The Digital Journalism Blog


The Arcade of the Mind

Posted in Uncategorized by com360bu on May 9, 2011

Video games are an ubiquitous part of our culture.  Locally, however, most people consume sports games and first person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo.  However, a group of local gamers are a good example of the resurgence of the fiercely competitive, yet tight knit culture surrounding one on one fighting games.

By Tyler Emken

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Terms like kama throws, wake up attacks and advancing guards mean nothing to the general populace, but they mean the world to Matt Fowler and the other members of the local Peoria fighting game scene.

Fowler has been a fighting game fan since the inception of the fighting game genre.  Although there were other games, 1991’s Street Fighter II is generally considered the first one on one fighting game to cross over to a mainstream audience.  The mid nineties saw an explosion of similar, competing games such as Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter and Tekken.  These games were the staples of the arcades of the era.

“It was Street Fighter II when I was 13 and 14,” Fowler said.  “Running over to all the arcades”.

Fighting games saw their commercial and cultural impact lessen around the early 2000’s.  The market had become saturated with fighting games.  Even though a lot of high quality titles still were being produced, they were often only played by the most hardcore fighting game fans.  People like Fowler carried the torch for fighting games during this time.

All was not lost, however.  Fighting games have seen a revival in the last couple years.  This can mostly be traced to the 2009 release of Street Fighter IV.  By combining the technical play that tournament players adored with a shallower learning curve for starting players, the game became a hit.  Its updated version, Super Street Fighter IV, added more eight characters and adjusted the moves of the existing characters.  Many of the players who are a part of the fight club got started with competitive gaming around the time of SFIV’s release.

“It really revitalized the community,” Fowler said.  “There was one before, but it was so small and minute.  None of this would have been possible three or four years ago.”

Fowler decided to start his tournaments after noticing that Central Illinois lacked such a scene.

“I won the local (Street Fighter IV) tournament at Gamestop,” he said.  “I thought there would be more tournaments, but there weren’t.”

The early tournaments were held at Peoria Pizza Works.  Fowler said that there was not really much of an issue getting the tournaments in there.

“They had shows in there and stuff,” he said.  “It didn’t seem like a stretch to get in there.”

Those early tournaments planted the seed for the fighting game scene.  The gamers who entered those early competitions started to hang out together outside of the competitions to play and improve.  Shane Wiegands of Washington is one of those players.

“We all met at the tournaments,” Wiegands said.  “Then we started to hang out and play.”

Tony Recchia discovered the Peoria Pizza Works Tournaments though a fighting game website called shoryuken.com.

“I started browsing the regional match maker forum,” he said.  “That is how I discovered that this existed.”

As the tournament scene started to grow, so did Fowler’s gaming set up.  He bought his first cabinet in 2003.  Now his basement features six arcade cabinets and several other monitors.  There is even a separate room in which other players can watch those who are playing on the main cabinets on a flat screen TV.

“Matt would probably be too modest to say it,” Recchia said.  “But he probably has the best fighting game set up around.”

Fowler’s set up is not just a place for his club to have fun.  A comparison could be made between his basement and a gym for boxers.  This is where gamers can get together, play the games they love and most importantly, hone their skills.

“When I go to the bigger tournaments, I don’t expect to do well,” Recchia said.  “That is what this is for.  You might get beat a lot, but that is ok.  That’s how you get better.”

The bigger tournaments that Recchia speaks of take place in Chicago, Orlando and San Diego, amongst others.  The club plans to have some of its members compete in a larger tournament in Chicago at the end of May.

The club has mostly moved on from Super Street Fighter IV to arguably the year’s biggest fighting game release, Marvel vs. Capcom 3.  MvC3 is a lot different from the Street Fighter series.  While the Street Fighter games are more methodical affairs, MvC3 is incredibly fast paced.  It also features a robust online mode, but to Fowler and the rest of the club, playing games exclusively online takes away an integral part of the experience.

“Online is so horrible if you have ever played with real people,” Fowler said.  “These games are meant to be played socially.”

Fighting game tournaments are usually viewed as being something that happens more on the West Coast.  Fowler believes that his fight club is as good as anybody.

“One of our guys has beaten the best Marvel player in the world, and he probably isn’t even the best one here,” he said.  “I think the Midwest combos, the Illinois stuff is better than a lot of that California stuff.”

VIDEO

This video shows off some of the gaming equipment, specifically the arcade cabinets and the observation room.  There is also a Marvel vs. Capcom 3 match between players at the end.

ONLINE EXTRA – Fighting Game Timeline

This gives a brief overview of the history of fighting games.  It would be nearly impossible to cover every single important game or moment in the 3o plus year history of games, so I picked the ones that are the most important.  Any game cover or image that you see would be made clickable, opening a box that gave the user more detailed information on the game.  I would also have videos of the game in there as well so people can see it in motion.

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