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Opinion: How Divekick missed a chance to help the FGC

Jordan Mallory

Divekick is as much an homage to the world of fighting games as it is a love letter to the greater Fighting Game Community – a light-hearted, self-referential work of parody that exists in this goofy purgatory between a novel joke and a tournament-ready (albeit unorthodox) fighting game.

And like any work of parody, Divekick sends a message about its subject material, and it is in this regard that the combo was dropped, as it were. Divekick was the perfect opportunity to de-glamorize some of the FGC's more prevalent issues through the scrutinizing lens of satire, but like failing to punish a whiffed super, it was unfortunately a missed opportunity.

Opinion Divekick and the FGC
For the purposes of this analysis, Divekick's worth as a fighting game is immaterial. Rather, the satirical success of its characters is my main focus here, as each one embodies a different facet of the Fighting Game Community's culture.

Of the roster of available fighters, Mr. N has the most interesting story to tell. He's based on a real-life dude named Martin "Marn" Phan. Now, before we get into who Phan is in real life, let's take a look at his character: Mr. N is a morbidly obese, effeminate man wearing a toddler onesie and a giant neck-support pillow, and his special ability is to run away in fear. When he wins a match, Mr. N places several plates of food on the ground, where he sits cross-legged and weeps profusely.

As far as Divekick is concerned, this is the distilled essence of Martin Phan. Since he's overweight in real life, he is absurdly so in the game. Due to his infamous real-life reputation (which I'll get to), his in-game persona is made cowardly and feminine. Even when he wins, he is still a creature to be humiliated for the entertainment of others – Quasimodo, Pope of Fools on the breaking wheel.

Mr. N isn't the only Divekick character based on a real person, but he is most certainly the most inflammatory caricature of the lot. So, why represent Martin Phan at the utmost negative extreme of the satire spectrum?

The story is apocryphal, but like any fable the plot points are broadly consistent: Phan used to be a widely-known personality in the FGC, an EVO-level competitor in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Guilty Gear XX: Reload and Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core. At one point, he was even a sponsored member of Evil Geniuses' Super Street Fighter 4 team. Regardless of his abilities as a fighter, however, Phan's infamy comes from his supposed administrative actions at an Ohio-based tournament called Seasons Beatings.

Opinion Divekick and the FGC
This part of the story changes depending on which part of the internet you're reading, but the most commonly held belief (and the one relayed by Mr N.'s story mode intro) is that Phan, responsible for organizing the Guilty Gear portion of the tournament, rigged the brackets in his own favor – tournament organizers competing in their own events is commonplace in the FGC, even today. Once this was uncovered, the Guilty Gear branch of the event was cancelled, and the results of its completed matches were invalidated.

Later, in early 2012, Phan was barred from appearing as a commentator on tournament streams produced by Level|Up Productions, after he and Christian "ETR" Cain made disparaging remarks relating to the sexual harassment controversy surrounding Capcom's Cross Assault webseries. Later that year, Phan founded Team MRN, a competitive League of Legends team sponsored by Mad Catz. Team MRN was disbanded earlier this year amidst accusations of mismanagement, to which Phan offered a lengthy and confusing rebuttal.

I don't know Martin Phan personally, nor do I presume to know anything about him as a human being, but I do understand why he has the reputation that he does, based on the information I was able to find online. It is clear that he is, to put it gracefully, unliked, and Mr. N is a reflection of that.

Opinion Divekick and the FGC
Other characters, such as Jefailey (based on tournament organizer Alex Jebailey) or S-Kill (ex-Capcom FGC personality Seth Killian) are also caricatures of real people, but their interpretations are wildly different. Jefailey's big-head gimmick is a reference to Jebailey's boisterous attitude, granted, but the tone of his character is still positive overall. Similarly, Killian's Divekick persona is among the most powerful characters in the game, as he is a widely respected celebrity in the scene.

It's the difference between laughing with someone, and laughing at them. Mr. N is obviously a joke, but no one is laughing with Martin Phan.

And that's what really stuck in my craw with Divekick. Regardless of whether Phan is deserving of the level of derision he receives online, the mature thing to do would be to abstain from making the joke in the first place. Take all the development time spent on crafting this eternally-burning effigy and instead build a character based on positive community influences like James Chen, Ultra David or Haunts. Why not do that instead?

The answer, simply put, is that it's more fun to hate Marn than to not have him around. The FGC's stream-chat culture needs someone to make the subject of regurgitated, pre-chewed memes. There's no effort here to grow beyond Marn, to erase his supposed shame from history and become something better. Instead, Divekick preserves him as an object of ridicule. There's nothing wrong with parody or satire when handled properly, but this is just bullying, presented in such a way as to make it seem not only acceptable, but preferable.

Opinion Divekick and the FGC
This isn't an easy mentality to change either, because when you boil it down, the FGC isn't a global community of people – it's a globally-distributed collective of thousands of small groups of local communities.

These units are mostly autonomous and are largely unaffected by anything that happens on a macro scale. If some stream based out of Not Here loses its sponsorship over sexual harassment, why should they care? Their group of 20-or-so dudes can still get together and play fighting games unaffected. Likewise, they can still make the annual drive up to the big regional tournament and act however they want, because no matter what, their group will still be around at the end of the day.

The only way to affect change in a world without repercussions is through leading by example, and Divekick fails to do this. This was an opportunity for the leaders of a community to encourage positive behaviors and illustrate what makes its existence worthwhile, and instead this game glorifies the joy inherent in the humiliation of others. I love fighting games, and I want to love the community devoted to them, but it has to expect better of itself than this. I certainly do.

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