Hey gang! This is a multi-part series about my love of fighting games. It covers my humble beginnings as a child, my obsession as a teenager, and how I became the Canadian champion as an adult. Go here to read Part 1, and come back when you’re done for Part 2. It ends on a cliffhanger again, so subscribe to my RSS feed or Twitter page to get updated when I publish Part 3 in a couple of days.
I’ll always remember the first time I played Virtua Fighter.
It was at Taco Maker, our local Arabic Taco Bell ripoff in Bahrain. I was 11 years old.
When Virtua Fighter first appeared, all I did was beg to go to the arcade and play it. After all, it was a 3D game, and super advanced compared to everything else (*cough* Street Fighter II *cough*). I mean, look at the characters: they were just so real and lifelike!
I used to beg my parents to take me, and once a week, my father and sister and I would go there to get some junk food. I’d spend a small fortune, between 3 and 4 dollars, on this game, and just throw my money away on how awesome it was.
I was enthralled. When it finally came out on console, for the mythical Sega Saturn, I was drooling with excitement. And when my older brother took a business trip to the UK, promising me a Sega Saturn when he got back, I prayed to the bearded god and baby jesus that he would fulfill his promise.
Late at night, I would stay up and beg. “Dear God, I swear I’ll be good, I’ll do my homework, I’ll make my mom proud, please… just please… let my older brother remember to buy a Sega Saturn for me when he comes back.” Then I’d feel guilty, and pause for a second, before adding: “Also, world peace. And a barbie for my little sister.”
Satisfied, and sure in the knowledge that the bearded god from heaven wouldn’t let me down, I would sleep.
It was therefore quite grim when my brother showed up a week later. I could barely contain my excitement, and ran at him as he walked into the kitchen.
“Didja get a Sega Saturn? Did you? You didn’t! Or did you? TELL ME!”
He paused then, and I’ll always remember what happened next.
“No, I didn’t get a Saturn. I got something better”, he said, grinning mischievously from ear to ear.
I was in shock. I think I got a little dizzy too, and possibly short of breath. What the hell kind of drugs was my brother on? There was obviously nothing better than a Sega Saturn. He must not have had enough money to get one. My heart sank. I took a deep breath, and prepared myself for the inevitable doom that was approaching.
“What’s better than a Sega Saturn?” I asked.
“A Sony Playstation!” he replied, and with a flourish, pulled one out of the bag he was carrying.
Alright, well, I got the knockoff console. But at least I got a console. My NES was getting kind of old at this point. Then a sudden thought struck me: Virtua Fighter was only for Sega Saturn! What the hell was I going to play now? There was no realistic, lifelike, awesome three dimensional fighting game on Playstation. Or was there?
“What about Virtua Fighter?” I asked him, clutching the console box to my body.
“Sony has one too! It’s called Tekken.”
Tekken?! What kind of shitty name is that?
“I guess it’s better than nothing”, I told myself.
And so began the greatest love story of my life.
I ♥♥♥♥ Tekken
We’ve already covered how videogames saved my life. I’m going to delve a little deeper into the how and why concerning a particular game: TEKKEN!
In 1996, my brother changed everything by showing up at our house with a Playstation and Tekken 2. It became my new favorite pasttime. I would sit there and practice moves and combos for hours. Each character had a ten-hit string that I memorized, because I thought it was awesome. King, the wrestling character, had an insane chain throw where if you grabbed the opponent once and did the proper inputs, the match was over. I spent hours, days, learning how to do them.
I quickly surpassed my older brothers (goddamn scrubs), and made them not want to play against me. I then beat down all my friends, and they too quit. Soon it was just me and Tekken 3, having a fun time. I was the king of everything awesome. Then I moved to France.
It was a trying time. I was 15 years old, and had no friends. I hated the long hours at school, the crappy weather, and the odd people that didn’t accept me. I couldn’t deal with my situation at home, living in close quarters with my mother, sister and cousins. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, as a teenager: I escaped, every chance I got.
I lived right on the border of Geneva, and every Saturday I would take my allowance and catch the tram into downtown. I would go to Rue du Marché, Geneva’s most prestigious shopping and touristy area, and go down a side street to hang out at the arcade.
All this travel time, just to play Tekken Tag Tournament. After all, Tekken hadn’t let me down yet.
The Beginning of Real Competition
Every week I would play there, and get to know the other players. Every week we would fight each other, and laugh, and talk Tekken. And every week, I felt like I belonged to something. To this day, I can still remember many of their faces, although not their names. There was the chubby King/Devil player, the skinny and freaky looking Mishima player with crooked teeth, and the Lei/Bruce guy with the dreads and the calm and slow way of enunciating his words.
They were all amazing, and I looked up to them. After all, they were better than I was, and the only way I was going to improve was by challenging the best. They taught me the basics about combos, tag slides, tag dives, and managing two characters’ lifebars. There was more to this game than just doing random moves, and I slowly realized something important: Tekken was full of strategy.
I regularly visited TekkenZaibatsu, the global Tekken website, to watch videos and learn strategies for characters. Keep in mind that this was 1999-2000, there wasn’t anything like Youtube available, and bandwidth was incredibly expensive. As such, subscribers had access to all the videos, but poor teenagers like me only got to see the match of the week. I would watch those matches, dissect and analyze each movement over and over again, like a freaky little mad scientist, all in the hopes of going back to the arcade and showing those guys that I was good.
If only I had put that same effort into my academic life, I might not have nearly failed highschool.
Eventually, I ended up getting good at the game, thanks in part to my friend Olivier. He was, like me, sort of an outcast at school in our first year. We bonded over our love of fighting games, and started playing lots of Tekken together. Any chance we got, we would ditch class and run over to his sister’s house. We would eat a quick snack, and then play as much as we could, sometimes as short as half an hour of matches. Then we’d run back to class, and get berated for being late.
He showed me my first frame trap with the Mishimas. Most modern Tekken players would laugh at it now, but at the time, it was incredibly advanced. It was simple: 1,1 on block, then 1, 1 again. If it hit, press 2. If it didn’t, mix up another 1, 1 with a grab.
I was in awe. I slowly began to understand how to create my own frame traps. Do a move that gives me some advantage and gets my opponent to react, then do another move to counter whatever he throws at me. Incredible, and so much creativity ensued. I built all kinds of frame traps, setups and combos for my characters. I also built 5 different teams, because of all the options the Tag system gave me.
Armed with my new knowledge, I started winning at the arcade. I became known as the Baek/Hwoarang player, the only one who could take down anyone with the Taekwondo team. People were in awe of my execution, because I never missed a cancel with Baek, or a combo with Hwoarang. I was respected in the scene.
Finally, in a foreign country, in a new high school, in a world where I didn’t feel at home, I found acceptance in a place where people judged me for something other than my looks, personality, and intelligence: the arcade.
There was only one thing that mattered there: my skill at Tekken.
And so, three glorious years went by. I eventually made great friends at high school, people that I still see to this day whenever I visit family in France. I also had a girlfriend, fell in love, broke up, was sad, partied a lot, smoked, drank, and did all the things that high school students do, all the while knowing that Tekken had my back.
Then I graduated, and moved to Canada.