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In this presentation we will examine one of gaming’s most culturally contentious and well-known genres: fighting games. Specifically, this is a historical tour through the genre’s humble beginnings, with games like Karateka and Kung-Fu, right up to the current explosion of online-capable, arcade-perfect 2D and 3D battlers. Our goal is to weave together the development of fighting game mechanics — what are the stylistic and gameplay choices that make a fighting game and how have they developed? — with the concurrent development of their boisterous and exciting but often highly problematic player culture. Using emblematic examples from fighting game’s history — some well-known, some not — we will look at the history of the genre holistically, exploring technological, cultural, and design elements that have brought both the games and the players to their current state.
One of the core concepts we will explore is the idea of fighting games as a meritocracy: that as long as a player is skilled, they can succeed and will be welcomed. This theme runs rampant in both the design of the games themselves, and in the community. Players demand that characters must, in theory, be ‘balanced’ so that skill is the determinant of victory… yet ‘broken’ characters, which are inevitable, can attain a certain cult status. Meanwhile the community expends serious effort mining and observing game data to create things like ‘tier lists’ and ‘frame data’ — efforts towards achieving that perfect ideal of balance. This creates a tension between a culture that demands perfect balance and games that can never entirely offer it.
Overall, this presentation will combine an understanding of the evolving mechanics of fighting games with the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of their player culture to demonstrate how, in gaming, these two factors often converge and influence each other.