From The Inside Out

By quash / Originally published on YOMI GOLD BURST on January 9, 2017

Over the past few days, I've been inundated via my Twitter feed with footage and accompanied commentary (from people on Twitter, not the commentators of the event, who did a great job) of the latest 3rd Strike Cooperation Cup that took place in Tokyo. It was disheartening, but not entirely unexpected, to see that to this day virtually any discussion of the game can be predicted by a bingo board of quips from “Low tiers are viable, this guy in Japan proves it”, to “You don't understand 3rd Strike”.
   You know what, sure; some people can win with low tier characters even at the highest levels of play, but that doesn't mean a large disparity between weak and strong characters doesn't exist. And sure, some people may not understand the game to the extent you do, but that speaks nothing of their ability to if provided with new information, nor their understanding of the genre as a whole.
   Really, I can't think of another fighting game (I'm hard pressed to even think of another videogame period), that fosters such a standoffish and unproductive discourse of convenient half-truths. This of course, raises the question of why.
   I have two theories, but let's start with the easier one to digest: some people just don't understand the game.
   This is something I can absolutely sympathize with, as I've had to explain to someone who doesn’t bat an eye at mixups in Marvel 3 that Zato having a standing low does not make him an indefensible monster in Xrd. Sometimes, even people who are good at fighting games in general can contextualize things in ways that may not make sense for that particular application. A more pertinent example in this case is saying that 3rd Strike doesn't have footsies; obviously there are significant differences between how you approach in a SF game with parries and SF games without, but to say that there's no footsies at all is disingenuous on its face, though this does not ignore nor excuse the adverse effect on footsies that parries have.
   Having to qualify all of these statements to make my position as clear as possible without getting too specific brings to light the source of this phenomenon: 3rd Strike, for better or worse, lives on the razor's edge between extremes. For those who love the game, this is likely a large part of the reason why they do, but the same can just as easily be said of the opposite crowd.
   I have found though, that this element of, for lack of a better term, controlled craziness, has also gained the game a cult following not of players, but spectators.
   Which brings me to my next theory, which goes a bit deeper: most people who watch the game don't actually play it.
   At this point it almost seems obvious, what with the rise of streaming and the ever-so-forced injection of drama provided by the esports machine, that there will always be more people watching a fighting game than playing it. Yet while 3rd Strike is a game that predates all of that, it has never been exempt from this phenomenon, either, and in fact was arguably the biggest inspiration for the hype machine that fills any discussion of the genre with hot air today. Marvel 2 may have had the feuds and the shit talk, but 3rd Strike had the moments. Actually, fuck that: 3rd Strike had the moment. We all know what I'm talking about: it's probably part of the reason you're reading this at all. It's part of the reason I'm writing this.
   But think of that moment, or virtually any hype moment in the game, and change your perspective from that of a spectator to that of a player. Do you really think having your super parried is hype, when it happens to you? How about when you are the one tasked with getting out of an unblockable? Even if you're capable of doing this stuff, when it comes time to put up or shut up, you probably dread it at least a little bit. The chances of screwing up and the accompanying penalty greatly outweigh the chances of everything going as planned.
   “But that's why it's so hype!”, you say. This is when I ask “For whom?”
   The sad truth of the matter is that, not just 3rd Strike (though it is easily one of the best examples), but fighting games as a whole have been relegated to levels of observational disparity comparable to that of professional football. Some people watch every game, some people just follow their team, and some people just watch the Super Bowl. In the case of 3rd Strike I am definitely in the last category, but I am also no stranger to the game nor to the genre as a whole, and I've been around long enough to observe how people will rally around a game that they don't appreciate from the perspective that matters: that of a player.
   What's funny to me is that I found zen regarding this genre some time ago, and while I have gone from both extremes with 3rd Strike in particular, at this point I have no strong feelings towards it at all. So this is really just a platonic observation from the inside looking out. I have only played the game a handful of times since moving to Japan and it was mostly for the sake of variety between long sets of +R or some other game.
   “If you don't play the game, how is it not the other way around?”, you ask.
   Simple: I still value playing games over watching them.