Reflecting on Street Fighter II and arcade ass-kickings

Every summer, as warm weather settles over New York City, newscasters report that violence and crime escalate as the mercury rises. One doctor is likely to state that the high heat indexes are the direct cause of the unruliness; another equally qualified physician is likely to contradict that statement by explaining that people are simply outdoors longer in the summer, thus upping the chance of a confrontation. Regardless, if you were in the New York City arcade scene between 1991 and 1999, you either witnessed, dished out, or received an ass-kicking. As a frequent visitor of nearly every major arcade in New York City during those years, I experienced all three aspects of the phenomena. And Street Fighter II was very often the cause of those ass-kickings almost every  time.

Street Fighter II‘s very premise encourages rising tensions. You control a fighter, and have to beat up the competition to keep your quarter alive.  No matter if you lasted one minute or rattled of 10+ victories in a row, there was always something to boast about. If you got served, you could always boast to your “cheeser”  opponent that your six-hit combo was better than anything that he would’ve dreamed of doing.  If you bodied your opponent, well, that speaks for itself. The typical arcade rat didn’t pose any danger during those mouth-off moments, but if you were playing one of the arcade goons (every game room had at least two), you probably got a knuckle massage against your will.

I remember my first arcade beat down—unfortunately,  I was on the receiving end. I had just finished waxing some cigarette-inhaling punk using Guile’s infamous Jumping Fierce > Standing Fierce > Sonic Boom> Backfist mega-combo in the original Street Fighter II.  The leather-clad bastard got pissed and blew smoke in my face, as he couldn’t handle such a devastating defeat. I, naturally, told the scrub to step off and awaited the next challenger.

What came next was a thunder-clap of pain so severe that I hadn’t felt anything comparable until I ripped my pec in a freak martial arts accident years later. My jaw felt as though it was struck by Mjolnir itself, and my ears rang with as one with tinnitus. It’s hard to say exactly when I recovered from the Fist from Hell, but my most immediate memory was of my homie Abe wiping blood from my lip with a handful of tissue. Was this the price to pay for kicking ass in Street Fighter II?

Yes, apparently. I still get ribbed by the boys for catching such a bad one, but I wear my beat down with pride. Not only did I whip my opponent in-game, but I mentally pushed him to the point of a physical altercation. I owned him.

Kids these day don’t risk a punch in the face with the Xbox Lives and PlayStation Networks providing safe haven for all manner of smack-talkers. But back in the 1990s, mouthing off and Street Fighter II just didn’t mix. Especially during the dog days of summer.

Image courtesy of Capcom.