[This essay was funded by my generous Patreon supporters. If you liked this and want to see more, please consider joining the crew!]
As a writer, I am frequently awed by the way that a single sentence worded just the right way can get people to see things they couldn’t see before. I want to believe that there is a collection of these sentences that could impart unto anyone a basic functional understanding of fighting games. (I even wrote a book, foolishly hoping that I could be the one who found all the right words to do that.)
It turns out that the magic words for getting new players into fighting games doesn’t fill a whole book, and it doesn’t require profound knowledge of footsies, yomi, playing Ryu, or controlling space. All you have to do is say to them:
“Hey, let’s play [game].”
You can send someone all the instructional content in the world; maybe they’ll be a little more interested in playing at first, and it might speed up their progress a little bit later, but the real secret is just getting them to have fun playing fighting games, and playing with you is likely their best shot at that.
The best way to get someone to start playing fighting games is to just keep playing with them for months, as often as you can, having fun each time. It doesn’t even matter how you’re playing the game, as long as it feels like two homies having fun. “Fun” for some people might be serving out ruthless ass beatings, or playing with handicaps, or talking shit, or playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 Dramatic Battle mode, or whatever. The important part is that both people are having a good time, so that you can get past the point where they’re worried about wasting your time or boring you.
Teaching tech or concepts or whatever is nice, but not nearly as important — a new player’s number one mistake is to think that they need to know how to play the game before they can play the game with you. Just play.
This is important. Playing fighting games against people is real cool, but playing against strangers can be stressful as all hell, especially when you’re new at them.
Most of us who got into fighting games can probably can think of a story or a moment that made us think, “This is pretty cool, I want to do more of this.” For me, it was playing the original Capcom vs. SNK at La Val’s Pizzeria (RIP) in Berkeley, lining up quarters with a friend of mine as we fought to stay on the cabinet alongside some other local scrubs, and hearing folks react when someone landed a big hit. I had been playing video games my entire life, but I had never felt anything quite as intense or exciting as that before in a game, and it stuck with me for days later.
That moment at the pizza place was what got me hooked, but for people who aren’t enthusiastic about the prospect of recreationally picking fights with strangers, it could be what makes them feel uneasy or unwelcome. So even though they can see people having fun playing fighting games with each other, they might feel like they’re watching from the outside and they don’t know how to join in.
Fighting game players often like to say that the reason more people don’t want to play fighting games is that most people aren’t up for losing a lot of games before you get good. This is certainly true for some people! Holding and managing salt is absolutely critical, and some folks have to work through a lot of that before they’re comfortable playing fighting games with others.
But I’ve met a lot more folks who don’t like losing because they’re afraid of wasting their opponents’ time, or feeling like they don’t belong. I’ve had people tell me they were too anxious to play in netplay lobbies, or that they just watched other people play because they were too scared to call next at a casuals setup. When you’re new to the FGC, the other people at a setup are strangers. When you’ve been around for a while, they’re just people whose names you don’t know yet.
Even if you’re close friends, it can be intimidating to ask people to play with you when they suck. Because you two are friends, they don’t want to waste your time or bore you. Think of it this way: The gap between you and a complete newbie is probably at least as big as the gap between you and a top player, so just think about how you’d feel messaging Daigo asking for games, and compare that to how you’d feel if Daigo slid in your DMs.
Play them in person. Play them online. Send them stupid memes about their character. Show them good fanart. Show them bad fanart. Watch some streams with them. (Watch my stream with them.) They’re not going to take your hand if you don’t reach out first.
Thanks for reading!