How Fighting Games Can Bring Us to Perfection

Enter the Shadow-Realm, The Ideal World of the Meta.

photo cred: Chroman

Fighting games are inherently tactical and hands-on. Not only do these games encourage incredible reflexes and adaptation, but they also encourage players to solve a problem head-on, communicate with the opponent as well as the boundaries within the arena.

When you think of a video game, what you are actually seeing is a piece of digital artwork created by incredible game designers. This artwork moves and shifts in response to your actions on the controller (or fightstick) -- this is totally cerebral. The player's pressed button combinations and gestures are articulated and computed in real-time and then displayed on the screen for visual confirmation. In the case of a 1v1 fighting game like Street Fighter 2, both the inputs made by yourself and those button inputs made by your opponent are processed in real-time.

What is unique about these games is that they are not like a traditional physical sport but are exercises of game and opponent knowledge. In the fighting game world, the specialized hardware is used as a spiritual "totem," a medium that transports us to what Plato would call the "Ideal World" (a world where forms exist in their purest). Is it possible that Fighting Games are defined by not only their on-screen qualities and our relationship with them, but instead, defined in-tandem with their relationship to hardware that exists in physical space? Indeed, this same hardware (or totem) must be seamlessly linked to the mind's-eye of the player.


Plato’s Allegory of The Cave

For Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," the shadows of objects on the cave walls represent the objects as they are beyond the cave walls. In this famous allegory, the shadow is a crude representation of what is beyond our immediate perception. Fighting Games and their mediums (or totems) is a gateway to this world of ideal forms. When looking at the screen, we cannot see the many forms that shape the outcome; the characters in Tekken, for example, are merely shadows of an ideal world for which we cannot see, a place in which the Shadow-Game takes place. 

The Matrix : Revolutions

In general, fighting games and video games are one of the few places (or game types) where the fight of minds occurs in a way in which the moving shadows can be seen and shared by both players and spectators. This phenomenon is not ever-present in board games or card games – in these types of games, the Shadow-Game is not often in an ever-occurring motion, and since the players of the game do not control avatars, the players themselves are the shadow. 

Of course, games fluctuate; they are wide in variety. This essay makes no attempt to encompass all card games/board games compared to (all) fighting games. The comparison is made merely to paint the picture for my thesis: Fighting Games help us get closer to the ideal world where the mind can be creative; that creativity can then be validated by the technology and by the game's spectators in real-time. It appears that Fighting Games (and many competitive video games) take the individual, the player of the physical reality, away from the light and instead focuses on this entertaining dance of shadows that represent some greater world where two intellects are battling in 1's and 0's.

Scarlett Sasha Hostyn: Starcraft II

To illustrate this "Shadow-Game" I'm referring to, take the scene from Yi-Mou Zhang's 2002 martial arts film "Hero," which stars Jet Li. In it, two fighters go head-to-head in battle without ever moving a muscle. This battle took place within the mind. Both fighters share this battle of the mind. This state represents the "ideal state," the location of the Shadow-Game (the game beyond the game). Unironically, during this fight scene, they show the ancient Chinese board game 围棋 (Go). This moment symbolizes how games can be the gateway to the "ideal" and "immaterial" world; such a space influences our results within the material.


In particular, fighting games demand quality and functional hardware in order for them to work at even the lower levels of competition. This necessity for the object to be at the center of the game and as an extension of the player is noteworthy since the object (the controller) is used as a combative tool of sorts, but it is not used within combat. Instead, the controller is used to dictate and express combat; this is very similar to the "Hero" film; instead, the controller (hardware) is the gateway to higher realms (not the sword). 

Perhaps, in the movie, the swords (before actually being used combatively) are used as a totem to the spiritual or ideal realm.

The beauty of competitive games is that the outstanding ones give us access to a barely perceptible realm, the true state of the Shadow-Game is only describable in the abstract. Hopefully, people around the world abandoned the idea that fighting games are a "waste of time." Instead, we should think about what we actually when we play a great game. 

Where do we really go when we in the heat of battle?