[Games of Summer is a recurring seasonal retrospective highlighting those magical titles that evoke wondrous thoughts of warm weather, carefree days, and discovery. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll reflect on said titles and analyze why they meant so much to us then -- and just as much now.]
When you live in the northeastern portion of the United States, you’re subject to brutally cold, snow-covered winters that leave you hungry for the warmth of summer. That’s what I loved about being born in May; when my birthday rolled around, it was the official start of good times. Blooming flowers, beach weather, springtime crushes, and dwindling school days were all elements of the immediate future. So was the likelihood of getting punched in the face.
Every summer, as warm weather settles over New York City, a newscast reports that violence and crime escalate as the mercury rises. One doctor would state that the high heat indexes are the direct cause of unruliness; another equally qualified physician would contradict that by explaining that people are simply outdoors longer in the summer, thus upping the chance of a confrontation. Regardless, if you were in an arcade between 1992 and 1997, you either witnessed, dished out, or received an asskicking. As a frequent visitor of virtually every arcade in New York City during those years, I’ve experienced all three aspects of the phenomena. Street Fighter II was very often the cause almost every single time.
The very premise of Street Fighter II encouraged rising tensions. You control a fighter, and have to whip the ass of everyone that dared squared off against you in order to keep your quarter alive. No matter if you lasted 1 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 could’ve dreamed of doing. If you totally trumped your opponent, well, that speaks for itself. Your typical gaming nerd didn’t pose any danger during those mouth-off moments, but if you were playing one of the arcade thugs (every game room had at least two), you probably got a facial massage courtesy of a pair of fists.
I remember my first arcade beatdown — 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 thunderclap of pain so severe that I hadn’t felt anything comparable until I ripped my pec in a freak wrestling 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 save haven for all manner of smack-talkers. But back in the ’90s, mouthing off and Street Fighter II just didn’t mix. Especially during the dog days of summer.