Grappling with Wrestling video games

I have never, ever liked wrestling.  That is something I have worn on my sleeve as somewhat of a badge of honour as long as I can remember.  The theatrical garbage, ‘the so bad it’s funny and yet somehow still bad’ acting, the stupid uniforms, the cliched wrestlers, they all scream ridiculous and bad taste.  And the list goes on and on.  Wrestling fans, don’t stop reading because predictably, unfortunate as it feels, I will be starting the next sentence with a but.

But recently I have come to understand what it is exactly that makes it such a worldwide phenomenon.  Perhaps the theory that the number of brain cells decreases as you age is truer than I thought, or perhaps I’ve just acquired a more mature outlook on things and become more of a lover and less of a hater, but wrestling in the last 12 months has piqued my interest to a point where the massive marketing push being undertaken by THQ for WWE ’13 is raising the hairs on the back of my neck with excitement.  Which is equal parts embarrassing and awesome all at the same time.

But the fact that I can be genuinely excited about something that less than 12 months ago didn’t even register in my brain as anything worth paying attention to is cause for celebration.  And that is the wonderful nature of video games (and life if you want to get all existential) – their ability to both inform and entertain in ways that no other media can, often leading to new interests and obsessions.

It wasn’t until I explored professional wrestling for myself, mainly through the eyes of video games, that it really began to come alive.  2011’s WWE All Stars, my first foray into the world of simulated wrestling (in two ways),  was a history lesson dressed up in bright lights and fancy effects.  The game was a simple and intuitive brawler draped with enough wrestling attitude, history and nostalgia to last the average man a life time.    And Delving into the storied history, the rivalries, the glitz and the glamour of the WWE was refreshing and simply balls to the wall fun.  But more than that wrestling is and seems to always have been, in some ways, a microcosm of the fantastical and addictive beast that is American culture.  Picked straight from the headlines the sometimes ethereal story lines, as bombastic as they can be, are a window into what was big in America and what was on the minds of the people at any point in time, in a theatrical and over the top kind of way.  And as ludicrous as it can all be, it’s hard not to love what it attempts to do.

This isn’t all without caveats, however.  For each piece of interesting trivia I read about the WWE, there are as many if not more that are beyond comprehension if not outright offensive or wrong.  But that is exactly why video games are the absolute best way for newcomers to experience the legacy of a cultural icon.  Not only because video games can pay adequate homage to the bombastic and over the top nature of wrestling by making the impossible not just possible but commonplace, but also  because it allows it to be viewed through a lens that has been carefully prepared and curated by people who love the sport and want nothing more than to celebrate it.  Meaning all of the low points are conveniently swept under the rug to present the WWE at the best of its game.  Which really when you think about it isn’t that different from a museum or cultural institution.

WWE Legends of Wrestlemania (THQ, 2009)

So video games are both the preserver and gateway into new worlds both real and imagined.  But where it all really started for me, the fascination with wrestling, was in one of those overheard conversations that make you feel like all conversations you’ve had that day are boring and benign.  I’ll paint a picture –  three 30-something men, obviously with professional white collar careers going by their tailored suits, skinny ties and well-polished italian leather shoes were talking about something with such excitement and investment that it was hard not to be curious about what they were talking about.  I stopped and removed my headphones just far enough to hear their conversations a little better.  They were talking about the latest wrestling event.  One of the men proclaimed that it was better than Wrestlemania 2000.  Another recounted some of the best moves as if he was telling a tale of his own victory to entranced onlookers.  While the other yelled out ‘spoilers’ and begged and pleaded for his two friends to say nothing more as he couldn’t make it to their house to watch it the night before. It was this fandom, this clearly tongue-in-cheek respect that was clearly the centre piece of social interaction between this group of people that gave me a new found respect for this thing that I had been aware of and not only ignored, but derided my entire life.   In a way the vigour of the conversation legitimised the pastime for me.  Or rather made me jealous of what I was clearly missing out on by outright dismissing professional wrestling to that point.  Video games gave me the push, but it was seeing the way the people were reacting to their passion for the WWE that made me fall off of the edge toward understanding.

Funnily enough this new found interest (rather than obsession) has not blossomed into anything resembling full on fandom.  I will likely never watch a live wrestling event, follow the latest and greatest soap opera-esque story lines out of the ring, or wear a t-shirt with ‘my favourite wrestler’ emblazoned across the chest.  But at the same time I won’t look down on the people that do from my ivory tower while proclaiming them to be brain dead idiots.  Because like people who watch B-movies, soap operas, read comic books or listen to the spice girls mockingly, people who like wrestling likely aren’t taking it seriously and are just using it as a way to brighten up their day and connect with the people around them.  And even if they are taking it all seriously, more power to them.   Because if this is anything to go by, not understanding something isn’t justification for criticising it.  And let this piece be a lesson in tolerance.

<written by Sir Gaulian who has since purchased five separate wrestling-based video games>
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