Growing up as an only child, video games were basically my best friends. Even when my actual best friends were over, we were on the Sega or Nintendo. There was also 12 years of baseball, several stints in various martial arts and a very demanding private high school worth taking note of. Maybe I should also mention that I’m half Mexican and a quarter each Filipino and German; not really conducive to a simple social life as a kid. Competition was everything. From as far back as I can remember, I had to be the best I could be, and Street Fighter II was my first real introduction to competitive gaming; something that would eventually dominate the majority of my gaming life.
I must have been in first or second grade when I first noticed Street Fighter II in the arcades. At that time, bumming a couple bucks off of mom and dad for quarters was the only way to play it. It was a different time back then; much less elitism since you physically had to be next to people if you wanted to play, so no one really cared that there were snot nosed kids hovering around the popular machines. Watching the world warrior fights on-screen was intoxicating. The sounds were particularly exciting. Wherever I went, if I heard shouts from a hadoken or sonic boom going off, I got chills and linked it right to the machine it they came from. You better believe we were at an arcade of some sort for every birthday I had, and I knew which video rental places had a SF2 Championship Edition machine.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 came out when I was in high school, and, like most kids that age, I was starting to find my identity. The Arizona Diamondbacks became a baseball team, so I started following them. My love of the English language blossomed around that time, as one of my teachers, Dr. Hatcher, showed me that there are no limits to what the written word can do for the imagination. Then there was Guile…my main in Street Fighter, and Charlie, his friend and permanent fixture on my X-Men vs. Street Fighter team. They say in fighting games that one’s choice of character is sometimes a reflection of themselves in a way, and I suppose you could say that’s a little true for me. When I look at the confidence, loyalty and strength that Guile encapsulates, I see traits that I value in my everyday life. Plus his hair is awesome and I enjoy charge characters, of course. Apart from Third Strike (since he wasn’t in it), I’ve rarely deviated from Guile since my high school days.
When I was in college, I usually picked a class schedule that was similar to some other fighting game nuts. On our free periods, we’d hit up one of two arcades on campus depending on the logistics of who was in what building at what time. My favorite by far was the arcade in our Student Union. It had Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter: Third Strike, Tekken Tag Tournament, and, my all-time favorite fighting game, Capcom vs. SNK 2. This place was absolutely packed at all hours of the day. It didn’t matter if it was finals week or there was a major sports game going on – people were always there and quarters were always lined up above the fight sticks (for our younger readers, most arcades had numbered quarter slots at the top for the control panel where you’d essentially mark your place in line). The arcade next to the bookstore was good to kill a few minutes, as it had X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Third Strike, but it was small and a little out-of-the-way.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in those arcades during my time at that school (Shout out to Cal State Northridge and the FGC there from ’01 to ’07). The funny thing is that I was never really even that good, but it didn’t matter. Just being there, making friends and watching the competitions play out was such an amazing daily experience, and it’s had a tremendous impact on my choice of games and who I am as a gamer today. To me, it’s never just about the game, but about the community. It’s why I always try being part of online forums, and it’s why I’m always on the lookout for writing opportunities within the gaming industry (Thank you, Gamer Pantheon).
At the end of the day, everything we do is a competition. Winning is great, but how you handle defeat and whether or not you choose to persevere is when you see what you’re really made of. I’m 33 years old now, and I’ve been playing Street Fighter since I was 8. Learning how to be a good winner and loser in competitive gaming has helped me with perspective in other areas of my life, and has shown me the value in taking a step back and assisting others in their endeavors whenever I’m given that opportunity. It’s also trained my mind to look for small things that I can perfect in my professional and personal life. No matter what anyone says, I know from personal experience that games can have a profound impact on one’s life. Now, off to brave the SFV ladder once more…