I was too young for the Cold War but just right for Zangief.

History Essay
Written by Nathan Mattise

I was listening to my iPod yesterday and I started thinking about the Cold War. I can’t tell you much about the whole “Kruschev against Reagan” thing because I wasn’t even 5-years-old while they were in power. However, I learned all I needed to know about USA versus USSR when 1991 came around. I owe it to a Super Nintendo and Capcom Entertainment.

That Christmas I received an SNES. It was one of those moments that needed to be videotaped in order to really capture the exuberance (No, that’s not me, but ask my sister. It’s pretty close). The system came with Super Mario World and a control, but Santa must have known I was destined to become an informed citizen of the world. He left one more game under the tree that year.

Street Fighter II quickly became my obsession. I played that game so much I even beat it with Dhalsim – which is the Street Fighter equivalent of winning the Tour de France with your Wal-Mart Huffy. Consciously I studied endless combinations of joy-pad directions and A, B, X, Y buttons. Subconciously I caught up on everything I missed in the world while I was ruining my Pampers during the late 80s.

For those who aren’t familiar, Street Fighter is a fighting game similiar to Mortal Kombat. It features competitors from all over the world competing to earn the distinction of world’s best for various reasons. Ryu wants to prove that his formal training as in martial arts is supreme. Blanka hopes to meet the individual who injected him with chemicals to the point that where gained super-human strength and green skin. And Chun-Li… she wants to prove you can be gorgeous and still kick ass.

Obviously not all of the storylines were logical. Actually, most of the storylines weren’t logical. But the creators at Capcom did put one feasible storyline into the game. I don’t think it was by mistake.

How bad ass?Guile is a former member of the U.S. Army. He’s ripped from head to toe with Derek Zoolander-piercing blue eyes and the perfect blonde flat-top (which in the early 90s was an envious ‘do). He enters the competition to claim vegence for his friend Charlie, a solider who was mysteriously lost in a mission when confronting communist forces. The head of those very communist forces? M. Bison. He happens to be the last opponent you face in the game.

Don't even get me started.M. Bison is a dictator who dressed in a red military garb accented with a flowing cape. The game claims he’s from Thailand, but judging from his appearance and stone-cold demeanor no casual observer would guess this geography. The first google image result for “communist dictator,” is practically M. Bison circa age 75. The first image result for “Thailand” is a couple in wet suits.

So you see Capcom made their agenda clear. M. Bison’s appearance and position as Guile’s foil doesn’t say Thailand. It says Soviet Union. Guile becomes the player you want to be for his Deansian level of detached cool. M. Bison gradually becomes the most hated character in the for any player for a variety of reasons. His attacks deliver more damage than anyone else’s, he’s the only computer character that routinely dips into unbeatable mode and you can’t even select him as your own character. My parents might have thought Russia was bad for logical reasons, but I believed it because of M. Bison (and later Ivan Drago).

As I grew up I’d hear people my parents’ age tell horror stories about nuclear attack under-your-desk drills. Professors showed nostaglic anti-communism propaganda films and we’d discuss how the government used it to scare the heck out of you. But I was ahead of the game. I knew all about these feelings and scare tactics from hours of frustrated video game playing and secretly being afraid to face-off against M. Bison in the dark.

The next time you need an indication of just how intense the Cold War really was, forget about History Channel documentaries and text books. Dust off the SNES, select Guile and battle your way through 13 other competitors in twenty minutes only to spend the next half hour battling the communist forces embodied by M. Bison. You’ll never get a clearer understanding of the rivalry, well, unless you really want to examine how the Capcom designers handled Zangief. Talk about unappealing.

(Links today via: Wikipedia, YouTube, KCRW.com and Google Images)

Did you actually use Dhalsim? Don’t think anyone else got crazy Cold War vibes from children’s video games? Let Nate know how ridiculous he is (and that’d you like 10 minutes of your life back). Just e-mail him.

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Filed under Essays, History

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