Heart racing. I can feel my pulse in my ears. Can't blink. Can't let my focus slip for even a moment. Lay a trap. Bait him. Catch him off guard. Don't let up. It's triumph or die now. Can't lose. Must win. Must become the best like no one ever was.

Ever played Street Fighter? I have. I have played a lot of the series and similar competitive fighting games. Truly, I say to you, it is an experience like no other.

I'll be the first to admit that this genre has little appeal to the untrained eye. Mash buttons and watch overly buff men and impossibly shapely women throw down in mortal combat time and time again. From the outside, games like these have little going for them.

But then you experience it, and life changes.


At first, you notice the feel of a well-built competitive game: the do or die attitude, the drive to win, and the heat of battle. You don't have to understand the mechanics to feel and enjoy these things.

As time progresses, your desire to win drives you to do something you never thought you'd do for a video game: practice. You learn to execute attacks when you want. You train your body for success.

So you go back into the arena, but — lo and behold — your training doesn't land you the tournament victory. Even if you can execute that Shoryuken on a whim, you're out of luck if you're getting beat down too much to ever go on the attack. Looks like it's back to the drawing board. Time to do something else you never thought you would: study.

Arming yourself with character strategies, understanding of game mechanics, and learning tricks on combo concepts, you feel ready to take on the world again. You've worked hard. So it's off to another tourney. But — you guessed it — you still didn't take first. Why not? How could you have gone wrong?

Oh. There's yet more to the game. Physical training and studying proven tricks weren't enough, so what's missing? The most important thing of all, the ability to play your opponent.

This is what I love about Street Fighter most. In practice, high-level play is not just any other video game. No, it's not even close. In high-level play, the dynamic interplay of strategy and psychology is right on the heels of chess.

It's astonishing. I feel like every bit of my brain is engaged when playing. I'm having to analyze a constant stream of information, improvise a strategy, alter it in an instant, and execute my tactics with windows of opportunity mere fractions of a second in length. Even in studying the competition of others, the attention to detail needed in analysis is borderline absurd.

But that's what makes it so amazing. The strategic depth of the game runs deeper than the ocean. But it's more than just strategy — it's also philosophy and psychology. Many competitive gamers I know will be quick to explain (at least as much as they are able) that it's so much more than a game. It's war. It's a manifestation of the self.

And once you're hooked, you can't go back. At least, I sure can't.

Oh, and to make things even better, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is only two weeks away. Yes. I am hyped.

Until next time, players.