This isn’t so much a “diary” as it is an explanation. It is an explanation as to why, throughout the last week’s day-to-day obligations and engagements, I have had the affect of a melting globule of salted snail. My mood has been poor, maybe worse than when I got rejected from my first-choice college, and I have been ducking behind corners and under tables even just to scroll through Twitter or check my e-mail. It is also an explanation as to why, every time I unlock my phone, I and everybody else in my vicinity have been confronted with a pornographic image of Nintendo’s Yoshi, wearing a thong bikini, under the words “hell yeah I’m a slut.”
All of this is because I have been completely and expertly owned in a game of Super Smash Bros. and I have no dignity left to speak of.
Until last Friday, I had been a staunch and perhaps over-enthusiastic advocate for betting. Betting adds small drama to anything, like a half teaspoon of cayenne or a neon shade of eyeshadow. Also, when you play enough video games, it’s easy to become desensitized to winning or losing—especially in games like Super Smash Bros., which has a fast pace and short matches that basically beg you to play round after round. In Smash, wins and losses all sort of fade together after a couple hours and a few beers. Betting makes a win a little sweeter, makes a loss sting just a little more, and adds some spiciness to an otherwise everyday activity.
Another reason why I’m pro-betting is because I only bet when I’m almost certain I’ll win. A lot of people are like this. It’s just basic risk-reward analysis, the sort of thing I understand very well even without having attended that first-choice college. I won’t agree to a bet, even an interesting one, if I think that there’s even a 40 percent chance I will lose. This brings me to Super Smash Bros. and my internet cretin, shitlord friend whom we’ll call Gabe. (This is the same guy who once tried to convince me that the anime Dragon Maid is high art.)
Last Friday, a crew of friends migrated over to my place after a night out to play some Smash, drink some beers, and unwind after a long and taxing work week. Smash is a video game that I take too seriously, and as a result, I didn’t have much trouble beating any of these friends, and especially Gabe, who doesn’t even own the game. Gabe also plays Yoshi, and before you Google a Smash Ultimate tier list, I’ll just tell you that despite the fact that Yoshi is mid-tier, anybody who chooses to main Yoshi of all 76 fighters is either lightly trolling or eight years old.
Gabe is a troll, and the sort of troll who talks a big game, loses miserably and then, three minutes later, offers all the same intimidations a couple decibels higher so the neighbors can hear. Then he’ll text you on his way home about how he’s going to win next time and, predictably, he does not.
During our first match that night, I was surprised to see Gabe, whose Yoshi was hanging onto one stock, even out the game by whittling the score down to 1-1. And I was a little startled, but still happy for him, when Gabe ended up pulling through and smashing me off-stage. He was enjoying himself. The vibe was good. That’s when he made his move. Earlier that night, Gabe had shown me an image that burned itself into my mind, something so raucous and improbable that my immediate reaction was to punch him as hard as I could on the arm. It was an image of Yoshi, the green dinosaur, posing as though midway through a lap dance with a butt that could only be described as “thicc” and a skimpy, full bikini top. This Yoshi smiled seductively at the viewer. Perhaps the worst part of the image is that, under the words “hell yeah I’m a slut,” the artist teased an acronym “S-L-U-T,” but only assigned the “S” the follow-up letters “lut.” It was the sort of thing that Gabe probably found on 4chan or a lewd Facebook meme page and decided it was just abominable enough to show everybody he knew.
Gabe challenged me again to a game. I agreed. Yet this time, midway through, he hit the “Start” button, pausing everything, and offered a bet. If he won, he said, I’d have to change my phone background to that cursed Yoshi fan art for a week. Every day, when I woke up and checked social media, it would be the first thing I saw. At night, as I set my morning alarm, it would be the last image haunting my mind before my eyes closed. As I went about my day, every day, anybody nearby me on the subway, at work (I sit next to Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo), or in any social scenario might encounter this image if I wasn’t entirely vigilant about my phone screen’s angle.
Having played against Gabe a lot, I was certain my first loss was a fluke, and I agreed to the bet. On my end, a little less creatively, I told him he’d have to change his background to “Cecilia beat me at Smash” for a week.
As the game continued, my friends and I couldn’t help but giggle as the ridiculousness of this bet. We imagined how its repercussions would unfold, each of my friends offering new fantasy scenarios and new fantasy embarrassments for me. As we were all relentlessly laughing, Gabe’s Yoshi took another stock off me. I realized then that I was both so amused, and, suddenly, so fearful of losing, that I had completely lost my head. My friends continued chuckling in the background as I tried to access the dimension of focus I needed to pull ahead. It kept slipping away. Gabe, somehow, was fueled by all of this. It only made him stronger and more sure.
Today, I asked a friend who was there that night what happened when I lost the game. “You looked crushed, disappointed, and a tinge infuriated,” he recalled. “It also didn’t help that everyone around you was filled to the brim with glee. It’s the type of anger that comes from insult to injury.”
After a week of being so thoroughly owned every time I access my phone—once an hour, and sometimes more—plus receiving multiple mocking messages from Gabe, some of which include the offending fan art, it will take a lot for me to reconstruct my ego, which, I feel, has been buried deep underground and could only be unearthed by archaeologists centuries later. You’d think I’d have gotten over it by now. No. Opening my phone, and immediately scrambling to hide lewd Yoshi, is a fresh hell every time.
Winning at a fighting game isn’t like winning at a six-person shooter or a MOBA. It’s about technique and timing, sure, but it’s also about posturing. You have to do everything you can to get in your opponent’s head and make them feel in their bones that you are the better player. That small mind trick goes a long way, because if they believe you, they’re already on the defensive. Usually, you only have a minute or two before a match to put in all that psychic labor. Gabe has had hundreds of opportunities over the course of six days to make his message clear.