The agony of defeat inspires victory, and, perhaps, lasting friendships.
by JORGE JIMENEZ
Injustice Gods Among Us is the game I always wanted. It’s a superhero fighting game that deals with a parallel universe with bad versions of Flash, Green Lantern and Superman. After proving to myself that I could save the world from an evil Superman, I figured trouncing some poor souls online should be a cakewalk right? I really should have known better.
Shazam has been my go-to or “main” as the fighting game community would call it. I held my own in local matches with buddies on the couch. I’ve heard much about Injustice’s King of the Hill (KOTH) matches, a winner-stays lobby with eight strangers. The neat thing about KOTH is that you can watch the matches as you wait. It sort of evokes the feeling of waiting around for your turn at a game of Street Fighter. This was an appealing thought, since most of my angst-ridden teenaged days were shape by the hijinx that happened in and around an arcade. My general strategy would be to spam Atlas Bolt, a move that propelled Shazam across the screen as a bolt of lighting. If you remember M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher, it is similar to that in its unpredictability — and annoyance.
With my plan set, I randomly joined a public KOTH match. I was second in line so I wasn’t able to properly assess the talent in the room. It didn’t matter; this was a Netherrealm game after all. I should be able stick to a handful of cheap specials and I should net a couple of wins under my belt. My match immediately started against a Catwoman player. I didn’t know what to expect from Catwoman aside from lots of jumping and quick attacks. It did not matter. My plan was set. Easy peasy, right.
I don’t recall ever seeing a 20-plus hit combo in any of my previous matches in Injustice. I just sat there bewildered as Catwoman tossed around poor Shazam. The chat exploded with laughter and insults as a 20-hit combo lead to a 17-hit combo which lead back another 20-plus hit combo. Catwoman had kicked Shazam through the icy walls of the Fortress of Solitude to end the round.
I didn’t land one hit.
Hell, my only plan was to hit this maniac with one, just ONE Atlas Bolt. This fiend managed to dodge it every time. The second round didn’t go as well for me either. I remained helpless. I tried blocking, then I would get thrown, which would lead to another barrage of seemingly unending combos. One of the players in the room had asked if I was even had a controller in my hand. Another suggested that I stop playing videogames entirely. By the end of the match, I was able to sneak in a couple of jabs. I was out-classed by a superior player but, I’ll be damned if I let that son of a bitch get away without a scratch.
I decided to stick around the lobby to see how the other faceless smartasses fared against this player of inhuman skill. One by one, each person fell to Catwoman. The ass-kickings were varied. This beast took advantage of every piece of interactive background by leaping off cars and tearing into these poor bastards. The voices that once hurled insults at me became unintelligible grunts of frustration when their turn came to face the Catwoman. This player went through the seven of us with ease without uttering a word into his or her microphone.
The player didn’t brag or call us names. I think that was the thing that annoyed us the most. No insults, no reaction to being insulted. Silent defeat, over and over again.
One voice shouted that this player was only good with Catwoman. This time around, it was Solomon Grundy that beat us, then Harley Quinn, then Batman. The voices that were once against each other were now united against this monster. We all would shout possible strategies and grimace at each defeat. We were determined the slay the Beast no matter the cost.
This intended casual 20-minute session turned into 90 minutes of bitter warfare between seven brothers united by defeat and shame against one true evil. The loudest voice in the group who had come close once or twice to a victory was facing off against this villain once again. The strangest thing happened; he was winning. This had happened before: someone would get a good start, but ultimately fall in battle.
We cheered him on, telling him not to waste meter on super moves and being smart about when to block. Soon the Beast’s health, who was playing Catwoman once again, was down at 50%, 25%, then 0%. The round was ours. Our champion, who was playing Harley Quinn, seemed confident yet cautious. We assured him that he had this. Our hero took the same approach as before, some well timed blocks and some pure dumb luck and … he won. We erupted in joyous glee, congratulating our champion for doing the impossible. We couldn’t believe what we had been through. We started as bitter rivals then allies with a common foe.
At that moment we knew what it was like to be superheroes.
A few minutes later as the next cycle of matches continued, our foe left still without saying a word. Perhaps our torturer got bored with constantly winning or was simply worn down after having played over two dozen fights in a row. I like to think that he or she showed us a kindness by leaving. This person saw how happy we were and didn’t have the heart to break us down again into whimpering losers. The remaining members of our party took part in a couple of fun matches. Hell, I even became King few times. We discussed the silliness of parallel universes. We even exchanged playful insults and gamertags.
We were friends now. We faced the silent Beast and lived to tell the tale.
Later that day I saw a friend request waiting for me. It was the Beast. I promptly declined. Screw that guy, I know where my loyalties lie.
Writer Jorge Jimenez is a long-time member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.