Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass
Fei Long and Justin Wong

Pat Miller | 13 Mar 2007 12:03
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Even though Justin is presumably American by nationality, his play-style has been attached to words normally reserved for Asian players, painting him as "less American" than his non-Asian opponents. And so, when people boo and hiss while he cleans up Evolution's Marvel vs. Capcom 2 tournaments, they don't just boo and hiss at Justin Wong, they boo and hiss at Justin Wong, an Asian player dominating non-Asian and therefore American opponents. Justin is the Yellow Peril.

The reason the Justin-Daigo video helps us understand all these intricate constructions of race in the SF2 community is precisely because they are not playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2. MVC2 is mostly played in the U.S., probably because the comic book heroes from the Marvel Comics universe aren't popular in any of the other countries in which Street Fighter games are widely played (most notably, Japan). There is no Japanese threat in MVC2 to displace Justin's position as an Asian robot.

In Street Fighter III: Third Strike, however, Japanese players like Daigo are the robotic and mechanical Asian players. Virtually everyone who chimed in on the "Amazing Daigo Comeback" thread from the Shoryuken.com forums call Justin "cocky," "flashy" and "impatient" - terms that seem to resonate with the underdog, "American" position Justin's opponents occupy when he's playing the American-friendly MVC2.

As long as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is in our Dreamcast, Justin is dominant and un-American, but once we switch the game to Third Strike, Justin is representing the good old U.S.A. against the real Yellow Peril, Daigo Umehara, who has come all the way from Japan to take our money in a Street Fighter tournament. Depending on what game he's playing, Justin is alternately Asian or American as they correspond to "winner" or "underdog." Perhaps more significantly, though, lines of race and nationality are crossed here, and Asian is posed against American - not white or black, but American.

Of course, when race and nationality enter the fray, there's no easy solution to any problem, especially problems like stereotyping and rank classification. Understanding why and how people like Justin Fong bounce back and forth between American hero and Yellow Peril, in a videogame community no less, is key to finding a way to overcome racial issues. Maybe that's another edge the Street Fighter arcade scene has over the Gears of War online model: We actually have to face the people we demonize.

Pat Miller has been doing this for way too long. Stop by his blog, Token Minorities, for more on race and videogames.

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