In-flight Street Fighter 2
“Begins with S and it’s on a plane.” Yes, I misled you last time! It’s Street Fighter. This is of course not in the game centre, but let’s just agree that it blocks in a little of the background to modern Japanese videogame culture. Heading to Tokyo, I boarded an extremely new plane — a squat little thing run by JAL, which still smelt of plastic, had a strange fluid leaking from air vents during take-off, and featured magic windows that could be tinted at the touch of a button.
However, the tinting was slow. You press the button and wait half a minute for the window to catch up, then wait again, repeatedly, as you fine tune the tint level. I was impressed that this was technically possible, and impressed that it had actually been done on a commercial scale — presumably this will be the norm now — but I wasn’t impressed with its execution or its utility.
Sometimes the mere fact of something is more compelling than the thing itself. Never expect businesspeople to appreciate that distinction. The smart glass companies know what they’re doing.
Anyway, cutting to the chase, the seatback entertainment included an emulation of Street Fighter 2! Why? I find that an interesting question. Can SF2 be picked up for the first time and enjoyed by the general public? No. Is it so well established in popular culture that most people aren’t playing for the first time, and so will be ready to win a few rounds? No. Ah! But wait! You could play with your friend and both be rubbish and have a laugh. No: single-player only. Why is it here then, in the back of this aeroplane seat?
Is it for show? That’s got to be it: people look at the games section and say, “Wow, these games are good — I’ve heard of that one!” But is Jo Public really not going to follow that thought up with, “Hang on… Isn’t that rather an old game?” I can’t imagine anyone’s going to be impressed.
So here’s the answer: it’s for the gamers. It’s so that you stir that old muscle memory and thaw the old floes of SF serotonin. You can blast through the first few rounds despite a rusty performance; then, remembering your former mastery, you can put some flair into finishing Zangief. And you can conveniently decide that you probably need a nap when you get to Vega.
No, sorry, that’s not it either. There’s no way this thing is for gamers because it’s almost unplayable. The controller is a horrible little thing, and on top of that the lag is unbearable. So in-flight Street Fighter 2 is clearly the result of a deal by some businessperson.
It sounds cool, but sometimes the mere fact of something is more compelling than the thing itself. I mean, what was wrong with a sliding shutter?
Is this it now? Game centre posts forever? I’m trying to get back into some more interesting stuff, so watch this space. Meanwhile, next Monday, while I’m out of the game centre, another little something from the airport…
(See all postcards from the game centre here.)
Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people