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Why I taught fighting games' most famous moment to my college composition class

Posted by Ryan 'Tryken' Tullis • November 22, 2014 at 6:08 p.m. PST • Comments: 76

Despite spending evenings masquerading as an online warrior named “GentlemanTryken” in Ultra Street Fighter 4, most people throughout my day refer to me as Professor Tullis. I teach English, reiterating to a diverse student population how to format essays, argue logically, and interpret literature. This sounds like an easy gig—and sometimes it is—but there exists an almost insurmountable barrier that tries to prevent me from connecting my love of communication with my students. I've learned to call this blockade “a lack of interest”.

The first day of class in Comp. 1 is particularly problematic. Many of my students are fresh out of high school. Some of them have been spoon fed Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other state required texts. More than a few have little knowledge of active reading or good writing. Furthermore, the first day of the semester is usually all business. It's where the professor usually goes over their syllabus and discusses class expectations, which is also extremely important.

So how do you shake up the routine in students who've been going through the same day one lecture over and over again, who've grown up in an age where communication is flaunted all around us, but hardly anyone is effectively communicating?

My Answer: You show them EVO Moment #37.

Keep reading below to continue the editorial.
I gave my class no explanation, and when I was done I asked them to explain what they saw to me. The answers ranged from teenagers who'd played Street Fighter IV casually shouting out a loud “haudoken” before laughing to a student's simplified answer of “the blonde guy was getting beat up, but then he did something that made the screen weird and won”. I showed it to them again. Now one of those students with minor experience in fighting games answered, “The Ken player did something like a block. It's where you press back.”

“Did it seem impressive?” I asked. That's the important question. A few students chimed in that it must have been because people were screaming. That's good. Their attention to detail is important. “What do you think? Do you think it was a big deal?” A mixture of “no”, “not really,” and “I don't know” flooded the room.

I have to admit here that EVO Moment #37 was only part of my focus. What I cared about more was an article written on it by Seth Killian for the Penny Arcade Report. In it, Capcom's former Community Manager completely broke down the famous scene. He expertly weaved a narrative of the dominant Justin Wong against the flailing Daigo Umehara. In the process, he never spoke over the head of his audience, instead choosing to carefully define each piece of the puzzle clearly or compare it to a large sport that the majority of readers would understand. He wrote, “Umehara tends to be a much more aggressive player, and the strain of playing against Wong's ultra-conservative Chun-Li was beginning to show.” Following his play-by-play is easy and enthralling to anyone who appreciates competitive sports.

After having my students read through Killian's explanation, I replayed the video. One of my students, now better understanding the full extent of Daigo's brilliance, murmured out, “That's sick.” Surely enough, the others discussed the moment with a much higher appreciation and understanding after Killian's explanation.

I asked if anyone knows why I showed them this. Most students remained silent or shook their head. Next, I asked if anyone played a sport other than football or basketball. One replied, “Track.” I told her that I didn't understand track and only perceived it as a bunch of people running in a circle where some happen to run faster than others. She thought it was an ignorant statement. I agreed, but I also asked her how she would explain its subtleties to someone who knows nothing about the sport.

Communication is a major problem in a generation that's told it never has to justify itself. It only takes a few minutes on Facebook to see the motivational messages about ignoring people who don't understand you or your life choices, how you never have to defend or explain your actions. It's a wonderful ideal, isn't it? Sadly, it has little basis in reality. The truth is that you could be the smartest person in the room, but if you can't communicate clearly, no one will care to listen.

What we say, how we say it, and even what we don't say affects how others perceive us and our passions, but most people continue to funnel themselves into circles of those already initiated in their hobbies. While comradery is great, there is an undeniable importance to apologetics and to a lesser extent minor evangelism. It's how a community grows.

Communication is also how we defend ourselves. To give an example, if we're a supervisor for a cyber security department that receives a $400,000 budget during a time when the company posts a loss for the year, the CEO and Human Resources might comb through their budget and wonder, “Why the hell are we giving almost half a million dollars to a bunch of geeks?” Let's say the CEO is an elderly gentleman who uses a computer primarily for e-mail and little else. Agitated and busy, he calls you. You're given ten minutes to explain what your department does and why it needs that money to function. I hope you know how to communicate effectively.

But why am I writing all of this to you, the fighting game player? I'm explaining this because growth and perception have always been a major problem for the FGC. We wonder why gaming media outlets often hone in on our scandals. Some argue that the rough and politically incorrect nature of the FGC is part of its grass roots beginnings, that we're actually one of the most racially diverse communities in gaming. We're even extremely generous and selfless in the pursuit of helping others. How many players have we given the chance to be seen domestically or on the national stage through donations? How many families have we helped get through tragedy?

How will anyone know this, though, if the FGC refuses to understand the importance of perception and communication? It's up to us to be the salespeople and defenders of our coven. This applies to any group, but especially to ours. The community likes to state that fighting games are one of the easiest to appreciate since the basic ideas are easy to grasp (ex. A player loses when their health reaches zero, and getting hit causes damage, etc); however, the flip side is that it causes the casual spectator to oversimplify what it is they're watching. Though this is anecdotal evidence, I witnessed plenty of gamer friends comment on Street Fighter's boring “fireball spamming”. We can reply, “They should figure out the difference,” but how can they know what they don't know?

Those we inadvertently turn away through our interactions miss out on one of the finest gaming communities. They miss out on a deep and competitive genre. And, most importantly, we miss out on them.
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