WCW vs. NWO – World Tour

Professional wrestling is fake.

The two dudes in the ring aren’t really fighting.  Before the “fight,” they decide on a collection of certain moves to execute, and the remainder of the physical activity during the match is just a very unique type of improv play.  They dance for a bit, make it look like they are hurt and tired, and then move steadily onward to the predetermined finish.  The guy who wins is meant to look like the stronger wrestler in some aspect, but not because he can actually beat the other guy up but because the writers determined that he should like it.

Video games are fake.

The people in the game aren’t really people.  Before the release, designers decide how the game is supposed to look and feel, and the remainder of the activity is done remotely via you.  No matter how close the game comes to recreating reality, it can’t.  Sometimes reality is disregarded entirely.  When Mario dies, you start the level over.  When a lemming falls off a cliff, there are millions there to take its place.  If a game has an ending, it’s not because suddenly all narrative force within reality ceases to be, it’s because the designer decided that it should look like it.

Professional wrestling video games are different. 

WCW vs. NWO World Tour was a 1997 release for the Nintendo 64.  What the game lacks in realistic graphics, it makes up for in the picture of Hulk Hogan and Paul Wight on the cover.  The gameplay is similar to that of Virtua Fighter, in that there is a 3D environment with free movement that has a specific boundary around where the action is meant to take place.  Unfortunately, the gameplay is blockier than Virtua Fighter and built more with intention of making sure as many wrestling moves could be executed as possible.  (The actual play isn’t remarkable in any way, but if one just wanted the rush of pretending to be their favorite WCW wrestler, then this game had almost everything they needed.  Unfortunately, 1997 was the year before Chris Jericho and Raven were signed by World Championship Wrestling, so they do not appear in the game.  Boo.)  WCW vs. NWO World Tour is presented like any other fighting game.  You either punch or kick your opponent into submission with the B button, or you grapple them with the A button and throw them around until they give up, get pinned, or get knocked out.

You beat up your opponent to win.  Just like any other fighting game.  But this game shouldn’t be just like any other fighting game.

When other athletic contests are translated into video games, their ultimate goal remains the same.  Virtual success has a real life counterpart.  The goal of a basketball video game is to beat the other team, just like in real life.  The goal of a golf video game is to get the lowest score, just like in real life.  The goal of a professional wrestling video game is to win the match, completely unlike real life.

In the real world, the wrestler’s motivation is to be as interesting as possible so that they can “draw money” by making people come back to see them perform.  That can be because of their looks, or athleticism, or character, but it has nothing to do with them actually beating up their opponent.  That’s an act.  The purpose of that act is to make the audience forget that what they’re seeing in the ring is scripted.  The audience will know it’s all fake, but if the show is good enough then they can maybe, just maybe convince themselves for the moment that it isn’t.

Virtual wrestling conveniently bypasses all that tedious junk.  WCW vs. NWO isn’t about drawing money or entertaining fans.  It’s about beating people up.  It’s factually inaccurate.  But it’s part of the act.  Not only is the game a way for WCW to make more money, it’s something that they can point at and say “See?  They’re really fighting in the game.  They must be really fighting in real life too!”  The game is a fraud.  They’re adding a fake sport to a fake world in order to make the fake sport seem more real.  And it works

Once wrestling fans stop caring about the results of the match, the wrestling industry is dead.  What’s left without an ostensibly competitive element is just large, clumsy people dancing in their underwear.  The audience for that is slim.  The purpose of this game, beyond just entertainment, is to once again make the case for wrestling fans to consider what they see in the ring as legitimate.  The fight in the fake world is real, so the fake fight in the real world gets realer.

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2 comments
  1. springsteen1 said:

    This is fascinating, particularly because I love the rhetoric you’ve used and the way this is setup. “Professional wrestling is fake…video games…” etc.

    This is similar to my sports game post, which notes that people love fast paced games which they can relate to, whether they know a lot about the sport or not. People want to, as you say, “consider what they see in the ring as legitimate” or as I say, “people want to delve into this sort of reality, to be part of the action.”

    It is interesting how this sort of reality has come to be. Do video games affect our reality, or does our reality affect perception and perspective of video games? Cool post – I’m going to ponder those two for a while.

  2. I should point out in reaction to instructor comments that I’m not exactly suggesting that this game makes people think that what they see on TV is an actual fight. Generally, there is a moment in a wrestling fan’s life where, like with Santa and the Easter Bunny, they realize that what they see in the ring is scripted. Undertaker and Kane don’t have access to hell, Raven didn’t actually brainwash Sandman’s family, and good guy Hulk Hogan is actually kind of a self-involved jerk in real life. It’s not real.

    There used to be a strict adherence among wrestlers to a concept called “kayfabe,” which, as far as I know, is just a corruption of the phrase “be fake.” Before national TV and the internet, it used to be essential for wrestlers to promote their fights by making as many people as possible believe it was a legitimate battle. Wrestlers were encouraged to have (and win or else you’re fired) bar fights to prove how tough they were. If two opponents who were wrestling at a later date saw each other outside the ring, they were expected to fight or at least argue on the street. The “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was actually given a stipend by Vince McMahon to go out and spend it in ridiculous, self-aggrandizing ways in order for people to more fully believe in his rich asshat gimmick. People used to live their characters, and back then the audience, broadly, actually believed them. It went so far that, for a period of time, match results were actually printed in newspapers.

    Nowadays, this type of 24/7 act isn’t exactly possible, and with the exception of children and a few unfortunate adults, people understand that the WWE is just a show. Very few people need the popular wake up call to pro-wrestling fans “Dude, you know it’s fake right?” We do. Pretty much everyone does.

    However, people need to think that maybe (pretty please just maybe) what’s going on isn’t just a show. People crave that notion. [For reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OS9wZGb_3g This promo led to the biggest increase in wrestling ratings in years. Not just because it was entertaining but because people were asking “whoa, was that real?” It wasn’t. Not exactly.] Maybe it’s willing suspension of disbelief or a desire to believe in the act like you did when you were younger, but the results of the match do need to matter a little bit, otherwise there would be no point to having it. It’s the same as any TV show or video game with a story. What’s happening between the characters needs to make sense, or there’s no meaning to it. In wrestling, the climax of a program between two wrestlers is inevitably a fight in a ring on a pay-per-view. Proper framing and promotion make that possible, and this game plays a part.

    If people can’t give away a little bit of their adherence to the idea that “this isn’t real,” then the industry is, again, physical dancing of large men in underwear. Good writing helps. Compelling characters helps. And a video game in which there is an actual struggle between your character and another helps. It’s still not real, but it’s just real enough to matter.

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