hands in the heat of uppercuts and low kicks, but they never get there. Instead, the only communication the muscles in my fingers get is confused signals, sent whole minutes too late to block air combos are duck under high kicks. In the end, you’ll find me just hitting the jump button too many times and screaming "CAN I HADOUKEN IN THIS GAME?"
Usually, I can't. But ever since my days of being 11-years-old and trying to hammer out combos in Mortal Kombat in my friend’s wood-paneled rec room, there has been an unexplainable phenomenon.
Put a Native American character in my hand and I will tear your face from your skull.
I can’t explain it. When it comes to fighting games, gameplay is pretty straightforward. Learn to combo and block or you lose. There are few ways around this fundamental rule. If you don’t know how to play to your character’s strengths, you won’t win. But through some hilariously ironic loophole, my ancestry transfers some mystical strength to me whenever you put one of those racially inappropriate characters into my hand.
In my day as an adolescent, fighting games like Mortal Kombat, the Street Fighter franchise, and Killer Instinct were the social equivalent of a gentleman’s duel. Or the Thunderdome. If an argument about which Ninja Turtle was best or whose turn it was to play with the BB gun ever came to confrontation, it wasn’t settled with scrappy kid-brawls. It was settled on the screen. This was an unfortunate unspoken rule for me, since I seemed to have been born pre-disposed to suck horrifically at fighting games. I thought I was doomed to face forever defeat. Until the day I discovered a man named Nightwolf.
Previously, it hadn't mattered which character I picked. They were all a flurry of ineffective button smashing. It came down to which character was more amusing to watch perish by some brutal fatality or slow-mo punch. So the day I choose this racially inappropriate character in blue pants, I had no expectations of victory. I began with my usual technique of slap the keys with my chubby kid thumbs until I didn’t have to play anymore. But something different happened. Rather than the usual impotent, hopping rave dance I would end up making my character do, I watched this goofy, face-painted character toss my opponent straight into the air with an ethereal tomahawk.
I found this wasn’t some accidental coincidence. I mean, hit the buttons enough and you’ll stumble upon a combo eventually right? Monkeys on typewriters. But it wasn’t some fluke. As I flailed away on the buttons like usual, my character acted almost autonomously, ripping each and every challenger to shreds. Something just made sense about his button layout; his combo sequences and follow-ups.
Of course, my friends called ‘bullshit’ on my spontaneous win and every subsequent victory. And they weren’t alone. Nightwolf has long been branded as a cheap character, capable of purposefully juggling characters and linking combos into unbreakable sprees. But this isn’t why I was winning. It couldn’t be. Because, to exploit a character’s moves, you have to have even an inkling of understanding on what you’re doing. I certainly didn’t. Still don’t.
Soon, this rage against my inexplicable success turned to confused awe. My friends were sure this was no coincidence. It wasn’t some random chance I was unrealistically capable with this character of all the characters. I was a witch. A digital shaman. They were sure it had something to do with the fact that I myself was a Native American.