Rediscovering the Love

I have always considered myself a moderately good Tekken combatant. During the days of Tekken 3 and 4 I would participate in local and national tournaments with some degree of success and found the experience to be very enjoyable. It opened up a whole new aspect of gaming that had up to that point eluded my field of vision. The ‘Hardcore’ gamer.

Now, I’ve always played games, sometimes one would say religiously. But I always drew the line at allowing a game to completely dominate my life. Granted I (as I’m sure most of us have) have spent entire days with a controller in hand, from dawn until dusk working my way through a Final Fantasy or finishing an older game in one sitting. I have not however, ever truly devoted myself to the mastery of any particular game. I play and I take enjoyment from it, which is where it ends. Going back to Tekken 3 and 4, I would spend a couple of hours a day perfecting my fighting style and learning the best ways to best my opponents. This would happen until the next tournament where I would often be beaten to a pulp by a much better player (including a 13 year old girl from Japan named Yuko who gave me the kicking of my life and one I will never, ever forget!). I did have my share of success and overall took pleasure from the time spent there. That was the last time I ever played Tekken 4. I briefly picked up Tekken 5 but played it out of pure interest for the games somewhat convoluted narrative. I had no interest in ever playing competitively again.

I then took a hiatus from the King of Iron Fist universe. Spending my time working to pay the bills, socialising and gaming on a very casual basis. I forgot all about Tekken and used my gaming time to explore such games as Killzone, Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Pro Evolution Soccer, Killer7 and others. The one-on-one combat arena didn’t hold any real appeal for me during that period, partly due to the fact that there weren’t any good fighters in the market and partly due to my now vested interest in games of a more meaningful and artistic nature. Aside from a short spell playing the exemplary Street Fighter IV, I spent a few blissful years indulging in engaging stories, emotionally engaging characters, stunning landscapes and relatively unfussy gameplay. Fighting didn’t even enter my mind.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2009. I had briefly noted the release of Tekken 6, the first iteration of the series to appear on the current generation of consoles. Though I had no real desire to buy it. Something had become lost over the years and I no longer had the immense desire to punch, kick, throw and maul in the same way I had done some years prior. I was intrigued to see what the game looked like graphically given the power of the PlayStation 3 and I had a mild interest in what developments had been made with the story and what Namco had done to improve my old war-horse Heihachi Mishima but that was where my interest ended. I had briefly mentioned to my partner that I wanted the game but it was nothing more than a fleeting thought. There were plenty of other games on my wanted list well above it. I was of the mind that I would play it, see what improvements (if any) had been made and then trade it in for something else. This however was not to be…

Christmas morning was spent with my partner and her parents. They had absolutely spoilt me rotten, something I wasn’t expecting at all. My final gift was clearly a game by the size and shape. I obviously had no idea what it was and my mind immediately jumped back to my wish list. I recounted the entries…number one – Assassins Creed, number two – Assassins Creed II, number three – Patapon 2 etc etc. I ripped open the wrapping paper to see the familiar black and red logo and the faces of Kazuya Mishima, Jin Kazama and my old friend Heihachi Mishima staring back at me. I was immediately filled with a sense of anticipation and I flashed back a number of years and saw the face of the Yuko, the young girl who had given me my harshest combat lesson. I was excited at the prospect of fighting once more.

As soon as we returned home, I fired up my PS3 and slipped Tekken 6 into the machine. As we had recently had our internet connection established I decided for the first time in my life to explore the world of online gaming. I’d never really been a fan of the whole online thing, but then again I’d never really had the opportunity to explore it in any great detail.

The game booted up and I chose an online fight. Selecting my old compatriot Heihachi I waited for the game to take me into the arena. What followed was Yuko all over again! My first online fight and I was annihilated! Absolutely destroyed and had to be peeled off the arena floor. I had flown into the online world and been brought crashing back to Earth with almighty force! In a state of shock and dismay I continued to try my luck. An hour later I took a break and noted my win/loss record. 0 Wins, 21 Losses, Win Ratio 0.00%. I couldn’t believe it. All of my illusions of being a moderately good Tekken fighter were shattered in one backbreaking hour.

I was distraught. I never wanted to play Tekken ever again. I had had it, done, finished, finito, over, end!

Something kept on dragging me back though. Whether it was my hurt pride, my deflated ego, my sore thumbs or my belief in myself that I wasn’t this horrendously bad at this game I don’t know. But something had hooked me. I was experiencing the same feelings as when I was playing Tekken 3 and 4 competitively. This innate desire to be the best and to beat the best. Against my better judgement I carried on. After a few scrappy wins I started to pick up some momentum and even a winning streak. The more time I spent with Heihachi, the more competitive I was becoming. I was once again neck-deep in the King of Iron Fist universe and loving every ecstatic and agonisingly frustrating minute of it!

This foray into the online world introduced me to a new kind of player. A player of such devotion that they are considered masters of their craft. These guys and girls are not only experts with their chosen characters; they are experts in the techniques, skills and dedication needed to be a world-class Tekken fighter. I have been pitted against some of these masters during my online play and irrevocably I have had my backside handed to me every single time. This however, has not dampened my spirits and I have found a new kind of joy while playing games. I know I will never be able to beat the best in this game (unless I were to drop everything and devote 18 hours per day to the pursuit of perfection). I now play the game for the pure enjoyment of it. No longer is about being the best in the world, it’s about relishing in the experience of playing a digital game. I feel I have come full circle and I am remembering why I fell in love with games in the first place. Ironically, being defeated so spectacularly has shown me that some people can take games far too seriously and have somewhere lost the enjoyment of it and the core reason for playing games, that is, to be entertained. Committing to memory every possible combination of moves, combos and juggles converts the player into a machine. An automated entity that simply churns out wins and gives no mind to the ‘art’ of the fight. For me, that would sap every bit of enjoyment out of the game. Consequently I now play Tekken online to find that one person who I will have a truly stellar match with, the ebb and flow of parry, counter-attack, opportunistic strikes and last gasp wins. To enjoy the game and to enjoy the push and shove of outwitting an opponent rather than simply churn out 50-hit combos and impossible to block juggles. I feel somewhat disappointed if the word ‘Perfect’ is displayed after a win.

For me, playing the game is no longer about conquering the world and no longer do I have an interest in even trying. The game is about pleasure. It’s about immersing yourself in a world away from the physical world and taking time out of your day-to-day life to enjoy one of the simpler pleasures. Catharsis in digital form.

If you have a game in your life that you used to love but haven’t played seriously for years, dust it off and put it in the machine. Maybe you will fall in love with games all over again.

Kaoru

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