Raised By Screens, Chapter 9: Street Fighter II

Raised By Screens is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a memoir – glancing back at the games I played as a child in the order in which I remember playing them, and focusing on how I remember them rather than what they truly were. There will be errors and there will be interpretations that are simply wrong, because that’s how memory works.

It was me. I was the one who bought Street Fighter II on PC.

Coming of age and Street Fighter II are inexorably linked for me, as I suspect they are for a great many men my age. Games had been steadily grabbing a greater share of our consciousness for perhaps three years by that point, but with Street Fighter II they became a religion, one which could briefly unify the divided tribes of sportsman and nerd, rebel and square.

The game about punching. The game about kicking. The game about fireballs. The game about bruised and battered faces. The game about Chun-li’s knickers. The game of transgression, the game of becoming a man. Sure, Mortal Kombat would later generate more controversy and far more classroom cackling, but by that point our minds had already opened to a certain degree of nastiness. Street Fighter II had made us put away childish things.

Games weren’t jolly retreats into colourful fantasy any more. Games were now about comparing our testicles, and about feeding our new hunger for simulated violence. We had to beat each other. We had to make what looked to us just like real people beat each other senseless. We had to brag about it. We had to have a favourite character. We had to master it.

First, though, we had to find a way to play it. The most privileged or rebellious kids found their way to arcades at weekends and evenings while the rest us were chained to homework and chores, and reported back exaggerated claims of SFII’s violence and special attacks. We listened to their boasting and their lies with awe and envy – they’d found the promised land.

They got away with their distortions in the end, because by the time we proles got to experience SFII for ourselves, on one of the cheap arcade cabinets (always with a different game’s logo printed on its sides) in a newsagent or swimming pool foyer, the game had splintered into both official updates and bootleg versions which were almost as wild as our alphas had claimed the original was was.

Still, Street Fighter II was a drug to us all by then, and five minutes once every week or two was nothing like the fix we craved. SFII’s pushers knew this too. Soon enough, the rumour mill began to churn: it was coming to console, we could play it whenever we wanted, it would be better, faster, more violent than ever. The SNES version would be better than the Megadrive version would be better than the SNES version would be better than the Megadrive version would be better than that bootleg one in the bowling alley where Ryu could throw three fireballs at once.

“Is it coming out on PC too?”, I’d ask, wide-eyed, hopeful, pathetic, of the kids who bought gaming mags. Their GamesMasters and CVGs were our scriptures. “Meer,” they’d sneer, “you’re such a queer.” Not a good surname to have an in all-boy’s school at that age, and in the less enlightened early 1990s. Not a good gaming system to have either. Back to Dune II with me. My old love now seemed hopelessly square, hopelessly antique.

But, thanks to Games Workshop – and that’s another story for another day – I’d begun to fall in with a new crowd. They were more freaks than geeks, and while they might be interested in the die and the tape measure, they were just edgy enough to have consoles. And they let me visit their houses.

I was Blanka at first, because his electricity attack was easy. I simply wasn’t co-ordinated enough for classroom favourites Ryu and Ken (Ryu players stoutly maintained that Ken was ‘gay’, and Ken players stoutly maintained that Ryu was cheap). I moved on to Chun-li, whose lightning kick was just as straightforward but she seemed a more responsive character. Eventually, though, I settled on Dhalsim, because his stretchy legs meant I could occasionally emerge victorious thanks to frenzied button-spamming. I was mocked for it, and hated for it. Such a queer.

If only there was some way I could have the time and seclusion to learn the other, more respected characters.

1993, DOS

Side-on, competitive fighting game in which two characters attempt to reduce each other’s health metres to zero with various punches, kicks and special attacks. An enormous hit in arcades and on console.

Late to the party, and deeply unfashionably so. In arcades and on console, Street Fighter II was now deep into Championship, Super and Hyper Fighting editions, and classroom attentions had turned to the gorier Mortal Kombat. There it was one day though, in the local Electronics Boutique. My Holy Grail. I couldn’t possibly afford it, but I had to have it.

I borrowed money from somewhere, bought the game, copied and it and returned it next day, claiming that my PC wasn’t powerful enough. I remember the pony-tailed, rake-thin, cruel-looking cashier scanning my flushed, spotty face for a lie, clearly deciding he’d found one, then rolling his eyes with what’s-the-point resignation and returning my cash. Then, victory! Today, guilt.

God, it was awful. It looked fabulous, its characters far crisper and chunkier than their blurry, squat console incarnations, but it felt so slow that I wanted to scream. The controls had been gimped. I couldn’t get the music to play. You couldn’t even play as the four bosses. It wasn’t any fun, and it didn’t feel right in ways I wasn’t yet able to understand or articulate but I had to keep playing, beat the campaign with every character, learn every special move. I did. I felt no triumph, because I knew I wasn’t playing the ‘real’ Street Fighter II. Even so, that which I had once craved more than anything became worse than ordinary. Street Fighter II was long dead to me by the time the apparently much-improved Super Street Fighter II Turbo arrived on PC two years later.

There was a silver lining. For some reason, in Street Fighter II PC, Dhalsim was a stone-cold killer. Best character in the game. I could beat anyone without breaking a sweat. Vindication.

I will meditate, and then destroy you.


  1. blind_boy_grunt says:

    hehe dhalsim, stand in the corner and make stretchy appendages. You can beat the entire game without doing anything else, which i know because that’s the only way i played the game (which wasn’t very much)

    • Smashbox says:

      Just don’t try that with a competent human opponent, or they’ll have their way with you.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Oh, I know your pain.

    Though for me it was the horrific (albeit inexplicably well-received) Amiga version which dealt the crushing blow. To this day one of the worst games I’ve ever played, and one I still boot up in an emulator on occasion just to remind myself of how awful it was (and by extension, how good we’ve got it now).

    Mortal Kombat on PC wiped the floor with the console versions though. You should have pulled rank with that.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Yes the Amiga version was dire! The SNES version was pretty good but no port ever really captured the arcade experience.

    • Sunjumper says:

      God I too remember the AMIGa version.

      I was really looking forward to it. Did not have a consol back in the day and I was getting crushed into a fine paste in Street Fighter by all my console owning friends. The idea of being able to play the game on my own and get to a level that was also fun formyself was intoxicating, I even spent far too much money for two (really bad) joypads with six buttons and in the end the game was a disaster.

      The game came on a million disks and I had a hard-disk for crying out loud and while it looked OKish enough, the game was incredibly slow and unresponsive and what utterly killed it where the horrible, horrible sound effects. On an AMIGA no less.

      That game was one of my greatest game disappintments ever.

    • Caelyn Ellis says:

      I loved the Amiga version! But it was the only version I played for years, so I didn’t have anything better to compare it to.

  3. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Where I went to school in the suburbs of Glasgow was a very residential area. There was a large park but not much else. What we did have though was a small street with a few shops. At the height of the SFII craze, no fewer than 3 of these shops (two newsagents and a video rental) packed in 4 or 5 arcade machines between them, costing 10p/20p a credit and mostly loaded with the most violent fighting games currently available (SFII, splatterhouse, Vendetta, WWF, etc.)

    So for a year or two the main lunchtime pursuit for many of us was either playing those machines, or watching other kids play them. SFII was always the most popular. You certainly didn’t have to be privileged or rebellious. A soft roll, a square sausage and a bottle of pop (which for some reason we called “ginger”) would leave you with enough change from 80p lunch money for a credit or two. Money that would have otherwise gone on penny sweets!

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Oh yeah, and it was also a valuable educational tool. Before I played SFII I was only very dimly aware of one or two deplorable national stereotypes.

  4. Rise / Run says:

    I loved Vega, as handsome fighters don’t lose battles. Plus, I got my game on during zamboni time at the local ice rink (I figure skated; stickwork not good enough for hockey). I take your surname and raise you sequins, Alec.

  5. mpk says:

    I got the SNES SF2 bundle for my christmas one year. It was the only game I got with the machine, and the only one I had for six months. I played it so much I once completed it on the hardest difficulty using nothing but Guiles special moves. I knew every cheap move for every character (except Zangief cos who goes Zangief *roll eyes*).

    I was pretty amazing at SF2… against the AI. I was shite at two player for a long time, til I figured out a way to be really, really cheap with Guile. Jump, hold down and back, light kick for immediate hit, then flash kick on land, hold back, immediate sonic boom (“Sonic! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!” I’d shout). Man, I was a dick to people.

    • welverin says:

      Zangeif is awesome!

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      The best SFII player at my school used to wipe the floor with everybody as Zangief. He had to be banned. But then I guess there isn’t really a “cheap” tactic with him, you just have to be able to get very close to your opponent and then perform the single most difficult act of manual dexterity anyone could even conceive of.

    • mpk says:

      Hah! You’ll never break my twenty-five year old prejudice against that big galoot, although I will agree that a 360-degree rotation of the SNES d-pad was just about fucking impossible.