EVO Moment #37
The beast... is unleashed!
If you’re not familiar with fighting games (and even if you are), I don’t expect you to understand what’s happening in the following video. What I expect you will understand, regardless of your knowledge of video games, is that the something that happens in this video is one of the most electrifying events this group of fans has ever witnessed.
Here is EVO Moment #37 (Caution, the audio gets loud)
Just listen to those nerds howl. And I can say nerds because I’m one of them. This video, regretfully, sends a tingle up my spine. It’s the video game version of listening to Liebestraum. It’s fucking ridiculous.
I honestly don’t want to get too far into the weeds explaining the contents of this video, but understanding why I truly enjoy EVO Moment #37 (and what it represents) requires some light bushwhacking. Stay with me, though, we’ll get beyond the realm of video games soon.
EVO—AKA the Evolution Championship Series—is a longstanding and prestigious fighting game tournament where players face off in various games of their choosing, like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Smash Brothers, and more. Without irony, the event attracts the very best fighting game players in the world.
The game in the above video is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. The year is 2004. Justin Wong, a young American phenom, playing as the character Chun Li (the girl) is facing Daigo Umehara, a legendary player from Japan, who is playing as Ken (the guy). In Street Fighter, if your health bar (at the top of the screen) gets fully depleted, you lose. If you look at Ken’s health bar, before the crowd starts hollerin’, you’ll see that there is only a sliver remaining.
(Seriously, I’m trying to explain this without sounding like a six-year-old who wants to tell you about their ten favorite grass-type Pokemon cards, but it is hard.)
Because of his extremely low health, Daigo is in a position where just hunkering down is not possible. (When blocking an attack, a small amount of the defender’s health bar is “chipped” away.) And Justin does what he thinks is a knockout blow: he uses a super move that consists of 15 very fast, uninterrupted attacks. If Daigo were to try to block the entire super move, his health would disappear and he would lose. So he has to do something that is nearly impossible: parry every single hit.
Street Fighter III runs at 60 frames per second. An attack's duration only takes a couple of frames—meaning each attack takes place during a fraction of a second. A parry requires that the defending player presses a button at the exact moment of their opponent's attack. So, for Daigo to not lose, he had to press parry, at the exact right millisecond, 15 times. In front of a live audience. During the biggest fighting game tournament of the year.
THUS, when you hear the crowd’s ecstasy rising each time Ken “hayuks” and knocks away Chun Li’s kick with his forearm, that is Daigo successfully pressing a button at the perfect millisecond, every single time. The crowd gets to witness Daigo not simply walking a tightrope above an alligator pit but waltzing across.
The cherry on the top of this towering digital cake is that Daigo immediately comes back after successfully parrying Justin's entire super move to deliver his own knockout blow. It’s unadulterated madness, as the pubescent voice behind the camera reports. I mean, as stupid as this all sounds, watching that video never fails to put a big stupid grin on my face.
But Moment #37 (I have no idea what the number means, or if the preceding 36 moments are somehow superior) does represent something more to me. It’s an object of veneration in the fighting, and larger video game, community. But chances are you’ve never seen it. And it’s not new. It’s from 2004.
There are two lines in the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. They read “The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” Other, better, writers than I have used this poem for inspiration—Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, Gordon Gekko even says “So the falcon’s heard the falconer, huh?”). But what does that mean, to weensy ol’ me?
The edifice of popular culture is now, officially, too massive. There is too much to know about, too much to see. It feels to me as though our individual cultural experiences are splintering. I don’t think, in the past two years, I have met someone with whom I’ve shared more than one piece of recent media that we’ve mutually seen. (Normally, it’s the Great British Baking Show.) Netflix is a Gatling gun of new releases. And then there’s Hulu and Disney Plus and Amazon Prime and Peacock and and and... There’s an entire universe of podcasts. The pile of music continues to grow. There are movies. There are hundreds of books coming out every freaking month. There are, hopefully interesting, blogs like this one. There's Youtube. There's TikTok. There's Instagram. We are the falcon, wheeling in the widening gyre, the safe haven of the falconer lost forever.
Remember when, like, the entire world saw the finale of M*A*S*H*?
James Burke, about whom I will no doubt write a future blog, touched on a corollary point in his series The Day the Universe Changed. An idea he posits is that communication increases innovation. It’s not a wild concept in practice. In and between societies, when it’s easier to stumble across new ideas, more new ideas are bound to spring up. New ideas are, after all, multiple discrete life experiences that have been smelted together in the mind of the experiencer. And with more new ideas come more creation—and more new experiences.
Have you ever heard of the internet superstar Dream? He’s a Twitch streamer who plays Minecraft. On Twitch—a site where people play video games, or music, or just talk in front of live fans—he has over 5.8 million followers. On Youtube, he has 27.8 million subscribers. His single most-watched video has over 106 million views. Super Bowl XLIX, broadcast by NBC in 2015, had 114 million viewers; it remains the most-watched televised event in United States history. (The M*A*S*H finale had 106 million viewers, coincidentally.) Even taking into account that one view on Youtube does not equal one viewer, the fact that most people reading this blog have never even heard of Dream is the point I’m trying to make. How many Super Bowls have there been that you didn’t know about?
Sure, there have always been small things happening that we don’t know about, like obscure sand-volleyball satellite tournaments or local-access whittling shows. Heck, there have even been large, foreign things we as Americans have, historically, not known about: like some 3-day cricket test match between India and Australia. But not until recently have there been very large, very local things that, on average, many people have no idea about.
That is the center not holding.
Going off of semi-reliable internet facts, between 576,00 and 720,000 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every day. The creation of new cultural artifacts is only accelerating. It’s easier than ever to make video content with your phone. It’s easier than ever to record a podcast. It’s easier than ever to bring your ideas to other people, helping them generate new ideas of their own. When communication increases exponentially, so do new ideas. So does our culture.
Will we ever again be able to talk to a friend about something we’ve seen without the need to show it to them first? Will we all be me, in six-year-old Pokéfan mode, trying to tell you, my glorious reader, why a grainy video from 2004 is actually the best fighting game moment in history?
I think? Probably?
So is there anything optimistic about the fact that our mutual cultural experience is shattering before our eyes? I’d argue that yes, there could be. And the reason for optimism, to me, lies in the ecstatic cheers of all those nerds, rocking the walls of that church basement. They were all fans of the same thing: a specific fighting game. They were, and likely still are, a community of like-minded people, together by choice, who joyfully shared a moment of exaltation. Daigo completing the full parry. The unthinkable accomplished. The divine made real. The soul of man imbued by Spiritus Mundi.
Rather than culture coming to us, we’re in a place where we must find our culture—and thus, our community. Because somewhere out there is a group that enjoys what we enjoy—and in a more exact way than has ever been possible in history. Do you like fighting games that only include 3D combat with mechs? There’s a community for that. Like crocheting sweaters for Weimaraners? There’s a community for that. Like watching raccoons roll around? There’s a community for that. Anything you could possibly have an interest in now has a built-in fanbase for you to join, no matter where you happen to be.
Can’t find the community you’re looking for? Make it.
There’s a sort of comforting provincialism that comes from this new phase of our culture. No longer does Big Entertainment (let’s pretend that’s a thing) decide what four or five things we see. No longer are we forced to watch Step By Step because, well, it’s on. Despite the fact that each of us is swirling in the great disintegrating gyre of our culture, we’re now able to take refuge in our own little eddies of community. And in one of the eddies of which I’m a part, my people watch Street Fighter.
IN SHORT: Our common cultural fabric might be rending in twain, but the guy hits the buttons good.