I've been playing fighting games forever, it seems. It all started when I was 12 with a nervous encounter in a movie arcade with the original Mortal Kombat. I put my money in, started having fun, and some jackanape walks up to the machine, puts in his money, and wrecks me. He must have been about 17 or 18 years old, and here he is, saying "Take that, bitch" to a 12 year old after ripping my heart out and taking a soggy bite. Needless to say, that can be a traumatic experience, making reentry into competitive play somewhat nerve-wracking. I didn't really start getting back into competitive fighting until Marvel vs. Capcom came out in arcades, during which time I was picking easy controls and not really trying to combo. A friend of mine suggested picking it up on Dreamcast and practicing for a while in order to make a decent punching bag for him.

The Pseudo-Science Of...
Two weeks later, I was mopping the floor with said friend. If you've never played fighters competitively, it's hard to describe the emotions that surround a virtual knock-down-drag-out with your reputation and manliness at stake. Soon, I became addicted to that feeling. I was practicing, playing in arcades, and generally holding my own in casual-level competitive play. A few years passed and I started playing Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, which is pretty damn complicated compared to any Marvel fighter. Instead of manic button flailing with a few joystick inputs, you now had to worry about silly things like character spacing, zoning, and the ever-dreaded concept of "Character matchups." Granted, all these things were in MvC to some degree, but it never truly occurred to me just how subtle the mechanics are in a good fighting game. This is probably why I never really tried professional level Mortal Kombat tourneys; the subtlety needs to be there, and MK is about as subtle as getting bitch-slapped with a novelty foam finger filled with ball bearings.

After playing locally with the "scene", I realized I was sorely lacking in Third Strike. This was way before the days of YouTube, where any determined player can just pop on and learn really good combos. I had to learn the hard way (Read: being on the receiving end) which was never as intuitive as watching match videos. I hiked my happy ass over to GameStop and started reading the Street Fighter 3:Third Strike official strategy guide. Combos, yes. Good character matchup information, yes. Cool pictures, also. One section in particular, called "Frame Data", really caught my attention for no other reason than it was confusing as hell.


...Fighting Game Frame Data...
Every character, every attack, they all had these little numbers in different columns and rows that related to how fast an attack hits, how long the attack is active for, and how fast it recovers. Once I started to get the gist of these numbers, I was amazed at just how ineffective my strategies started to feel to me. Jabs, pfft. Who needs those? They do no damage! I like trying and constantly failing to hit people with Alex's standing Roundhouse kick, which does lots of stun and damage! Jabs are for sissies! And who uses most command normals? They're just stupid normal moves that are a little different! Normal moves aren't as cool as special moves, or the normal moves would be called special moves! And so on.

So, tweaking the gameplay strategy worked beautifully. I started competing locally, entered a relatively good-sized tournament, and took first place. I was happy. And I won thirty bucks, which was also cool.

So, what does all this pointless meandering have to do with the title of the article? Why doesn't this jackass just come to the point, instead of taking a trip down Memory/mediocrity lane? Well, hell, that's a good question. I don't know.

What most players, either professional or casual, seem to do with frame data these days is throw numbers at each other, justify why a character is "gay", or determine which character got screwed the biggest in the latest release. Essentially, they boil the characters down to their raw frame data, turn the fight into a math equation, and suck the fucking fun out of everything. This is probably due to the over-masculinizing of competition in video games lately, where some sniveling simp who is good at the game and not much else in life can recite an entire list of frames and why Ryu is better than Sagat now and so friggin' on and so friggin' forth. If you don't know your frames, you ain't shit, son!


...And Why It's Obnoxious
What happened to having fun? What happened to "Good game, man?" Where is the sense of community, beyond expert level players shouldering out all the new blood because they don't want to take the time to teach them? It's all been reduced to a spreadsheet of numbers, plusses in front of some, minuses in others, that divides the honor and solidarity of the community by ego, multiplies the remainder by greed and commercialization, and in the end the result is a fraction of what good competition used to resemble. Ever play online with some dipshit equipped with a headset? I think I need say no more.

The numbers are a useful tool, but not a justification for anyone to be an asshole. For me, the very term "Frame Data" has come to represent the physical manifestation of what's wrong with competitive play anymore. The players are numerous, but the respect to the source material and by god, even the other people playing the game, is not nearly as abundant as it should be. Instead, the so-called "Experts" run around and bore everyone to death with their interpretation of why one character is better than every character you play. Or why Daigo Umehara always wins Evolution because "He can read the data better than anyone around." Guess what? Daigo didn't win this year. He got knocked out of the semifinals by a Korean player who was using someone lower on the tier list. And don't even get me started on how bullshit tier lists are.

In the end, just play the freaking game. Don't spit numbers at me, because you might end up spitting your teeth out, instead.

- SolSadGuy