Let me get this out of the way: I'm bad at every video game except one. And the only reason I'm good at that one is because for four years in college, before my roommates and I stumbled over to whatever crowded house party that was being thrown within walking distance of campus, I decided that it would be a good idea to pregame with a little "Chug whenever you lose a life"-sponsored bout of Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. And, luckily enough for me and my liver, my roommates' reactions to this was always, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Bloody brilliant idea, old chap."
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My school was in 18th-century London.
Like everything else I learned in college, I never expected to put this particular skill to use in any sort of real world setting. That all changed when, three years after graduating, I heard that a local game store was holding a Super Smash Bros. tournament. Like every other person in the world, I've seen the classic 1989 film The Wizard multiple times, and not once have I come away from the experience with anything less than a burning desire to show off my gaming skills in front of a raucous crowd of adoring and/or jealous tweens.
Or just Jenny Lewis.
If that was a dream I ever hoped to live, this Super Smash Bros. tournament was my best and only hope. So after a few minutes spent imagining I'd just helped Fred Savage get to California by hustling improbably elderly gamers out of their hard-earned money, I decided to take the final step, and entered that tournament.
Surprise! It wasn't shit like the movies make it out to be. Here are a few ways The Wizard lied to me about video game tournaments.
6The Demographics Aren't What You Expect
Admittedly, I wasn't expecting the competition to consist solely of privileged white kids under the age of 14 like in the movie, but I did have expectations. Thanks to YouTube videos of teenagers shrieking like they're trying to prove to their god that they should be reincarnated as eagles, the people who participate in video game tournaments are stereotyped as Mountain-Dew-soaked acne banshees who have yet to discover the redemptive blend of hot water and shampoo. While those people certainly make up a tiny percentage, video game tournaments, even ones as relatively small as the one I participated in, contain a bunch of demographics, all brought together by a love of Nintendo brawls and comfy desk chairs.
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"So do you guys get high before playing, too?"
For example, one of the groups of people who had put their names in the brackets were four roommates, all in their mid-20's. They weren't outwardly what an episode of The Big Bang Theory would call "nerdy," and at certain intervals in the game, they would retreat to their car in the parking lot to take shots. If you read the introduction to this article, you know my liberal stance on this kind of warm-up.
Unlike lesser athletes, I'm open about (gin and) juicing to enhance performance.
Another group consisted of three Hispanic brothers who all played as Pikachu. In Super Smash Bros., you can choose to have Pikachu wear differently-colored party hats to make the carnage more festive. Pokemon are forced by mankind to fight death battles with each other, so it's reasonable to think that Pikachu would have to struggle for his life even on his birthday.
Each brother would differentiate their particular Pikachu with their own choice of hat. Using Pacific Rim/Step Up logic, that kind of aesthetic coordination means that they would receive little dialogue and a swift exit from the competition. This wasn't the case at all when using "real-world-Pikachu-in-a-red-hat-decimating-the-competition" logic, though. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, "Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." To that, I fittingly add a third portion, which is, "And that kid intensely playing as Pikachu over there has hit fucking everything."
5Being "Good" at the Game Isn't Mandatory
All of the contestants certainly knew the rudimentary basics of controlling the game. No one entered the building, saw the rows of Nintendo 64's, and burst into impotent tears. But there are various levels of being adept at something.
The extent of my technological knowledge goes no further than "If you click the little box on the bottom-right of a video, it makes the screen bigger!" If I was in a '90s movie about computer hacking, I'd play the main character's clueless, sighing father. Or a person from the 1500s who died before electricity was invented. Or one of those dogs who can't ride a skateboard. I'm useless.
Worthless son of a bitch.
For every person who was just deft at clicking buttons until the opposing Mario had internal bleeding, there was a person who knew, and was very vocal about, all the little inner workings of the game. Knowledge doesn't always translate to application, though. I know all the words to Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda," but my ass still remains a vampire-hued technicality at the base of my spine, you know?
Anyway, after I won my first round, a guy approached me to tell me that, while I was good, I didn't know about "points of damage" on the character I was using. "Did you know that, when you're in this position, your opponent can take damage just from touching your back?" As someone who wields Yoshi with a method that can best be described as "all caps and no punctuation," it never occurred to me that there might be more ways to beat an opponent than simply using moves until the game told you that it was all over.
And then, like a lost episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where Michelangelo turned on a helpless, bleating Master Splinter and cracked his skull open, we faced each other in one of the shortest match-ups of the entire day. Everything he taught me seemed to go out the window as he writhed his hands across the controller in a vain effort to do something. It's hard to put into words just how suddenly infected with ghosts his fingers had become, and when he lost, he turned to me and began giving me even more pointers on how to properly handle Yoshi.
"I'd love to continue this discussion about your superiority, but I have to go play, since I'm still actually in this thing."
So that I'm not dividing gamers into people who have Super Smash Bros. street smarts and Super Smash Bros. instruction booklet smarts, let me say that, often, people had both, and facing the people who had the full Venn diagram of proficiency was mildly harrowing. As a child, I would invite older family members to play fighting games on the Super Nintendo with me, and I don't mean to brag, bros, but I'd kick their asses. Now, older family members, I totally understand what the deal was. Please accept my apologies. And my phone calls. I miss Christmas.