September 16, 2016

ATARISTOTLE | Super Smash Bros. in the Black Community

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So if you’ve read my bio or just know me personally, I absolutely adore the party, fighting-game Super Smash Bros. So much so, that winning or losing in a game of four player free-for-all or one-on-one I will physically  transform this angry, volatile beast that has me taking my shirt off and foaming at the mouth to play again and again and again. And if I can’t do that, I will train alone in my room for a few hours the next morning until my nails chip and the skin on my thumbs peel. Silently, I savor every moment. 

Sounds unhealthy? You bet. I’m African-American? That’s right. You’re probably wondering what my racial background has to do with anything or why I go to such extreme measures to try to be the best. And the answer is that it has everything to do with how the game of Super Smash Bros. is played. Sure on the surface, Super Smash Bros. looks like a simple game with intuitive controls as you battle to knock the other 3 players off the stage. However, with each iteration of the game, there has existed a   level of play that requires more complicated controls and maneuvers that transcends the traditional button input gameplay, transforming the game into a more complex, mental game with battle tactics and strategy not unlike chess. Quite simply, playing the game at such a high level and mastering these complicated mechanics tends to bring players back time and time again, eventually to the point where they start identifying with the main character, or “main” that they’ve chosen. The player is one with the “main” and the “main” is one with them, an inextricable link with oneself felt like a glance in the mirror.

This feeling of oneness that Super Smash Bros. inspires is even stronger in the Black community, where an entirely different gameplay experience is inculcated. Members of the African American community are already familiar with another game that requires mental toughness and acuity: roasting. Roasting, also called“doing the dozens,” “chopping” and “cooking,” has been played since the existence of slavery. The game is as simple as this: Two people compete in an exchange of verbal insults, name-calling and clever jokes until the loser gives up and runs out of ideas. Roasting is a form of verbal fighting that requires mental toughness and acuity, which parallels directly with the mental aspect of Super Smash Bros.  and the fact that Smash brings communities together with local multiplayer. In essence, roasting has found its way into the game to form a synthesis of gaming and African-American culture, and its natural implementation adds an added dimension of complexity to the overall experience.

As soon as the door creaks open when you show up to play, name-calling, shouting or hollering usually ensues. Somebody will make fun of your girlfriend or compare you to your grandmother and you haven’t even picked up a controller. Or you might hear “You ready to come get these hands?” or “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The choice is yours” as common jeers right before you’re about to play the game. You’ll also hear booming music that drowns out the traditional game music, typically of trap music origin with its hard, driving rhythms and pounding, repetitive beats as a means to emulate an atmosphere and environment where being bold, cocky, and aggressive rewards you. This music helps when you’re stuck in a crucial situation during the game and need extra motivation.

In addition to roasting, another given when playing Smash Bros. in the African-American community is a lack of seats of seats for everyone who wants to play the game. You’ll probably end up on the floor or rolled up in a blanket on the couch on the other side of the room with a wireless Wii mote. There also never seems to be enough good controllers to play with, always two or three busted up GameCube controllers lingering on the floor tangled in the wires of other controllers that are just flat out broken. “Yeah, my cousin threw it in the wash so the Z button doesn’t work.” “Quit whining about the control stick not being padded.” You’ll often find that you must play with a Wii mote, classic controller, or some other variant, but the difference is that the typical African-American player is either an expert with all of these control types, or absolutely terrible with them. So be wary of the quiet guy who reaches solely for the Wii mote over the coveted GameCube controllers. He’s probably your biggest threat.

Regardless, whichever controller you have, you have to do your best with it. Admitting you can’t play with a certain controller because you’re unfamiliar with it, automatically makes you appear weak and ignites the flames for a healthy roast. But the real roasting starts in the middle of a match by the crowd that’s watching, mostly because they’re bystanders or players that have nothing better to do while waiting their turn. Ample time to craft wordplay mastery. The crowd can include your sister, your annoying little nephew or even your uncle at the grill if you’re playing at a family barbecue. Each plays an integral role as valuable as the competitors themselves since, together, they aid in forming a unique, cultural atmosphere that harmonizes in this symphony of cacophonous banter that makes the game more exhilarating.

At a certain point during the game, the whoops and hollers will be at their apex, the insults more off the cuff and risky. As a player, you’ll feel the tension swell into the sockets of your eyes when either you or your competitor is down to one life left. And once that last player dies (usually in the most dramatic way possible), the crowd goes wild and the room may shake. The winner gets all the glory, and the loser never sees the end of the roasting until the next match (in which he/she must win or find themselves in an endless roast cycle).

No, you do not need to be African-American to play this style of Smash Bros. But if you like to play this game and find yourself in the community playing it, you might want to start practicing before your next match. You don’t want your mother involved in this.