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January 17, 2012

Select Your Alter Ego

So a new trailer for Street Fighter X Tekken was released today. 

Much rejoicing and hyping-up was had across the internet, and gaming forums everywhere.  And why wouldn’t there be?  After weeks, even months of teasing, Capcom decided to reveal a few more cards in its hand.  Cards, of course, being characters.  The Spanish ninja, Vega!  The bike-money obsessed boxer, Balrog!  Chinese kung-fu schoolgirl Xiaoyu (who I could never, ever beat in Tekken 5 on my way to becoming a Tekken Lord)!  Paul Phoenix, professional alien puncher!

I love a man who defends the Earth from interstellar solicitors.

A lot of detractors were heaping their fury onto SFxT as of late, thanks to a lack of information and some controversial decisions.  But it’s possible that, with the reveal of a few more characters, the hype train is back on the rails.  Why?  Let’s be real here: these characters have anywhere between three to twenty years’ worth of history as the fighters of their respective franchises.  That’s a long time to be punching people in the face -- and more importantly, a long time to bring fans old and new to your cause. 

If I may go off on a tangent, let me be the first to admit that I love video games.  But I love writing more.  Often I find the two of them linking together, and contributing to one another.  Sometimes (often, maybe) it’s to my detriment.  But other times, it’s to my benefit.  Think of it as gaining an extra level of understanding…to paraphrase Marvel Comics’ MODOK.  And as I understand it, there’s nothing more important to a story -- regardless of medium -- as its characters.

Think about it.  Where would Harry Potter be without its scar-headed protagonist?  If there was no Darth Vader, would Star Wars have its greatest menace?  And for better or worse, would Twilight have become the nightmarish force it is today without a certain diamond-skinned vampire?    Not a chance.  Because a story is made memorable by putting purely awesome characters through a gauntlet of trials and tussles.  And if they’re sufficiently badass, you’ll have yourself a loyal fan for life.

There’s no better example of this than in fighting games (see?  I know what I’m doing sometimes).  Until recently, if you wanted to play a fighting game you had to do so with preset characters.  Karate man, wrestler, animal dude…plenty of styles and personalities and archetypes to choose from, with the choices only expanding over the years.  Nowadays, some games have as many as fifty characters to choose from; sure, you can take the dirtbag route and pick whoever’s the highest-tier in the game.  But isn’t it more satisfying to choose a character that suits you?  Someone that you resonate with?

In the old days, you just picked whoever you thought looked coolest.  Maybe you liked karate man’s headband, or the wrestler’s red underoos.  Maybe you saw somebody else shoot a blue fireball from karate man’s hands, or maybe you got one look at the wrestler piledriving someone and figured you had to try it.  Whatever the case, loyalties were decided -- and with them, faith in a character.  A bond, of sorts; a belief that this guy was fighting on your behalf.  You were partners.

United by your mutual love of pound cake.

Those bonds have only grown deeper with age, both in the players, the franchises, and the gaming industry as a whole.  With new tech comes new chances to explore and develop the characters; art styles and graphic engines change and evolve, giving your favorite heroes new looks.  Backstories are introduced via in-game and supplementary materials.  Fighters who remained silent for years are suddenly speaking out, and define themselves beyond a few grunts and yells.  They become your alter ego; they are a part of you.  When you pull off a win, it feels like you’ve thrown the game-winning uppercut.  When you lose and your fighter shouts his death cry, you feel the shame and despair just before he/she crashes to the ground. 

Forming a bond between character and reader -- or player, or viewer, or whatever you may be -- is tantamount to any experience.  Games taught me that first, and they taught me best. 

And trust me -- I got some guys down the line that you wouldn't believe… 

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