A harrowing tale from the Street Fighter II arcade trenches.
Back in the early Nineties, when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed gamer, I pumped all my spare silver coins into the greatest beat-em-up ever. That is, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior on the arcade.
As I'm sure many of you did. That's not particularly interesting in itself. But one instance has stuck, and will remain in my memory until the day I die. When I put my neck on the line and braved a gang of nasty-looking youths just to play the game.
This tale begins on the hilly grass of Streatham Common, south London. The funfair had made its way to town, and, most exciting for me, brought a mobile arcade along with it. They were basically great big trucks packed to the rafters with arcade cabinets - I'm talking the four-player The Simpsons Game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men. But I was only interested in Street Fighter II. This was before the game had come out on home consoles, so my only opportunity to play the game was in the arcade. All I cared about was putting my 20p down, waiting my turn and beating the hell out of whatever joker it was who thought they could best me and Guile. Then I'd play through the single player, deliberately slowly, until another joker turned up, put his 20p down and tried to kick me off.
Except it didn't work out like that this time. Oh no.
I had come to the fair with my chain-smoking auntie and my little sister. I spied the arcade truck and immediately left word where I was going, and made sure to point out that I would be gone a long time. The funfair only comes once a year after all.
My auntie however, made me take her pack of fags, her lighter and her keys, since she was being dragged to a nearby ride by my little sis. Damn! I thought. Where would I put this crap? I needed both hands for uber-skilled Guile action. I stuffed the offending articles into the back pocket of my jeans, clearly visible for any prying eyes.
As the Street Fighter II cabinet came in to view, I could make out two things: One, it was the larger cabinet, with seats. Great. I preferred those. Two: it was currently being molested by a gang of unruly South London youths, who weren't even playing the game. They were just sitting there, smoking, and doing all the intimidating things youths do.
What to do! Did I return to my Auntie and sister with my tail between my legs, or did I brave the youths, ask them to move and start playing SFII? Amazingly, I somehow experienced a hitherto unknown bout of courage, and no little amount of anger. Who were they to deprive me of the only joy I had in the world? When would be my next opportunity to hone my skills? Against my better judgement, I strode towards the arcade, and the gang saw me coming a mile off.
"Excuse me, can I play please?" Not the best of starts. Probably should have said something like "Move off the game, blud!" Actually, that would have probably been worse. I think I shocked them more than anything. To my amazement, and with my heart pounding, space was made on the 1 player side. I sat down, took some change out of my pocket, and pressed start.
I could hear them laughing as I was making my way towards Guile on the character select screen. Then, as the plane headed towards Brazil for my first fight, with green electro-shock monster Blanka, I could feel hands pulling stuff from my back pocket. Like a chump, I chose to ignore it, instead focusing on the game. I knew what was happening - I was being mugged at a Street Fighter II arcade cabinet - but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Predictably, I couldn't concentrate on the game. I couldn't pull off Guile's Sonic Boom, or his Flash Kick. Blanka was winning. Blanka won.
I put my hand in my pocket for more cash, but it was gone. As the countdown ticked inexorably towards 0 and Game Over, I stood up, got my eyes down and left the arcade truck, my tail between my legs and laughter echoing behind me.
I returned to my auntie. "Did you enjoy your game?" "Not exactly. And I seem to have lost your cigarettes..."