I am not that great at Street Fighter. Though, I’ve been playing the game since I was in high school. I am of the rare breed that even played Street Fighter 1, with the giant pressure-sensitive buttons and all. I enjoy the game. I like the real-time brain game that it is. I like the competition, the depth, the timing, the beautiful design….all of it. I can hold my own, maybe win 5 out of 10 matches. But sure, I lose a lot.
I’ve owned Street Fighter IV since release day in February of 2009. I’ve enjoyed every heart-pounding match, and even made a few friends along the way. But something has been happening lately: I’ve found that Street Fighter can turn people into unbelievable jerks.
I don’t use a microphone when I play. I have a simple handle on PSN, “Robotube”, and I use no icons or titles. I don’t even use taunts. I do nothing that would provoke other players, I send no messages, nothing like that. Yet, I’m finding something a lot worse than sore losers: a voluminous influx of sore winners.
Yesterday, (as usual), I was handily beaten by a skilled Blanka player. Match ends, I lose, that’s it. Suddenly a message pops up which reads “Bow down, bitch.”. I laughed at first, because I immediately had this mental imagine of some gorilla-like nutjob flipping out over winning, not much unlike his onscreen counterpart. It didn’t bother me much; I deleted it and moved on.
This evening, however, something far more eyebrow-raising happened. Before the match even started, my opponent and I are in the lobby, and he begins a tirade of obscenity toward me. Before we could even get past character select, I kid you not, I was called the n-word, a common homophobic slur, a dickhead, and a bitch. Nice, right? Being a straight white guy, I was all the more perplexed.
Again, my immediate reaction is to sort of brush it off, though I am far more troubled by the use of racist and homophobic slurs this time. Being called a dickhead or a bitch I can handle…I think most of my friends call me those things most days anyway.
I’m not 13 anymore so I don’t take any offense by being called any of those things by a nameless, tinny voice coming over my TV, however, the onslaught got uglier and more riddled with bigotry. It did make me realize something that I didn’t want to admit. Street Fighter really does bring out the ugly side of people. I know what you’re thinking….it’s shit-talking, it’s an attempt to psyche out the opponent, it’s part of the game….whatever. But a complete deluge of racial and homophobic vomit is so way beyond what I consider to be some garden-variety shit-talk. It’s really sad…it almost makes me wonder if the video game violence critics aren’t on to something.
If all it takes is a video game to bring such putrid racism and homophobia out of a person, we, my friends, are in trouble. Where did we go wrong? When did this happen? When did video games go from fun to fury? Is it the anonymity? If it is, then I am frankly scared of what lies beneath the exterior of all the random people I meet every day.
After that, I decided it was time to shelve the game for a while. I may be getting too old for this, I have to admit. I was really disappointed with the people I was playing with, and I just felt deflated…I didn’t want to “associate” with it anymore. Not for awhile, anyway. The lure of the magnificence that is Street Fighter will draw me back, but I need to step away for a while.
I’m just glad nobody else was in the room…how embarrassing it was at that moment to even be associated with gaming. I know this all sounds rather sanctimonious or preachy, so apologies for that tone, but I just had to share my thoughts on this incident. It was sort of an eye-opening moment for me.