Fighting games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Tekken developed a following in arcades during the ’90s, where they were played in person between two opponents, drawing crowds of players waiting for their turn as well as interested onlookers. Despite the advent of online video games, the fighting game community has grown and maintained a tradition of playing in person, attracting both more players and fans, as well as increased corporate attention, which has placed the community’s identity in flux.
Throughout this academic year, Matthew Hogan ’19 has been documenting the ongoing transformation in his Honors project, combining ethnographic research, comparative analysis, video storytelling and his personal experience as a formidable player to depict this moment in the history of the fighting game community, its cultural significance and its future.
Hogan – whose Buffalo scene (a term used in the fighting game community to describe the hyper local and in person nature of their subculture) recently won first place in the regional Red Bull Conquest tournament in Boston, Mass., where he competed under his moniker “BFGC MonkeyBizness” – says he hopes to “articulate how corporate interests and the evolution of eSports are producing tensions in the fighting game community.”
“A local scene creates an emphasis on home cities and regions, where other, more established eSports games are more national and online intensive. The emphasis on the local and offline scene is also what gives the fighting game notable diversity, as fighting games were originally played in arcades, which were only available in cities,” Hogan explains.
With guidance from his Honors advisers, Professor of English and Comparative Literature Anna Creadick and Associate Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer, Hogan is comparing the fighting game community to other counter-culture movements that have experienced commodification and mainstreaming, including the wrestling world, the punk scene and the skateboarding community. Conducting ethnographic research through interviews with players and social media analysis, Hogan is also studying video editing and storytelling, as well as film-making principles, as he creates a video essay that represents this current moment in the community.
His Honors video essay will highlight the state of the fighting game subculture and consider the emergence of corporate sponsorship and profit motives in tournaments, television programming and online streaming platforms. His project will incorporate analysis of the TBS reality show “The Challenger” as well as gender discrimination within the gaming world.
That broad scope, he says, is possible thanks to the “liberal arts environment I’m in at HWS.”
During Homecoming and Family Weekend, the eScape Club at HWS opened a new gaming facility on campus located on Pulteney Street. The facility, which creates a social environment where students can play eSports, was made possible through a generous donation by HWS Trustee Scott J. Mason ’81, P’13. Although the eScape club does not compete in fighting games, Hogan often teaches players who want to learn games such as Street Fighter, Marvel VS Capcom and Injustice in their game room, and is supported by the eScape club members and onlookers when he plays fighting games.
Through the Honors process, Hogan says, “I am able to do trend-setting, trail-blazing, cultural theory work and I’m able to tap into both Professor Creadick’s and Shafer’s specialties to make it happen. I’m also lucky to have friends here who’ve taken an interest in the games I play and who have developed their own passions and relationships with the fighting game community.”