I love fighting games. Street Fighter II was one of the first arcade games I ever played, and from flagship series like Soul Calibur and Marvel vs. Capcom to forgotten titles like Bloody Roar and Doomsday Warrior, I’ve always been attracted to the colorful character designs and over-the-top action of the genre. That said, I’m not very good at them. I’ve never put in enough time to truly learn the ins and outs of any given game, and my preferred way to play is with friends rather than online. I’m not much of a competitive gamer, really — I’ve historically been something of a bad loser, so I’ve learned to avoid overly competitive settings. But that’s changed with the release of Guilty Gear Strive, a game in which I am having a wonderful time logging on to get my ass kicked by strangers all over the world.
Here’s the thing: I’m never going to be a high-level Strive player. I don’t have the time or dedication it requires to really get to grips with a game like this. But accepting that has meant that I’m free to enjoy Strive on my own terms, a lot of which includes getting totally murked by people I’ll never meet. It’s not that I’m not trying to win, because I am. It’s just that I’m not getting mad at myself for losing anymore.
It helps that the game is totally gorgeous, the apotheosis of Arc System Works’ visual style. Strive is incredible in motion, and the character designs are wonderful too, each with distinct silhouettes, personalities, and attack patterns. Getting destroyed in Strive is like watching a figure skating routine if the figure skater was a seven foot tall anime man whose performance involved beating the hell out of an immortal vampire samurai.
Fighting games aren’t for everyone. I understand why some people just aren’t interested in them, for the same reason some people aren’t interested in chess or backgammon. In many ways they’re an anomaly in the modern video game landscape, which is dominated by social games, loot shooters, and single-player narrative experiences in which combat is typically about delivering a power fantasy. Fighting games don’t do that, which is one reason why they’re sometimes misunderstood as being inaccessible. Most fighting games are perfectly accessible to a wide range of players, and you can have a great time just messing around in them with your friends. But to expect that you can pick a game up and understand its systems immediately, much less go toe-to-toe with experts, is simply unrealistic.
Once you realize that, you can give yourself permission to lose. And once you have permission to lose, you can start learning. You might learn how different characters are likely to approach in different situations, or how to counter a particularly devastating strategy. Or, you might learn that a game simply isn’t for you, and that’s ok too. I’ll probably move on from Strive in a couple of months, but in the meantime I’m having a great time taking in the spectacle, playing with my friends, and, yes, getting totally bodied online.
It’s just a game, after all. My current favorite character in Strive, the immortal vampire Nagoriyuki, doesn’t even really get beaten when he loses a match — he just casually lays down, effectively saying “you gotta hand it to em.” And when you lose a match to a more skilled player, there’s really no better reaction than that.