Love the One You're With

Love the One You're With
Playing with Strangers

Pat Miller | 14 Feb 2006 07:01
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Seeing a Street Fighter tournament in action is a decidedly surreal experience. To a casual observer, it usually seems ludicrous that a group of 20 grown men would watch a videogame with the same intensity that most others would watch a boxing match or the Super Bowl, cheering on the competitors with roars of approval when a flashy combo or a perfectly timed reversal attack is landed, just like they were watching an actual street fight. To a first time competitor, the same scene is surreal for a wholly different reason: They are awash with the heady, nervous tension that comes from simultaneously enjoying the company of other like-minded gamers, and sizing each one up as they step up to the joystick and show off their best.

But I am neither of those. It was for a wholly different reason I found the environment at a weekly Street Fighter III: Third Strike tournament at San Francisco State University completely bizarre. It wasn't the familiar clashing sounds of the games that did it, nor was it the intoxicating feel of competitive adrenaline slowly seeping out of my system. Rather, it was the sight of three grown men sitting around an open table with their Nintendo DSes, chatting between tournament matches about fishing and interior decorating and independent musicians.

Hmm. Something tells me they're not talking about Street Fighter any more.

I sat down with them and peered at one of their screens for a second to confirm my suspicions. Satisfied, I fished out my own Nintendo DS from my backpack, still warm from idling in sleep mode, and announced to the table:

"Anyone here need peaches?"

The others just groaned. "All of us started with peaches," one of them said to me, "but open your gates and I'll give you some apples and oranges."

"I've got a spare coconut you can have!" said another.

"What's your store selling?" asked the third. We proceeded to spend the next hour visiting each other's towns, chatting with the locals, exchanging tips and showing off furniture. One of the guys had every kind of fruit. Another had finished paying off his mortgage. All I had to brag about was, well, a giant arcade cabinet sitting in my living room. They oohed and aahed and took it in for a while. It does make a nice centerpiece. It's quite a conversation-starter.

Welcome to Animal Crossing, the game about, well, nothing, really.

The original Animal Crossing found its way into my girlfriend's GameCube about a year and a half ago as an anniversary gift and ended up stealing that anniversary evening from us as we ran errands to make the down payment on our house. One evening would gradually become a week, then a month of fishing, two months of fossil collecting, three months of planting trees, until she left for a semester in Scotland and her Cube fell into the possession of my freshman year roommate, who promised to tend to it once a week. His painstaking care of our town was clearly apparent; our house had swarms of roaches, our fields were choked by huge plots of hideous weeds, our mailbox was overflowing and our neighbors had mostly deserted us. (Thanks, Vince.) After about an hour of futile weeding and cockroach-chasing, we decided we might need to move on. Goodbye, GameCube, say hello to Wild World.

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