Okay, if you don’t care about a) wrestling or b) videogames you can probably stop reading now.
I have played a lot of wrestling games. Mostly back in my teens and twenties. Some of the time, I was paid to review them. At one point, I wrote a regular article in a PlayStation 2 tips magazing pretending to be this lady:
I loved wrestling games. I particularly enjoyed the CAW (Create A Wrestler) mode, where you could sink hours, days, or weeks. Some people loved to create the most grotesque, subhuman monster possible. Impossibly sunken eyes, dangling jowels, toothpick arms emerging from shapeless bodies.
I could never do that. It was super important to me that my CAW was both an original creation, but also seemed entirely suited when placed into the standard Raw or SmackDown roster. I could talk about Blue Lightning and The Hack at length, but that is best kept for another post.
Here’s what they are – brawlers. You have a character with a moveset. You do your damnedest to beat the crap out of your opponent so you can win, get your reward, and move on. You have way, way more moves than is usual for a brawler, but only a handful at a time. A singles match is simplest – two guys (usually), and may the best man win.
That is not pro wrestling.
Pro wrestling is not Guy A versus Guy B. It’s Guy A and Guy B versus the crowd.
That’s really my whole argument in a nutshell, but let me elaborate. I’ve still got thirteen minutes left of this lunch break, so.
Say Guy A is the good guy, or ‘face’. Guy B is the bad guy, or ‘heel’. The Face wants the crowd to cheer him – that’s how he knows he’s doing a good job. The heel wants boos. They help each other get there.
When the face offers a handshake before the match starts, and the heel slaps it away, the face is helping the heel get boos, or ‘heat’. If the heel shakes his hand like a gentleman, he’s basically acting like a face. Maybe he’s starting a face turn? Who knows. That’s cool, it happens. But… I’m digressing again.
Every time a wrestling executes a move, the guy taking the move has to make it look good. They have to sell it. If the heel distracts the referee so they can kick the face in the nuts, then… Haha! “Kick the face in the nuts”. What a weird sentence. Makes sense if you know wrestling, I promise. But yeah, if they don’t sell it, and it’s not his ‘gimmick’ to be immune to low blows for some reason (looking at you, Human Tornado), then… what are the crowd supposed to think? It’s confusing. The storytelling has gone awry.
Pro wrestling is storytelling. It’s big, brash, funny, dramatic, comic booky, often crude, action-packed storytelling.
A wrestling videogame shouldn’t be about hitting buttons frantically until the other guy stops moving, it should be about telling a story to an audience.
If you are the face, cheers sustain you. They give you strength. Same goes for the heel, with boos. When the other guy hits you, you have to respond. You have to sell it. You’re not sitting there on your sofar, scowling, smashing the X button in frustration and waiting for your little avatar to finally stand up and stop getting pummelled. You’re trying to time your ‘sell’ to make the move look amazing. Slump to the ground. Twitch your legs a bit. Maybe hold your head and grimace in agony. Sell it! In return, when you reverse his clothesline into a floatover DDT, he’ll sell THAT for you. He’ll bounce his head right off the canvas, the crowd will gasp, and you’ll look like a bad ass – because of him.
It doesn’t matter who wins. Well, it sort of does, but only in a big picture way. It mostly matters that you both put on a good show, and tell an exciting story. Maybe the monster heel dominates the poor underdog face utterly. Just destroys them with huge power moves, over and over again. But the face just. Won’t. Quit. Maybe the monster heel gets frustrated, and makes a mistake. Maybe the face capitalises in an instant, is THIS CLOSE to winning, the crowd stand up in their seats, oh my god after all that he’s actually going to- Ohhhhhhhhh crap. No. Two count. So close.
That would finally get me back into wrestling games. Let me be the brute, the acrobat, the technician – but let me use them to tell stories. Let me make the crowd laugh, groan, and cheer. Let me get a standing ovation, or break their hearts. And let me do it with a friend.