The last time I played Street Fighter, it was a decade ago, in a dirty but awesome arcade called The Reagan Years in Fullerton. I was beat, handily in two rounds, by some sassy 6 year old who demanded a buck in quarters and a pack of gum from the vending machine as tribute.
I hope that sassy 6 year old was at the Geffen Contemporary on Thursday night. As frazgo the awesome Mike Winder mentioned earlier this month, Capcom rented out the otherwise closed Geffen Contemporary to host a huge party launching the release of Street Fighter IV and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its highly influential fighting series.
When we rolled up around 8:30, there was a line blocks long. At first, we thought everyone was there for the Kogi truck, at its usual Thursday night stop in front of the Japanese American National Museum … but, no. An estimated 4000 people showed up; many were rejected, marshaled out by the fire department, though had they returned a few hours later, like we did after grabbing some sausages and beer at nearby Wurstkuche, they would have been able to get in and experience some serious Street Fighting. Some choice pics follow:
Looking at this crowd of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, two immediate thoughts: 1) it’s sad that a great gallery like this is currently only available for rent to high-paying industry, corporate hosts like Capcom; and 2) if we want to bring the non-white communities together to talk about anything, a Street Fighter event is the way to do it.
I’m not sure the influence of Street Fighter’s release can be overstated. With an innovative fighting engine and compelling character storylines, not only did it completely revitalize the otherwise dying culture of the arcade, it completely transformed gaming, period. The graphics, increasingly approaching art as the series gained maturity and audience, made a permanent imprint on game designers everywhere; to this day, video game artists insist upon drawing their characters with tiny heads and big chests. It spawned an entire multimedia franchise, complete with none other than Jean Claude Van Damme. Post-Atari, Street Fighter also was sort of a gateway drug to console gaming: relatively accessible from the get-go (we were all button mashers once), if you practiced enough and got a handle on the controls and button combinations, you had the foundation to keep up with video gaming as it became more and more complicated (Metal Gear Solid – I’m looking at you.). Culturally, it united unexpected audiences: nerds and goons were on equal footing as they took their schoolyard battles into the arcades; mousey girls previously overlooked by boys suddenly found credibility in certain circles if they could super combo their way through a fight. Way back when I was 12 and thought I was straight, I was very excited to learn that my effective hyakuretsu kyaku skills earned the affections of one of the most popular boys in our school (like, he was our class rep to the SBA!!!). Woowee!
Given this trailblazing history, it’s no wonder that all these people showed up. Similar to a Xena convention, people dressed up as their favorite Street Fighter character.
There were bowls of dried wasabi peas scattered throughout the gallery, a bit of an awkward and unnecessary attempt to further Asian-ize the event. Besides snacking though, there were plenty of things to do: join El Fuerte and get autographs from Street Fighter producers and graphic artists; peruse the displays of Street Fighter licensed paraphernalia; fight for free things being thrown from the center stage between DJ Qbert’s sets; take bets on whether the new Street Fighter movie will suck; and, of COURSE, step up to demo the latest iteration of the series on any one of the screens on the floor.
Arcade-style, the winner of the last bout stayed put as people lined up to challenge him or her. Arcade-style, you never knew who was going to kick who’s ass. Case in point: with a streak of 7 wins in a row, a big guy greedily eyed a little girl as she gingerly stepped up to her joystick … then was quickly schooled in the intricacies of her superior ultra super combo skillz. Button mashing only gets you so far.
My favorite part was the gorgeous Street Fighter art adorning the walls.
At midnight, the lights flipped on, and the goons, nerds, and mousey girls all were ushered out. Besides the fact that the lines were insane at the beginning of the event, my only regret is that MOCA couldn’t leave the Geffen open for just a few more days so that the public could admire the Street Fighter artwork. Sure, it’s not the highbrow, eclectic art-meets-pop-meets-Louis Vuitton that is Takashi Murakami, but it’s just as beautiful and, I dare say, just as influential on art, pop art, and culture. Too bad.