“Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?”
This is the question Jared Rea, professional fighting gamer (among a host of other titles), presented during some after hours impromptu streaming on the set of Capcom’s Street Fighter x Tekken promotional Cross Assault reality show. The show put several professional fighting game players in a house together and divided them down the middle as “Team Street Fighter” and “Team Tekken.” It was a cute marketing maneuver that allowed Capcom to make in-roads with the hardcore fighting game community that questions the game’s tournament viability due to a somewhat controversial gem system, but it also provided a further leap of legitimacy to an ever-more popular eSport. The convalescence of the fighting game genre and the viability of streaming major and not-so-major events came together at the right time to take competitive professional fighting game tournaments to more than just single-moment Daigo vs. Wong youtube clips (lauded though those moments may be). Something like Cross Assault showed that the legitimacy of these events, and this community, was being recognized by the people making the games for them. That’s perhaps why it is kind of surprising that Jared’s opponent in this debate, Aris Bakhtanians, chose to express his opinion that Street Fighter without sexual harassment simply is not the same so adamantly.
Giant Bomb writer Patrick Klepek summarized the situation here, so I will not go back over the whole event. Since the comments filtered out to the internet, some have defended the points Aris made as truthful. In a statement Bakhtanians released today, he expressed concern over losing the personality of the fighting game community, which he believes comes from trash-talking and harassment. It is a trial-by-fire mentality, where people either rise to the ridicule or slink away. Rather than this being a “So what now?” moment for the fighting game community, things are becoming more insular, and some people are defending the casual sexism, racism, and homophobia within the community as part of its soul. This video, compiled of parts from day one of the training (of which Aris oversaw, as coach for Team Tekken) paints a bad picture of what happened.
Bahktanians believes that the soul of the community is trash-talk, whether it be sexual or racial or whatever, but is that really true? Does the culture change at all if you players hold themselves back from calling their opponent a bitch? Even if it does, is that change necessarily a bad thing? In March of 2011, Noel Brown attacked Eric “Smooth Viper” Arroyo over trash-talk going too far, a situation where he was reprimanded, suspended, and told he would no longer be able to participate if it happened again. The root of the problem, “friendly” competition becoming less friendly, has yet to really be addressed. The psychological aspect of getting under someone’s skin is fundamental to competition, but it has become increasingly more aggressive in the fighting game community.
Rather than simply saying, “It has been dealt with and people have apologized,” the fighting game community should use this time to deal with increasingly-evident problems over how it deals with not only the racism, sexual harassment, and homophobia, but the general aggressive nature that is taking form outside of fights. Professional fighting game players are no longer teenagers sitting in their friends’ garages and, if they ever want to be taken beyond that and actually live up to the word “professional,” change has to come from within the community by acknowledging the problem.
Or, you know, they could do nothing and start excluding interesting and diverse people that do not play ball with their mentality. That’s a viable, though sad, option that they can also choose to pursue.