Multiplayer: Putting Up A Fight

Our combat-addicted gamer explains why he isn't into combat-driven games.

If I weren't on the road Sunday night, I would have ordered WrestleMania. If I weren't busy Thursday night, I would have gone to my karate dojo, which I've been going to since I was 7. Next time there's a big boxing match, I may buy it on pay-per-view. After all, I've been into professional pugilism since I worked at a boxing magazine in college.

People assume I like fighting. And they assume I like all sorts of fighting games. But that's not quite true.

The last wrestling game I played in earnest was a 1990s Nintendo 64 title featuring wrestlers from the then-WWF. I don't even remember the last martial arts game I obsessed over. It wasn't "Ninja Gaiden" on the Xbox. Maybe "Street Fighter II"? As for boxing, I was a big fan of "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" and dutifully bought — but failed to enjoy — the game's sequel. I've boxed a few fights in each of EA's well-made "Fight Night" games but have never been hooked.

A friend recently pointed out that this is odd. Is it? If I'm so into combat outside of video games, how can I be so disinterested in "Mortal Kombat" games? I'm not sure if it's that strange. I have a game-reporter friend who used to do carpentry. As best I know, "SimCity" is not his favorite game. I interviewed Tiger Woods for about 10 minutes once and asked him what he was playing. He didn't volunteer "Tiger Woods PGA Tour." He volunteered "Resident Evil 4." I hear American soldiers do like their "Halo" and football fans sure do dig "Madden," but some people don't play the things they know.

One of my earliest memories from karate school, oddly enough, involves chainsaws. I was young and overheard a parent complaining about the unwatchability of the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" movie. His problem wasn't that it was scary. His problem was that it insulted his chainsawing intelligence. He knew chainsaws from his day job — he was a lumberjack, I hope — and he knew that chainsaws couldn't take the beating they did in the movie and keep on working. Some people just know too much about a particular thing and can't appreciate the entertainment.

I thought that might be the problem I have with game-based fighting after I played an hour of "Fight Night Round 3" on the PS3 a couple of weekends ago. When I should have been appreciating the detailed graphics of Marvin Hagler's "Fight Night" entrance, I was distracted by the fact that the ring announcer introduced Hagler before the fighter had fully stepped into the ring. That's not how it happens in the real fights. I played a bout as James Toney, the terrific bulging boxer of the late '90s and he of a recent heavyweight comeback. I tried fighting the way he does, leaning on the ropes and rolling his shoulders to subtly misguide punches. The game permitted this technique better than I expected, to an extent that should have impressed me. But I've got Toney's real moves burned on my retinas, and these game versions weren't quite them.

Another possible explanation is saturation. My karate class meets twice a week. Perhaps that's enough fighting for me. Is it also that I know the real thing and won't stand for the virtual? That I'd rather try to flip someone in real life than square up for a "Tekken" tournament in virtual life? That could be. But I am not a pro wrestler — who would I be? The Reporter? Finishing move: the Deadline or the Follow-Up Question — and yet, I don't have a hankering for pro-wrestling games

I have one other theory. It has to do with why I've not quit karate since I was 7, why my heart beats fast just before a boxing match featuring a favorite fighter and why I'm most into wrestling when there's a wild character appearing on TV who can reliably give an entertaining speech: I need to be able to care about a fight. In real life, a fight can go badly in harmful ways, and in a fake wrestling match, a good performer can create the illusion of pain and disappointment. A matchup in boxing or wrestling or karate is supposed to mean something. A match in the video game is, at worst, nothing so dire the press of a reset button can't solve. Virtual Marvin Hagler will never have to hang it up because of old age; virtual James Toney will never have to work hard to recover from a humiliating defeat. A pile-driver on the head won't even muss the hair of a virtual wrestler. In "Street Fighter" and all its sequels, KOs don't mean anything to me, because everything is essentially always OK.

The solution for me to make these fights matter might be to take the games into a competitive arena. Maybe I should sign up for eSports, so it's me taking some of the virtual beating by feeling defeat in a "Dead or Alive 4" tournament.

Or maybe I should just steer clear of the games that deal with the things I know. I'll stick to more foreign video-game pursuits — enforcing the law, challenging Greek gods and eating rows of yellow dots. The other stuff hits too close to home.

— Stephen Totilo

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