The variety of ways in which victories can be enjoyed is an interest phenomenon. Victory, for the most part, is generally seen as something with intrinsic positive worth; a good that is good irrespective of the methods used to obtain it, and something that is always, always better than a loss. While I’m making the assertion that this is the case sui generis, it holds true more than anywhere else within the context of competitive endeavours. Why, then, did my first victory against a human being online in Street Fighter IV, following over twenty defeats, feel so hollow? Why wasn’t I filled with the jubilation felt by an excited expectant father upon seeing his spawn emerge from its gestational enclosure; why wasn’t I whooping and hollering over a job well done?
The simple and honest answer is that I won cheaply.
I don’t like winning cheaply: a victory, for me, is all the more sweet for it being the result of a close competition between myself and another within the context of the completion at hand. It is never enjoyable to completely steamroll an opponent, nor does a heavy loss at the hands of someone far more skilled in the relevant area to the competitive exercise serve to teach one any more about the mechanics of the game at hand. It is also far more fulfilling where a certain amount of decorum has been maintained throughout proceedings: a fair fight must have been had in order for the ordeal of competition to have been worthwhile. In the course of winning this match, however, I managed to more spectacularly dismount from what could be considered my moral high-horse around fair and honorable competition in the five minutes that this match lasted than I have ever done within the context of a video game before.
“But Xandy,” I hear the clamors of an eager and engaged audience question, “how can one win cheaply in the context of a game that is known to be finely balanced for the competitive scene? In fact, how can anything be cheap or dishonourable within the context of a video game, which, taking a reductive view of things, is nothing more than a bundle of rules bound with input processing and pretty graphics? Surely, if the game allows it, it is fine within the context of the game world?” Well, yes, I would, nine times out of ten, tend to agree with this sort of rationalisation and I truly wish that I could let myself off the hook here: I must, however, confess that I feel such shame over the sort of antics that I displayed in order to have the opportunity to finally increase a number by one within a game’s statistics page that burying my head in the sand would only be delaying the sort of realisation that I may well end up paying a therapist far too much to talk through with me when it hits. I did not only cheat myself, but I cheated my opponent too.
I’d given up on Rose for a short period of time to get a better grasp of the true “fundamentals” of Street Fighter, taking up Ryu as a starting point for doing so. Having had some informal coaching from someone who soundly beat me, I was aware of what Ryu’s core “pokes” (moves designed to inflict chip damage and explore the weaknesses of an opponents play style) were, and how those could be transitioned, as appropriate into some more powerful moves. I was also, of course, aware of the core special moves of hadouken and shoryuken. Unable to find another match online, I had opted to host a game and wait to be found by someone for a game: I was, and I noticed that they had a similar low-but-nonzero number of Player Points as I did, implying that they were either on a smurf account or a new player. Fortunately, it seemed that the latter was the case, and for the first time I felt that the odds may not be terribly stacked against me. I might actually win.
The first and second rounds were fairly close affairs, with one going to me and one to my opponent. The third round started much the same: both of us playing defensively for the most part, only looking to seek to punish misplays as and when we decided to get aggressive. Poking the opponent with a low medium kick, I sometimes managed to coax a jump out of him as a means of evading it, punishing this strongly with a hard punch shoryuken. There came a point, however, where I’d made enough mistakes to worry about losing the match at the last hurdle. That wasn’t something that I’d be willing to allow happen so close to such a pivotal event in my burgeoning Street Fighter career. Having a full EX meter, I performed some EX hadoukens, causing a little damage to my opponent as he blocked them. Looking at our life bars, I saw that I was marginally ahead, and the time limit for the round was approaching. I kept my distance and hurled hadoukens in the hope that he wouldn’t attempt to jump forward over them. He didn’t. The timer reached zero.
I’m so sorry.