So I want to talk a little more about Overwatch, but in my roundabout Josh Breidbart way. You know, where I talk about something else first and then finally circle back to what I really want to say. It’s my thing. You can blame in on the ADD. At least the topics are somewhat related this time.
I grew up on fighting games, mostly because they worked as fan fiction for me. The action in classic time sucks like Guilty Gear X2 and Dead or Alive 2 served as an endlessly unfolding drama, with climactic showdown after climactic showdown. Blazblue took full advantage of this category, its story and rich characters trapped in a never ending wheel of fate that kept throwing different matches together. And there was nothing more satisfying than inventing my own plotlines for Marvel vs. Capcom 2. In my mind, Dr. Doom and Thanos struck an alliance with Felicia to defeat Mega Man, Juggernaut and a Cactus because, well, comics.
Win or lose, to me there’s something easy about playing fighting games. Now, please don’t misread that statement and assume that I find fighting games easy. No. They are easy to get into. Between the length of the fights and the commitment required to pick up and play, fighting games match the effort you put in. That’s why, especially at the end of the work day, I find these games to be cathartic, allowing me to take out the stress of the day on a helpless AI (more on this later). And the other difference between these and, say, Dark Souls, would be the framing device. I am there for the characters, to join in a few exploits out of their many adventures. Even the limited moveset these games offer played a part, leaving my mind largely free to wander and imagine.
Now, if you know anything about video games, you probably know that one fighting game series has hooked a wider community than any to date, the gold standard of what a fighting game is: Street Fighter.
Though I wouldn’t put Street Fighter in the top tier of my favorite franchises, I have always made time to play its newer installments because it was just so damn good. Like partaking of a fine wine, a gamer can really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into how stealthily deep Street Fighter’s mechanics are. It may seem shallow at first, but a dedicated gamer can see past the superficial to appreciate one of the sturdiest backbones of gameplay in video game history. Which is why when Street Fighter 5 was announced, I was chomping at the bit. Knowing it focused on rewarding endless gameplay, my source of fan fiction, with DLC and new characters as a reward, the latest installment seemed like it would be a dream come true.
And I just can’t bring myself to care enough to play.
Shaky launch notwithstanding, even with new characters coming and a deep community of players, I just don’t find myself wanting to take the time to slog through the endless repeated motions to “git gud”. Maybe it’s the removal of enemy AI and the focus on PvP action, pushing my social anxiety to its zenith, but the truth is, I just feel removed. Fighting other people online just feels stressful to me. The fan fiction isn’t there; instead, it’s replaced by the reality of an ass-whooping over and over again.
It probably just sounds like I’m a sore loser with online games, and with SF5, maybe that’s true. But it’s not the case for Overwatch.
The thing is, I play Overwatch with the glee I was expecting to feel for Street Fighter 5. In fact, I would argue that Overwatch has had the effect that Street Fighter 5 wanted to have on fans and newcomers. A pick-up-and-play, earn what you put in kind of game, one that keeps drawing me back in with rich characters and a vibrant community. Overwatch scratches that itch of “fan fiction” fighting. Gameplay-wise, you perform the same setups, acting and reacting to a constantly changing, perhaps evolving if you rank up, opponent. There’s no story mode or one player. Just 3 types of missions, ten different levels, and 21 characters to battle over and over again, just like…
But here’s the thing. With this game, I just don’t feel stressed playing online. The great accomplishment of this game is how it builds a community through not just rich characters but through the fundamentals of the game itself. There are wrong ways to play Overwatch, mostly stemming from not working with your teammates. But when as little as 2-3 players are working as one effort, they become a nearly unstoppable force. The other night, I played with a group of 6 people who worked with each other and never lost a single game. We weren’t just playing together. We were a team.
When a game dedicates this level of detail and love to the lore and characters AND the team dynamics, it builds more than a fighting engine. It builds a community. Street Fighter 5 builds opponents. And I think that’s why it has so much less appeal to me. Because it wants me to fight everyone, when I’d rather work with others to conquer all.
I’m pretty sure James and co would prefer a game like Overwatch now over Street Fighter 5. Don’t you think?