Getting Physical

I’m not particularly proud to admit that for a while in my youth I believed that pro wrestling (what a confusing term) was actually a real sport similar to, say, boxing. To my credit, pro wrestling is presented as such with “real” announcers, referees, and everything. Nevertheless, it amazes me how fake those kicks and punches that I once took for real now appear to me as an adult when occasionally watching pro wrestling, which is a testament to the fact how incompetent the judgment of a young mind can be.

Obviously the fakeness of the pro wrestling combat stems from the fact that the kicks and punches, even if showy, aren’t full contact, but merely soft landing slaps or ones that miss the target altogether. There is indeed very little actual physical interaction in play when the punches start to fly in pro wrestling, and the crux of such a show is, well, the show – the spectacle.

Then there are actual sports that include genuine physical violence but, in a way, don’t come across as violent as pro wrestling in terms of sheer scope of actions. Even the least holds barred sport Mixed Martial Arts include relatively little trading of (successful) kicks and punches per match, and more often than not MMA bouts reduce into unexciting unspectacles of hugging and squishing. The point of this is to say that actual violence is rarely as spectacular as fiction at large often depicts it to be. Only consider the contrast between a real boxing match experienced via TV and any of the Rocky movies, and you see what I’m after.

What then comes to violence found in video games, first of all, I’m not a fan of graphic violence per se. However, as I wrote earlier, I don’t have a particular problem with simulated violence. Some violence can actually add immensely to the overall gaming experience when done properly. Furthermore, at least one can be dead sure the violence in a video game isn’t real, in contrast to mediums like film or video which are more ambivalent towards that question.

That said, I remember finding the very first Virtua Fighter fascinating, as it represented for the first time credible full contact combat in fiction, instead of that obvious fakery found in movies or, let alone, pro wrestling. Thanks to the polygon graphics, kicks and punches actually did intersect with the opponent’s corpus, thus giving an impression of genuine physical impact. Of course, the game engine of VF was rudimentary at best and didn’t even include any actual physics simulations whatsoever. Yet, the combat in VF was not only more real and tangible than in other fiction, but at the same time, one could argue, more spectacular than real hand-to-hand combat.

However, the most intriguing aspect what follows from all this is the fact that simulated pro wrestling is, in a sense, far more real than the actual, live-action version of it. Indeed, wrestling games, such as WWE ‘12 by THQ, seem to be more truthful to the supposed frame of reference of the exercise in question, which is, presumably, defeating an opponent using violence in a regulated, non-fixed match. Actual pro wrestling neglects that premise altogether for the sake of the drama and the spectacle, which manifests itself as faked punches and fixed matches.

I wonder if this is the hyper-real (more real than the real itself) about which Jean Baudrillard so much talked? Is simulated violence some sort of hyper-violence? Does the title Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting finally make sense?

Of course everything said above applies also to computer-generated imagery at large, such as the very cool Assassin’s Creed trailer mentioned earlier. Video games just happen to add an extra layer to the mix, the interactivity, which makes the situation that more fascinating.

Remember that resorting to violence is never an answer,  outside video games, that is.