UVic prof publishes investigation on zen of Street Fighter

Prof drawn to whether violent fighting games make people violent

To the delight of gamers, university professor Chris Goto-Jones hosted a Street Fighter video game tournament to celebrate publishing his study on gaming.

For years, Goto-Jones, the Dean of Humanities at the University of Victoria, has been looking at the effect video games have on the people who play them.

In 2016 he published an academic text, The Virtual Ninja Manifesto, which argues, among other things, whether Street Fighter is a martial art. While he was originally interested in the effect violent video games have on people, he said the focus of his study changed. It led him to a new world and a new way of looking at gaming.

He contends that video games (some more than others) can become a martial art, only people use their thumbs instead of their feet.

“In the ‘80s there was a fuss over whether learning the martial arts make you violent, and the backlash there was actually, ‘No,’” Goto-Jones said. “The training and the discipline that you get from the martial arts make you better, so what we are testing with this project is if you can say these things about video games.”

Goto-Jones based his research on Capcom’s Street Fighter II as the industry standard. Released in 1991 for Super Nintendo, it gave rise to many more games, such as Mortal Kombat in 1992 and Tekken in 1994, as well as others. Together, they redefined the gaming industry. Street Fighter now has five editions, all staying true to the original model of the game, a 2D, one-on-one fight.

What Goto-Jones discovered, and maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, is that it came down to the intentions of the players. Some seek improvement, some seek only to win, while others find a type of zen.

Those who seek improvement can find a transformation, and a type of unity with the characters and moves in a game, that mirror the transformation of real life martial arts.

It’s how Goto-Jones came up with the idea of the Virtual Ninja Manifesto. It’s the fruit of his project, and a key part of the presentation he delivered prior to the final round of the Street Fighter tournament in the McPherson Library on Jan. 26.

“What really matters is the intention, the meaning you’re bringing into the game,” he said. “So if you’re playing the game in order to accomplish something uplifting, something spiritual or ethical, then you take out of the game something in that direction. Whereas, if you come into it just wanting to beat people up and exercise violence, then that’s what you’ll take out of it too.”

To be clear, not all 20,000 UVic students were made aware of the tournament. However, anyone who thinks they are a strong Street Fighter player will have to get through applied linguistics student Jun Nguyn, who won the inaugural tournament (Goto-Jones expressed interest in holding the tournament again).

“I’ve done a lot of theory, studied how many frames there are between moves, things like that,” Nguyen said. “But I’ve never been in a tournament before.”

For Nguyen, the results of the Goto-Jones’ study made sense.

“People get salty, they get mad [throwing controllers at the television],” Nguyen said. “But I’ve seen people do that and a week or two later, they try again [with a different mentality].”

And yes, through video games Nguyen can find his zen.

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