I've always thought of fighting games as the truest representation of kung-fu within gaming, and not just because they involve characters beating the living tar out of one another. There is a certain intricacy to some fighting games, a reliance on lightning quick execution of complex sequences that connote mastery and elegance. You can learn a lot just by watching these sorts of contests. In the pulp kung-fu movies of the 70's, fighting style often served to indicate the nature of a character. A bandit prince might adopt a low, sweeping style like Hu Quan, or Tiger Fist, relying on graceful but refined footwork to set up ferociously powerful strikes. A lone warrior might wield a form of He Quan, or Crane Fist, joining theatrical steps with an impressive grace and reach. A cunning trickster might employ the capering Hou Quan, or Monkey Fist, an acrobatic combination of tumbling, leaping and quick, vicious jabs.
As a kid, I used to watch dozens of these campy old films, until I knew each set of motions by heart. When a new character was introduced, I didn't wait to hear what he would say or do, but, rather, how he would spar. To paraphrase Tyler Durden, how much could I know about someone if I hadn't seen them fight? In the same fashion, the choices that players make in fighting games reflect a gaming philosophy. Perhaps you're a brutal competitor, sticking to a small handful of punishing techniques to win efficiently and effectively. Perhaps you're an aesthete, stringing together intricate juggles for a seamless victory.
Or perhaps you're like me, and you hit buttons until someone is dead.
I am an unrepentant and incurable masher. Normally, I would be the exact sort of gamer to pore over and memorize a character's entire move-set, but it just doesn't stay with me. Once "the madness" takes over, all bets are off. This isn't just fiddling with the controls until I've hashed out a few solid moves. I've made a commitment to disorder, almost Zen-like in its dedication to pure, mechanical randomness. If play choices in fighting games correspond to kung-fu styles, then I figure my shameless mashing is like Zui Quan, or Drunken Fist: an erratic, weaving style of seemingly harmless motions that puts an opponent off-guard.
And sometimes, stupidly enough, it works. Part of it is the sheer pragmatics of fighting games, where if you punch the other dude enough times, you win. This is aided by its complete incomprehensibility - it's impossible to read your opponent's poker face if he thinks he's actually playing "Go Fish." And part of it is the uncomfortable fact that some fighting games are just Hungry Hungry Hippos with hadoukens.
But how far can you really get without actively learning to play? To test the prowess of my button-spamming non-technique I decided to propose a tournament of tournaments, played across the history of fighting games. My opponents would be allowed strategy guides and FAQs but I would not. Their order pit against my chaos to answer that burning question: Whose kung-fu is the best?