We Really Need To Talk About Episode 5 of Netflix's High Score
Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat will always have legendary status in the FGC, High Score explains their impact on the video game world
Netflix is, and permit me for using my native language, something of a gbogbo ero (loosely translated as 'for everyone' or 'everything') streaming service. This is a strategy that has them at the top of the streaming game since they have something for everyone. Therefore, regardless of your race, nationality, or creed, you will most likely find something to enjoy on Netflix. So, you can just imagine that a documentary about the history of video games and their impact on society will somehow find itself on the giant streaming service.
High Score profiles some of the gaming industry pioneers and the things they did that made gaming the absolute juggernaut it is today. It also did it in a very nice way, highlighting voices that may normally have been marginalized. Odds are if you are reading this, you may have already seen the documentary. I mean, it has been available for months, and I only watched it recently when I had nothing else to do. This was because I thought it was simply a short history of video games and their importance. However, I got to episode 5, where it focused solely on fighting games, and I was hooked.
The documentary was a nostalgia trip that took me back to my childhood and the games I used to play back in the day. That said, if you are looking for a definitive exploration of video game history and the people that made it what it is today, High Score is probably not what you are looking for. In addition, it does gloss over so much and doesn't explore some of the darker aspects of the industry. But, documentaries play different roles. Some are adept at evoking positive emotions; others are thought-provoking and sometimes even downright depressing. High Score doesn't seek to do that, instead drawing on the positive aspects of games to weave a tale of triumph, growth, and celebration.
So, while the first episode of High Score focused on some of the very first games, including the likes of Space Invaders and Pac Man, episode 5 focused on Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. The documentary even spoke to the likes of Akira Nishitani and Akira Yasuda, who were both designers for Street Fighter II. For someone like me, who grew up on Street Fighter II Turbo (it was my very first game), I was incredibly intrigued by some of the stories behind iconic stages. For instance, Nishitani explained how traditional bathhouses (or onsens) in Japan inspired E. Honda's famous stage in Street Fighter II. I had always wondered why a bathroom was chosen, but now it seems like a no-brainer. We also got to see some of the sketches for the characters from Yasuda, which was glorious for a fanboy like myself. In addition, the episode highlighted the impact of Street Fighter and how a competitive fighting circuit emerged from the SF arcade scene. This, of course, took me back to my childhood in Lagos and how competitive gaming was viewed. We didn't have natural arcades (the government deemed it to be a means of gambling), but there were several 'game centers,' which collected money in exchange for a turn on the SNES. That was where the Nigerian FGC experienced its growth. Later in the episode, we got to hear from John Tobias, one of the brains behind Mortal Kombat, and for the first time, I really got to appreciate the difference between the art styles of both games. Tobias revealed that they used real actors and martial artists to bring the game to life and captured their movements to recreate in the game. Furthermore, I learned that Johnny Cage was inspired by none other than Jean Claude Van Damme. Now, I understand that this isn't news to many, but I was genuinely surprised by that little nugget. And of course, you cannot discuss MK without the insane media circus that surrounded it as parent clutched their pearls at the depictions of violence in the game. As we all know, the ESRB rating system came about partly because of MK, and watching all that unfold was fascinating, especially when you consider that some of those allegations from then are still used to disparage video games today. Thankfully, video games, and, by extension, esports, has also grown exponentially from those humble days.
As mentioned before, this documentary isn't likely to tell you anything you didn't already know, but it does feel good to watch some of our childhood come to life.
Around the halfway point of the episode, High Score took a look at the life of Takahiro Nakano, who was the winner of the first Street Fighter II Turbo tournament. He went on to work in sales, but with the explosion of esports, he was drafted to become the coach for Kyoto Susano, an esports team comprised of some promising young talent that I hope to see gain some more recognition. The documentary tied this segment with the rising popularity of esports and how it has changed the lives of so many individuals. The episode ended with the controversy that followed titles like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap and how despite Congress' best efforts, video games only became more violent.
What stood out to me was how these Fighting Games paved the way for the modern FGC. Today, we are proud of our community and how we are willing to stand with each other and work together. Sure, some aspects could be better, but it would never stop fascinating me how a bunch of people are so closely connected simply because they enjoy the same video game genre.
High Score is probably not the best video game documentary out there, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and the insights it provided into the medium we love so much.
As mentioned before, High Score does a lot right, including pointing out the story of Gayblade, the first LGBT-themed RPG created way back in 1993, which kinda disappeared from existence (thankfully, it has now been found and can be downloaded here). The caliber of people High Score was able to access was truly mind-boggling, and it was so intriguing to see some of the original designs for games like Final Fantasy or learn about how Space Invaders evolved the video game industry.
If you've seen High Score, what did you think of it? If not, what are you waiting for?