"No, Dad. Not Kick--Guard!"
It's a tone of disdain I was sure was many years distant. And yet my desire to conquer the monster in my genre-closet has brought me up against a formidable enemy: my son.
"Peter, I think I've got you! Watch out!"
My Raging Phoenix Bo flows naturally into a guard, but it's a trick. He comes in with a simple overhead strike. My left elbow shoots forward. I catch his head with the back end of the staff, and he crumbles. I follow through, translating the motion back and up, bringing him upright. He stands there, head lolling comically. He's helpless. The staff flows behind my back, comes around again, lifting him into the air.
"No!" he cries.
Unable to stop, my staff comes down on his lower back in mid air. I drive his lifeless corpse into the wooden planks of the dock.
"K.O.!" announces the overwrought narrator in an oddly non-Asian expression of victory.
"Good one dad."
He's humoring me.
Our session score: 5-17. The five is my score. It's also his age.
Being an intellectual, I approached Soul Calibur 2 as a research project. I selected the "easiest," most newbie friendly character: a dashing beefcake brunet named Kilik, who eschews armor and weapons in favor of belt-buckles and curtain rods. (The curtain rod, I discover, keeps the badguys away long enough for me to think.) I looked up all of his moves and learned them. After all, here was a game where I didn't need to unlock the best moves -- no Tony Hawk here -- I simply needed to learn how and when to execute them! This should be easy!
After a few hours plowing through a thin but satisfying single player campaign, I felt obliged to play the "real" game. And it felt good. Really good. For the first time ever, I was playing a fighting game and not randomly mashing buttons. I was thinking ahead in each battle: "He's big, so I'll drop him with Sheng Su Low Kick, use the time to back up, and then keep him at bay with Phoenix Rage Thrust. If he closes, I'll Heaven Dance on him for the kill."
Home from school early, Peter catches me in the act.
"Dad, what's THAT?" he asks. I turn. He's slack-jawed, a piece of bread hangs from his left hand. His right arm traces a buttery crescent across his freckled mouth. He moves to sit down next to me, feeling his way along the couch so as not to lose sight of the spectacle on the screen.
I reach to turn off the Xbox. My general policy is to limit the violence he sees in video games. But I pause before hitting the big red switch. After a few hours of Soul Calibur 2, I realize the violence is far more cartoon than even Avatar: The Last Airbender, his current animated addiction.
"It's a fighting game bud, it's just pretend." I cringe as I say it, as if I need to teach him about Neverland anymore.
His eyes go wide as he watches Kilik bounce in and out of his horse stance. "They make games about KARATE?" he asks.
He watches, riveted, as I play for a few minutes. I'm in practice mode, so the violence is entirely unidirectional.
"Can he do a roundhouse kick?" he asks. He's been studying Karate for a bit less than a year. His yellow belt is his single most prized possession. At least on Tuesday afternoons and alternate Saturdays.
"Sure." I demonstrate. "And if you hit this button, he does a circle block, just like you do in Sanshin Kata."
He asks for the controller, and I oblige.
"It's a bit complicated. You hit the ..."
But I stop talking. He's already figured out the functions of the main buttons, and the D-Pad was obvious. His small fingers have a precision mine seem to lack -- he can repeat a single attack endlessly. My control inputs are prayers for action, his seem to be divine commands. The spirit of Bruce Lee infuses him, and a circular flow of Chi becomes evident -- out of the screen, into his eyes, through his hands, back to the Xbox, onto the screen.
"Let's play!" he demands.
I humor him, grabbing a second controller. I set his health on unlimited, ensuring my loss. After 4 rounds, it becomes clear that this precaution was unnecessary.
"OK, enough's enough. Time to play for real." I insist.
He melts. He looks at me with sad-puppy eyes. "But dad, I don't want to die!"
"It's OK bud, it's only ever for a second. It's like Lego Star Wars -- you always come back."
Reassured, I set our health bars both to 200%, and we play. And play. And play. An hour passes.
He gets consistently better. I get consistently worse. He grows tired of playing Kilik vs. Kilik, and starts selecting a different character every round. Within seconds, he uncovers an interesting move with each, and proceeds to beat me with it, over and over and over again.
Jessica pops her head in from the kitchen.
"You kids having fun?"
My head swivels. I glare.
"Dinner's ready. You guys can play after if you want. It's a weekend."
I shut down the console. Peter whines with the "never enough" attitude all children share at the removal of opiates. "We can play more tomorrow if you want buddy," I reassure him.
I am relieved. My attempt to intellectualize a game of "button mashing" has been completely outdone by 5 minutes of instinct and fast reflexes.
Perhaps Soul Calibur 5 will be turn-based.