At last, Controller Guy has given up the fight, and it's my turn to get in the game. I pick my team. My speedster: X-23, the female clone of Wolverine. My trap-setting, wary trickster: Trish, from Devil May Cry. And last but not least, my heavy-hitter: She-Hulk.
MADDY MYERS VS. THE WORLD I lose, with dignity, to this guy at Game Underground.
I turn to my opponent and say, with a grin, "So, I'm pretty bad at this. I'm still learning." He smiles back and says, "Well, this is how you get better."
I can see a small crowd growing behind us in the corner of my eye; I don't want to turn around to find out if they're here to See If the Girl Can Play. I hope it's just a coincidence. Maybe they're all standing behind me for some other interesting reason. One can only hope.
I already know that being able to beat my friends isn't going to help me down here, in a place where everyone else has been playing fighting games every second of every day for their whole lives. All I can do is lose with my head high and hope to learn something.
Perhaps my nervousness acts as a handicap, perhaps it's the self-fulfilling prophecy of my negativity, or perhaps it's just my lack of raw experience — but I do get slaughtered in the ring. Somehow, I feel like I'm wasting everyone's time, so after only three short and unbalanced matches, I shake my opponent's hand. When I turn around, almost all of the guys behind me disperse without making eye contact.
I stand behind two new players, clinging to the now-sweaty store controller and waiting for my heart rate to go back down. I watch the fight on the screen, not feeling yet like I have the brain capacity to absorb the players' techniques. I imagine my feet sinking into the floor.
A couple guys come up and try to make conversation with me. They both ask the same questions: "What are you doing here?" "Why did you come?" They seem genuinely curious. My response — "I just wanted to play" — doesn't satisfy either of them. They keep asking that same question with different wording. So I say "I don't know" until they go away.
Another guy walks up and asks if I have the next game. Sure, why not. He tells me it's his first time here; he's got a stick with him, and he looks excited. He asks if I've been here before, and I admit I have. "You're a regular!" he exclaims. I laugh. No, not exactly.
While we're talking, another guy across the room suddenly jumps up from his game of Tekken Tag 2 and walks over to a pile of old TVs on the floor. He kicks one, hard, eight times in succession. The room falls silent. Everyone stares.
"Oh, hey, are we allowed to do that?" says another guy with a laugh. No one else laughs. The silence stretches. TV Kicker shoves his hands in his pockets and pushes out of the room, his mouth a hard, angry line. He storms up the stairs. He does not come back.
Someone breaks the silence by asking TV Kicker's opponent: "Did you do that?"
"I guess so," he admits. "Should I be proud, or . . . ?"
"Yes!" Everyone laughs, except for me.
It's my turn to play another round of UMvC3. I'm up against the one guy using a controller instead of an arcade stick. I start out by asking him about his settings, which I've heard are unusual. He interrupts me.
"So, are we all supposed to go easy on you?" He gives me a crooked smile.
I pause. Because I'm a girl? Because I'm a girl. I stare at him with serious eyes, giving him more than enough time to backpedal. But he keeps grinning. So I give him a "no" in my best Daria deadpan.
He laughs. He sounds nervous and a little too high-pitched. "Come on, I thought we were having fun here."
I pause for a while, watching him. "I'm sorry, I'm just confused," I say. "What did you mean by that?"
He laughs. He won't answer.
"What did you mean?" I ask again.
"See, if I don't go easy on you, you won't have any fun," he says.
"I'm not here to have fun," I say. "I'm here to learn. Go ahead and beat me."
I try to bring the topic back around to his controller settings. He tells me in a baby voice which buttons are the attack buttons, so I ignore him. I hate him now. And I hate the fact that he's about to beat me even more.
He does beat me, worse than before, to the point where I wonder if my previous opponent had been "going easy on me." But it turns out that my loss is partly because I forgot to set up my controller settings, having been too distracted by his pre-game trash talk. Eventually, I suck up my pride and tell him I have to fix my settings. My reward? He laughs in my face for what feels like eternity.
Once my settings get updated, I manage to get a few hits in, but I'm so demoralized by now that I can't focus. He starts mocking me: "See? You don't look like you're having fun! Even when I lose, I still have a great time," he brags.
Don't you dare tell me what expression to have on my face, I think. I already saw you complaining about losing to someone else earlier tonight, so I already know you're a sore jerk when you go down. I may not be having fun, but god damn it, I'm fighting.
Eventually I tell him we should stop playing, because someone behind us is waiting to play. To my surprise, he begs and begs me for a rematch, but I turn away. He may be having fun, but I can tell I'm not learning anything from this experience.
I watch more matches for another hour, keeping my eye on timing and techniques as much as my tired eyes can stand. Then I go home and buy an arcade stick on the Internet. It's time for training mode.