Tournament contestant Michael Hopping describes a match to his friend. Photo by Georgia Perry
The Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament at the grand opening weekend of Level Up Video Games in downtown Santa Cruz is bracket-style, starting with 54 and ending with 1. By 1pm the first round is over and most of the little kids have been beaten. Now teenagers and young adults prepare for Round Two.
A teenager wearing a plush red Mario hat and T-shirt receives a personal pizza and a soda pop from his mother, who has stopped in while running errands. He takes out his braces’ rubber bands and digs in. His mom wants to know if he has a ride home. He says yes, his friend. His friend will take him.
This event is full of friends, new and old. Trevor Reynolds and Thomas Ligett, college students, traveled here together from San Jose.
“This is the nerdiest thing I have done in a long time,” Reynolds says. He beat a 6-year-old in Round One but made a point to shake hands and be nice. “You don’t want to send a kid home in tears, bullied by some old nerd.”
Super Smash Brothers Brawl has been a “cornerstone of fighting games since the 1990s,” says Jerry Abreu, 42, the store’s proud owner. The game consists of Mario characters fighting each other in various dreamland locales. In its past lives it was played on Nintendo 64, then the Game Cube and now Wii. This tournament is for the Wii.
Near the store’s History of Gaming museum, a shrine to gaming devices of yore, new friends get acquainted:
“I used to play Frogger on the DOS.”
“The Chinese version was always super strange.”
“What else do you play?”
Abreu smiles. This is a place he has created for game players to come together for in-person social interaction. He says online games are sort of like that, but not quite. It’s nice to get everyone together.
A match has started! One character—christened Poot—has fallen off a cliff and is now dangling precariously while still punching its opponent. A dozen or so spectators laugh together. “Nice punch!” “Finger of doom!”
The match ends. Poot wins. Everyone applauds politely. Poot makes his way through the crowd, no pushing. “Excuse me.” He finds his friend, high fives. “I can’t believe I did that well! Hey—I took your advice.”
Off to the side, away from the crowd, an overweight grade-school kid sits cross-legged and looks solemnly into his lap, small video controller game in his hands. Anywhere else he’d be alone, but over his shoulder, a skinny kid with Kool-Aid blue hair watches.
“Oy! Nice move!”
Only one female progressed to the second round of the tournament. With long dark hair in a ponytail down her back, Jennifer Makaiwi fishes in her handbag for the controller she brought from home. (“It’s not required to bring your own, but it’s recommended.”)
Is it at all uncomfortable, being the lone female? No, she says. No it’s not.
“No awkwardness here.”