The Player from Blank - Thoughts from a Community's Eulogy

Originally Published on October 18, 2010

Our eyes truly open when we encounter death. Our brains quickly rationalize that not everything lasts forever, and we frantically attempt to preserve in us what we just saw pass on in others. We slowly arrive at the idea that the death of a subject gives birth to its appreciation.

It took the death of a community to wake me up. When I witnessed the remaining survivors of the Sydney Melee Community give each other their final “goodbyes,” 8 hours away from their home region, on the ground-floor of a Melbourne Casino, next to the whirs and buzzes of thieving slot machines, I unraveled a hidden appreciation for Smash Communities. With Smash Communities, Regions, or Crews, despite the fact that we are competing in a children’s video game, we’re growing along a beneficial path that we sometimes take for granted. Underneath their nerdy, socially-deficient façade, Smash Communities are potential fountains of positive, personal growth.

Think about how powerful it is to be able to create an identity and live out a pseudo-double life under this persona. No matter who you are in your everyday life, when you play Smash, you’re known by your tag and what you accomplish with that name. The temptation is there to keep your personas distinctly separate, but that only undermines the opportunity given to a new smash player, barely entering the community.

To really utilize a Smash Tag effectively, one must become a trapeze artist of the persona. Think of the smash tag as a social safety net. You can practice with it, and it will be there to catch you if you do not want to reveal too much about yourself to the world. But when the show must go on, no one is going to be impressed if the net is still there during the performance. Barring the individuals that genuinely want to remain anonymous or private for safety reasons, when we hide behind a tag, or divide our lives between “Smash” and “Real World,” we’re really communicating shame and not learning or gaining as much as we could. With a Smash Identity you have the opportunity to make a person to be proud of, and then take those lessons in confidence and proactivity and apply them to your everyday life. And even if you’re a horrible Smasher, taking the time to think that you attempted something will matter to you, while your tag may drift off into obscurity. Take risks with the freedom that a tag provides and internalize those lessons.

“Oats” is not a separate person, but only a small piece of the whole of my being. I can lose first round in a tournament as “Oats” and look like a failure, but there is no reason to feel like a failure. I can drop “Oats” and it wouldn’t affect the other things “Marco” excels at; or I can take the opportunity to learn how to drop negative feelings and not let it affect my stride, and try again as “Oats.” The tag is a true, social safety net that anybody can use as a way to learn how to overcome a negative view of losing or to gain a positive view on working hard and developing a person of strong caliber.

Personal development may not be the immediate goal of anyone that pursues to play a game like Smash, competitively, but in our quest to prove our skill to someone out there, we sometimes inadvertently forgive or accept players for other aspects of their lives that are not Smash-related. Social issues that would normally hinder human interaction between peers become easily conquerable because a number two spot on a region’s power rankings means more than dandruff.

It’s a fair assumption that a player’s skill would only act as a substitute for genuine interaction, and that once the competition is over, the player will be back to being ostracized. Mew2King may be the most popular example of such a situation considering his propensity to seemingly not learn much from his social experiences. The neat thing about Jason though, is that after hanging around with him for so long, I quickly noticed a pattern that can be applied to almost any good player (or any person in any field, really). I don’t have a name for this social process, but it’s divided into phases, and I’ll use Jason to explain it.

  1. On an initial meeting, we usually avoid thinking about anything not related to Smash.
  2. Because of a perceived deficiency or accepted abundance in one of our skills, we evaluate ourselves and we make ourselves feel better in any way we can.
  3. Whatever the interaction is, usually there is an exchange of ideas between the two parties until there is nothing left to exchange, which leads to…
  4. Apathy – We’ve done all we could, and there is nothing left to learn or teach.

When Jason recently went to Australia, he had his ticket paid for him, and everybody was either excited to learn as much as they could from him, or they were mad he was going to go and basically just play Smash and not interact. While I was there, I saw how Jason interacted with their community, and I don’t know if I can quantify how much they learned from him or how much he gave back, but I think the real thing that Jason gained while in Australia (aside from ~$500 AUD) is a greater cultural experience, and a couple of important social lessons as taught to him by Tedeth and Luke Atyeo. I’m not Jason, but I don’t think any amount of money in the world can really replace the value of eating your first bag of poprocks in the city of Melbourne and freaking out about the popping noises in your head. Or simply enjoying a meat pie. Or really experiencing something meaningful that he may not instantly value now, but has subtly learned from and enjoyed only because of Smash.

Would you really give Jason the time of day if he wasn’t playing Smash? It’s his gain, really. He worked hard to be as good as he is, and many of us are willing to work with him through his personal obstacles because of his success at Smash. It’s how accepting we can be as a community. We can accept people of any thought, idea, or creed, as long as they are willing to be on the level with the game and really put forth the effort or be honest with who they are as players. And even if someone in the community is a complete ** that no one likes, hopefully, the player learns eventually, through the proxy of a Smash Community, what acceptable social behavior is, and he’ll be gladly accepted once again.

And even if you disagree with everything else I say, the truth of the matter is that the biggest and best thing about Smash Communities is just how varied their members can be. Because Smash is such an accessible game, with its popular characters, and easy-to-play mechanics, there is a very large base of relation-points. You could have played the game with dorm-mates from college, or through a church, or while casually surfing YouTube and seeing the “Wombo Combo” video. True, Smash is not universally acknowledged or well-known, and most of its players grew up with exposure to Nintendo games or internet culture, but that does not mean that everyone that plays the game is exactly the same. And with more interactions with different types of people, the more, well-rounded of a person you’ll be, guaranteed. It’s common sense that people are the products of their surroundings.

San Diego, as a Smash community, is a perfect example of outreach, influence, and positive growth due to community involvement because of the varied group of players that founded our scene and nurtured its growth. As a region we were founded on the principles of open arms and “San Diego Love” because of the efforts of some of our happier players and the open-minded, college environment we hosted our tournies at. And with that strong, loving foundation we grew as a community, not because of our excellent skills at the game, but because we rubbed off on each other in the best way and got some of our best inter-personal skills from each other. People like CAOTIC (who also singlehandedly launched the Smash Scene in Australia), Rickety, and AznLep, are stand-up individuals that shined in some way with the game, but shined even brighter as people. Without the support of such people, and the lessons they shared with our scene, we would not have had the Havok’s, or the Tearbear’s, or even the Zekey’s. Zekey is an exceptional case, because he moved to San Diego from another Smash Region a few months ago, and I can plainly see him gradually adopting our mannerisms and our habits to just be awesome and hang out in addition to playing the game.

When you ask anyone in California, or even Australia, what’s the friendliest region, or the region to bring the most players out-of-city, the answer is clear: San Diego. Not to say that everyone in our scene is mature, open-minded, and homophillic, but because many of us continuously played a game with players of different cultures and lifestyles, we eventually grew to understand and relate with them, despite differences. Everyone comes around to how we see things if exposed long enough; they eventually learn the lesson San Diego is very willing to teach, because the player shows they are willing to learn by playing the game.

The value of a Smash Community is not measured necessarily in how good at Smash that community is, because at the end of the day, Smash will last as long as it does, and really, the only things that live on are the individuals: the players are the ones that survive. What we take the time to learn from the people around us is what’s important. What we take the time to experience with our virtual “war-buddies” and the memories we create are really what matter most. What we take the time to risk and build for the betterment of ourselves is the reason we should be playing Smash; money, popularity, and skill all implicitly add to who we are as people.

So don’t wait until you’re boozed on Guinness and keeling over a casino bench to finally realize that Havok taught you more than just how to jot down electric scribbles. Take advantage of your community, and LEARN. And even if your scene is dead, who is to stop you from starting again? From start to finish it took Sydney Melee a whole night to say goodbye. And as the old smash saying goes: “the longer the goodbye, the shorter the time spent away.”


Notes on the Piece:

I originally wrote "The Player from Blank" on a 14-hour flight back from Australia. I spent three weeks there with members of the Brawl and Melee communities, and I was surprised by how easy it was to just hang out and connect with them. It was our passion for the games that brought us together, and that understated connection is part of what inspired me to write this piece. My thoughts, ideas, and experiences all culminated in what I hoped was an enjoyable read for you.

I'd like to thank Mew2King, Luke, Ted, and all the other amazing Australian Smash players because it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience I'll never forget.