Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown views US politics through the lens of Street Fighter
My deadline for this column means that, by the time you read this, the apparently centuries-long process through which the United States selects its candidates for the presidency will be several weeks closer to finishing. A would-be POTUS spends almost as long running for the Oval Office as they will sitting in it, and, watched from afar, it’s a tortuous process. You’re invested in the result because it will doubtless impact your life in some way, but not so invested you don’t spend the best part of 18 months rolling your eyes in front of the news, wondering when it will all be over.
As I write this the Iowa primary is just coming to a close. After months of shouting, pointing and slandering each other’s characters, voting records and mothers, the wrestlers have finally stepped into the ring. The presidential race is still a long, long way from being over, but at least it’s started. It’s going to be boring. It’s going to be infuriating. It’s going to feel like it’ll last for ever. Yet it’s absolutely irresistible.
I’m struck by the way the USA has managed to turn something really quite tedious – the process of deciding which stuffed shirt gets to complain about Congress, sign off on drone strikes, and do nothing about gun crime – into a year-long game. It’s a season, a tournament, with preliminaries and knockout rounds and a grand final with ‘super’ in the title. Candidates compete in a race to the Whitehouse. The language used by players, pundits and passers-by alike isn’t that of the political establishment, but of the sporting class.
Peppering the post-match coverage of the Iowa primary were countless references to Ted Cruz’s ‘ground game’ – a political idiom borrowed from gridiron, and more recently MMA, but which I will always associate with fighting games. I heard a colleague praise the way Street Fighter V is “all about the ground game”, rather than emulating the tricky complexity of its predecessor. The ground game is about the fundamentals: running with the ball, engaging with the electorate at street level, or just being really good with Chun-Li’s standing fierce punch. There’s pride, and praise, to be had in being brilliant at the basics.
Another essential skill for an aspiring leader of the free world is self-aggrandising bluster, something we’re starting to see more of in fighting games now that the competitive scene is growing in popularity. As production values ramp up, a generation of top-level players raised on WWF Raw half-jokingly big themselves up in interviews and flex for the intro-video cameras. The fists and feet start to fly and commentators assess the candidates’ – sorry, the players’ – form, their momentum, their mental condition; the things that affect success beyond pure ability. Politics and videogames: two distant, disparate things that fancy themselves as sports. It’s easy enough to see why. Both crave legitimacy on a wider scale, the political athlete seeking power, the e-Sports person after wealth and acclaim, each knowing that excellence is worthless if nobody’s paying attention.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, I think about fighting games a lot. I like finding comparisons between fighting games and real-life things even more. Obviously one can over-think these things, draw comparisons where none exist and later end up regretting it. So to save myself from writing myself into a dead-end of wank-hattery, I thought I’d bring this month’s musings to a close by asking: if presidential candidates were Street Fighter characters, which ones would they be? It’s the sort of hard-hitting, insightful reportage on which this esteemed publication made its name.
Bernie Sanders is Dhalsim. He’s been around forever and always had his fans, but his unconventional tactics meant he went virtually ignored by the mainstream for years, until he had grown too powerful to ignore. With his strong ground game, Ted Cruz is the Ryu of the piece, the safe, slightly obvious pick for those afraid of change. Hillary Clinton is… I dunno, Chun-Li? I never said this process was perfect.
It is, however, for Donald Trump. With his ludicrous shock of blond hair and needlessly flamboyant style, he’s quite obviously Ken Masters. Both present themselves as unpredictable, dangerous, stylish alternatives to the status quo. In truth, both will be figured out rather quickly, when people realise that they’re just like the other guy, except now a load of stuff’s on fire.
I’m struck by the way the USA has managed to turn something really quite tedious into a year-long game
Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy editor. After 20 years playing Ken, he’s in SFV’s training mode, trying to learn Dhalsim