Fuudo for Thought – The Power of Forums

I had a big post planned this week about the forums of Shoryuken.com, probably the single longest standing competitive fighting game forum,  shutting down for good at the end of January. I had a lot of great memories of those hollowed halls, just as full of shitposting and NSFW photos as it could be valuable, crucial data necessary to play fighting games at a higher level, and I wanted to give them a proper send off.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was outraged by the announcement.

As announced Thursday by SRK co-founder and Evolution tournament organizer Tom Cannon, the forums will be preserved and moved over to a new server called Discourse. Tremendous news! Unfortunately, this left my post pretty gutted; it would seem gauche to decry the death of a forum that wasn’t actually dying, after all. Instead, I’ve decided to pivot into why I think forums are extremely important for niche communities like the fighting game community, and how the move to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Discord has been pretty bad for the purposes of advancing discussion and preserving information for newer players .Since this is catered more towards how we talk about fighting games specifically, I’ve decided to label it as a new series: Fuudo for Thought, named of course for the eponymous God of fundamentals himself, former Evolution and Super Battle Opera champion Keita “Fuudo” Ai.

Firstly, I want to touch on my experiences with the SRK forums back when I was a new egg, coming up on almost ten years now (Jesus H!). I’m often told that before the “09’er Invasion,” (a slang term used to deride members who joined after Street Fighter IV was released in 2009) SRK was a much harsher place, where noobs and scrubs alike would verbally get their teeth knocked down their throat if they spoke out of turn. To hear the OG’s tell it, the forums of 2008 and before were a Mad Men-like boardroom where men were men and no one fucked around. Of course, one glance at the history of SRK, back when a smattering of players used a Usenet group to communicate, and you come to realize that there was just as much flaming, whiny discourse as there is today, just without reaction GIFs.

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My best guess at what the SRK forum is said to have been like, circa ’05

But back then, I didn’t know that! For all I knew, there was a bunch of hardened keyboard warriors waiting like sharks in the forum for chum like me to wade in the waters and post something stupid. So for awhile, like others of my ilk who tend to slowly ingratiate themselves into social circles, I lurked. I kept silent, having an account, avatar and the like, but choosing to just watch as I tried to break down the do’s and do not’s of communicating on the forums. From what I could see, excessive whingeing and talking as if you had all the answers were most likely to lead to calamity, but asking informed questions and engaging in discussion was no real big ordeal. Sure, the various personalities might use harsher language, sound a bit gruff, but I certainly never found myself on the bad end of a user dogpile or any other nightmare scenario that other new posters whispered about.

Despite this fairly successful foray into the forums, I usually kept to myself and continued to lurk. When I wasn’t looking at the forums for Street Fighter IV, I was sticking to the Region section, specifically the Southwest sub-forum, where there was a thread just for users from Arizona. Like the rest of the forum, those with years-long memberships tended to post rough around the edges, but you kind of got the feeling that it was the same way a family jokes with one another. And over the years, as wacky forum usernames like Kyo45, ninja_velmor, Tsumuji, Brainpipe, and SaBre became Kyle, Aaron, Jon, Dana, and Scott, I sort of felt like I was in that family…well, at least like the wacky live-in cousin pumped up to try and boost ratings. The Arizona thread wasn’t even special; almost every scene had a thread like that with all there own little histories and drama. The Region section was essentially a different part of SRK, since you would see people that normally never post and the discussions were wildly different.

And I think that was ultimately the beauty of SRK: it had something for everyone. If you just wanted to talk to your local region, you had that sub-forum. If you wanted to talk games specifically, most major releases had a sub-forum and, if you were lucky, its own set of boards for every character in the game. If not, you probably had a dedicated thread in the general fighting game discussion section. Some users were such fanatics that you would really only ever see them talk about one specific game, no matter how obscure, in that specific thread; if a thread had like 600 pages, you knew damn well that thing was an ancient artifact kept alive by the passion of the people who played it.

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Just a sampling of all the fighting games with extensive subforums. There are dozens more, too

But maybe your pursuits weren’t about the details of how to play a game, or even the games themselves; maybe you just wanted to shoot the shit with like-minded people about general pop culture or extremely tech-y things. If that was the case, there was the Tech Talk section and the Off-Topic section. Tech Talk was a one-stop central for information on a lot of the really technical specs that went into playing fighting games: how to find arcade boards, how to fix them, how to make specific controllers, how to control the lag on monitors, finding good deals on individual PC parts, etc. Mark “Markman” Julio, currently a consultant for Tekken creators Namco-Bandai, was a regular in the Tech Talk forums, including a thread created just yesterday where he expressed his love for it in a brief post.

Off-Topic was…well, it was it was: users anywhere from 18-40 years old commenting on all walks of life. There was usually a thread for major video games that weren’t fighters, probably a movie thread, a comic book thread, a politics thread, etc. General Discussion, as it was more accurately re-named, was pretty much a place unto its own, with users choosing that section to be their most frequently visited. If you were a player in the 90’s and early aughts but had long lost interest in the games being played in the modern age, there was a good chance you’d wind up in General Discussion, shooting the shit with a bunch of other similarly jaded users. Many in-community memes and stories sprang from this section, such as Jaha’s legendary pimp thread, the guru-like advice of the user Koop in the relationship thread, users with gimmicks like Specs, who curiously inserted references to a character named “Dr. B,” and so on and so forth. Due to incredibly loose moderation, topics would frequently get heated and it was a harsh place, but if you were in, you were probably a lifer.

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Actual photo of General Discussion

That lax moderation on General Discussion typically extended to the rest of the forum, which I think is an important thing to note. Other popular video game forums like NeoGAF (now ResetEra), GameFAQs, and others were great, but it tended to be heavily moderated, with users subject to karmic systems that could result in a ban much easier than something on SRK. Even TestYourMight, the other major forum I inhabit, suffers from too much moderation, in my opinion: mods are constantly hemming and hawing over little conflicts and drama. SRK, when I joined, had a little meter under your username that was essentially a rating: if you didn’t like someone’s post, you could vote to make the person disreputable, and it was kind of an act of community moderation. If most posters wanted to talk fighting games and someone was consistently derailing conversations with excessive trolling or “scrub” tendencies (again, acting like you had all the answers when the solution was typically your lower level of play), then the community would essentially downvote them and it would make others weary.

Now that loose moderation does have its downsides, too. If you made an innocent mistake and got dogpiled, no one was going to step in and stop it unless it really got out of hand, which means malicious, stinging comments often went un-moderated, and this could be detrimental to a new user. There’s a lot of talk nowadays about inclusion and the barriers to it, and I think that the sort of harsh “tell it like it is” atmosphere of the FGC (at least when I was lurking SRK) was one of those barriers, especially when poor behavior tends to get ignored as long as the perpetrator of said behavior was either talented in their game of choice or generally well-liked. It was often up to you to defend yourself, and defending oneself against anonymous online jerks isn’t for everybody. Those that got through this trial by fire tended to assimilate into the same kind of culture, which is a vicious circle that has yet to be broken, long after the forums were a big deal.

Aside from that issue, I genuinely believe forums were the best way to get better at a game because of one key thing: information. Informational wikis such as Shoryuken’s or Dustloop’s are treasure troves of details on how to play a bunch of different fighters, and they are usually made with raw data from forums. The reality is that no player can be a master of everything; some people are fundamentally better at reading their opponent, others at execution, and more still at playing a specific style. Then there are those who may not be able to play the game at a competitive high level, but have a unique understanding of the game’s mechanics and characters, such as knowing extensive amounts of frame data or unique glitches and quirks of game engines. Forums were a melting pot for all these types of players to interact and help each other gain knowledge on how to be better at the areas that they may not have been strong at before. It’s not quite like that with the other, more popular forms of social media.

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Front page of SRK Wiki. Mot of those titles have extensive pages with tons of info

I’ll start with Discord, since I believe it to be the most flawed. Discord is a system that allows users to create chat servers, similar to IRC, that support screen sharing, voice chat, and video calling, much like Skype. Unlike Skype, however, it is generally free of the headaches that come with organizing a Skype call, like adding in additional people and joining a call already in progress. It’s designed to be friendly to use even while gaming, and there are now even verified servers that can allow for game developers to moderate a discord for their particular game. Unfortunately, Discord, unlike a gaming forum, typically requires a link from someone who has already been in or created a Discord server, and the link expires after a time for security reasons. Not only that, it doesn’t do a good job of archiving chat logs, which means that handy information is often lost to time unless it’s specifically saved in a wiki or elsewhere. At times, it can replicate the old days of fighting games, where specific cliques kept information to themselves and rarely shared it, which could stunt growth unless you were inevitably noticed by the clique.

This leaves Facebook and Twitter. Now, as useful as these social media apps are for communicating intimately with other players, there are a number of problems when it comes to using these apps as a means of improving fighting game discourse. Both Facebook and Twitter have odd archival systems, which can make it very difficult to actually find a useful kernel of information without a direct link.

Twitter in particular, with its low (although recently increased) word limit and rapid fire nature, has a style all into its own, and its terrible for actual discussion. Take a look at the Twitters of top, sponsored NRS players like SonicFox and Theo. Whenever there is talk about fighting games, it’s a video clip or single post with meme language that is probably indecipherable to people who haven’t done a deep dive into the community. Now there’s really nothing wrong with it–it is their personal Twitter, after all–but it can be really tough to have a real discussion about games when it’s so coded in memespeak and inside jokes, which is the kind of environment Twitter breeds. It’s very personal, and you can only see posts of users who follow you if you follow them back. Most Twitter users operate in a sort of safe space where what they see and who they interact with is catered very much to them. This isn’t a problem either, since it’s something many people use to help find friends and stay safe on the internet, but it’s not the best for dissenting opinions. There’s also an unfortunate side effect that comes with following people you may not be all that familiar with on such a personalized social media site.

The nice thing about gaming forums was that, for the most part, the users were there for a specific reason. While there are always lounge-like atmospheres in every forum on SRK, it’s typically catered to the specific game or fighters in general. Following people on social media means you now are exposed to their actual life, not just a name on a forum. So if you are a new member of the community, and happen to notice notable players having terrible opinions about women, or advocating whipping children, or espousing blatant homophobia, or just unfortunate opinions in general, it can be pretty alienating, considering most people tend to surround themselves with people they agree with, as previously mentioned, and their followers may not be so nice when they see someone they follow being criticized.

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My typical reaction to FGC Twitter

Different opinions on a bunch of different subjects is how life gets figured out; there must always be a yin to a yang. Open forums allow for a bunch of users with different states of minds to come in and discuss a topic, and that is so crucial to developing something as unique and complex as a fighting game. Will everyone always be on the same level? Absolutely not. Will all the takes be good? Definitely not. But in a lightly modded forum like SRK, the cream would often rise to the crop, and for every shitposter there were usually at least two to three serious ones that would regulate that nonsense. With Twitter, Discord, and Facebook, it limits the amount of people in the discussion, especially when you are the master of allowing who gets to speak with you.

That’s all I got, at any rate. If you got to the end of this yammering nonsense I commend you. And if you’ve got some time, be on the lookout for the patreon that Tom Cannon will be setting up for the new SRK forums; I know I’m going to contribute in order to keep it going. Thanks again, and I hope you all savor your favorite forums! It’s a tremendous, dying breed.

 

 

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