Friday, July 11, 2014

Maya'n Pride

Competition is a powerful motivation for the bettering of ones self, physically mentally and even socially. Soccer has helped athletes escape favelas, Baseball has helped facilitate the escape of communist regimes, and Basketball has allowed children to escape ghettos and slums around the world. Even within the realm of videogames, competition can drive people in difficult situations to better themselves. This manifests itself in the Fighting Game Community (FGC) in both negative and positive ways.

Werá Jeguaka Mirim: "Demarcation NOW!"
While the world is captivated by the World Cup, my own position has been one of ambivalence slipping at times into anger. At every turn the media has attempted to black out the suffering of the people. While Werá Jeguaka Mirim made a statement for the rights of Indigenous peoples of Brazil, Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the World Cup, was harvesting sugarcane grown on land stolen from those very same people to be sold thorough the world. Indigenous people all over the Americas (and the outlying islands like Hawaii and the Antilles) have found themselves damned to reservations, or worse, shanty towns like favelas and barrios. In places like these the suicide and sexual assault rates are some of the highest in the world. Is this the "Pride" that the players of the Brazilian national team are playing for? For those who had escaped the favelas, which are ruled by drug lords, and reservations that barely have basic necessities like medical care and clean water, are they choosing to turn their backs on the people who are unable to escape these conditions?

Chief Roberto Mucaro Borrero wearing a Taino headdress
In the past, I traveled to various parts of the Caribbean and South America to meet with other tribes. Our cultures like Maya, Mexica, Guarani, and Lokono, are related and share many similarities. The plan was to foster a better understanding of tribes outside of my own island, and strengthen the kinship that all of our nations have. Some of the most painful memories I have were during my time in Brazil. Knowing exactly what happens to Guarani people, the only emotion the new coca-cola cans conjure is disgust. This all baffles me, as I wonder if proving to the world that you are the best, is worth destroying the lives of the people who depend on you. At what point does competition simply become abuse. What are they willing to do? Since the start of the world I've sat on these feelings, taking them out in rounds of Street Fighter by using T.Hawk.

It might sound silly, but it works as an outlet. Since my early 20s I've had flashbacks to violent events in my childhood. As a teenager I tried my hardest to forget things like being sexually assaulted by someone older then me. Other things, like my own violent behavior towards attackers, was mostly locked away or misremembered. For example, I remembered hitting someone with the handle of a knife, but in reality I was repressing the memory of hitting them with the blade. Pulling myself together and making sense of these events has been difficult. Many of my loved ones have no idea of my past, and even the ones who do, couldn't possible understand the feelings that come with those events as even I have trouble putting them into context. I appear aggressive, belligerent, and paranoid. The easiest way to keep these feelings in check is by focusing my aggression, either on my work or into my hobbies which include sports and especially competitive videogames like fighting games. I will always gravitate towards the "Native American" characters in fighting games like Wolf Hawkfield, T.Hawk, Chief Thunder, Julia Chang and NightWolf. Playing fighting games, and empowering myself through "Native American" avatars is a healthy outlet.

Raul Candy Shop NYC
Not everyone sees this quite like that. The FGC has some real creeps, but the concept of empowerment through hard work is something that can appeal to many people in circumstances much like (or even worse then) my own. It is the reason Raul's in the Lower East Side of Manhattan had a World Heroes machine, or why you can walk into a barrio and still see a new King of Fighters machine.Even now, as the eyes of the FGC turn to EVO, one of the biggest tournaments of the year. Cis, Trans, Gay, Straight, Black, White, Male and Female there are people watching from all walks of life which is not something that can be said of every gaming event. There are plenty of people who use abusive language and try to shut others out from within the FGC, but they can't change the fact that its a diverse crowd which tries to represent as many people as possible. A Killer Instinct reveal from a panel at EVO has made this even more apparent to me.

This ain't Custard's Revenge
Maya, a dark skinned Amazon warrior from a South American jungle will be joining the cast of Killer Instinct in it's second season. I was at first hesitant knowing that her original design was a light skinned, tribal woman with large breasts barely covered by leaves. She looked like something out of a video marked "Brazilian Porn". Iron Galaxy have done a great job in giving her a natural looking bust, dark skin, and quite a bit of armour. I immediately heard some cries of "bad design" from people within the community. There were people claiming her design is too far off from the original, while other claim that this is "pussified" to appeal to political correctness. Along with TJ Combo (who many immediately slammed as looking like a "generic Black man"), Maya represents a numbers of players within the community. Brazil, the Guarani, and indigenous people in general are ignored but here we have a character that represents those groups in an indirect way. Maybe just seeing this character helps someone in the way characters like Wolf Hawkfield helped me.

Maya is a character even closer to my own heritage then Chief Thunder. I'm dedicated to learning her playstyle and using her online. I'm even more motivated to get an Xbox One to play as her. In the coming months, a trip to visit friends and family in South America and the Caribbean will help me figure out what is necessary in leading my own tribe, and will allow me to help other tribes. Playing as an implicitly Guarani character in a fighting game won't undo the things being done to our people, but is one step forward in allowing some of the stories of those people to be told, even if it is simply bringing the tribal links to the attention of the FGC and gaming as a whole. People need to know, to understand why things need to change and the inclusion of "someone like us" makes speaking about why things need to change easier.