NBN-Tendo is a weekly column that explores interactive entertainment, industry trends, the latest news and the cultural impact of the video game. This week, we're taking a look at fighting games, the people who play them, and thoughts on the revival of the industry.
Fighting game communities are a fascinating subculture within gaming, which is already a subculture in and of itself. Many Northwestern students are probably familiar with the small, local tournaments that are put on by dorms or groups of friends as a way to have fun and socialize. However, fighting game tournaments, like the Evo Championship Series in Las Vegas, have the potential to be as big, loud and flashy as the games they are based on while still having a strong sense of community. Being such a tight-knit, independent group, fighting game fans have a slightly different way of interacting with the gaming world at large.
Due to their more demanding nature, fighting game fans have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the developers behind their favorite series. On the one hand, developers appreciate the loyalty of the community and how the players bring the most out of their games. It's not unheard of for companies to consult the pros when developing their new titles or even updating old ones, as was the case with Capcom's Street Fighter 3 HD re-release. However, fighting games fans also tend to be resistant to change, as they are afraid alterations will ruin their beloved series. It's a hard balancing act because developers don't want to alienate their hardcore fans, but if they don't change things up the games become impenetrable for the mass audience. That (along with the death of arcades) is what killed the genre in the first place back in the early 2000s before 2009's Street Fighter 4 resurrected it, and even that game isn't too different from 1991's Street Fighter 2.
This tension comes from the more critical viewpoint professionals have in comparison to the more casual players. Because there is actual money on the line in tournaments, the
most important thing a fighting game should be, in their eyes, is balanced. For example, because of its chaotic, arguably unbalanced nature, many in the fighting game community tend to look down on Nintendo’s popular Super Smash Bros. series. Furthermore, the game's numerous tournaments typically ban items and certain stages due to their randomness and have even recently banned the character Meta Knight due to his potentially game-breaking strength. It's about creating a fair environment so that the player who wins is truly the one who is most skilled. Hardcore fans are concerned that changes designed to appeal to casual players will only break that precious balance.
Right now, fighting games are getting by on the nostalgia of people who used to play them and the devotion of people who never stopped. If they are to move forward beyond this revival though, we need to be more accepting of new ideas, like the gem system in Street Fighter X Tekken. Maybe it’s even time to ditch the standard six buttons and quarter-circle motions and create whole new fighting systems from the ground up. As long as developers know that these games are enjoyed by many different kinds of players with different needs and design games flexible enough to be enjoyed by all, then the genre has an exciting future in store.