We killed (video game) pro wrestling. We killed the teen dream. Deal with it.
This ain’t Fire Pro, it’s reality. This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race.
So here we are 48 hours out from Capitol Wrestling’s second event. This morning, me (I’ll happily cast myself in the Rose Magowan in 1999 film Jawbreaker role) and my friends snuck into the house that mainstream, independent, and video game wrestling inhabit as one bizarre monolithic mini-mega-monster, and we gagged it with a jawbreaker so it couldn’t scream. Then, we threw it in the trunk. And, because we saw the movie, we know EXACTLY what happens next. Herein lies why.
The history of exciting and inspirational creative notions in professional wrestling in the past 40 years has had two distinctly separate, yet now entirely equal arcs. Ultimately, it’s now time for Capitol Wrestling to synthesize wrestling’s analog and digital histories, because in doing so, we crush to Earth what wrestling has become and elevate how it arises like a phoenix from the ashes and evolves for the future. In wrestling needing to have more in common with grown adults fighting than teenagers playing video games, the industry needs to change.
Thus, Capitol Wrestling killed pro wrestling. We killed the teen dream. Deal with it.
One of these things is not like the other.
Eddie Graham. Jerry Jarrett. Jim Crockett, Jr.. Bill Watts. Sam Muchnick. Roy Shire. Paul Boesch. Verne Gagne. Victor Jovica. Fritz Von Erich. Ed “The Original Sheik” Farhat. Dusty Rhodes. Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Dennis Coralluzzo. Antonio Inoki. Eric Bischoff. Carlos “Konnan” Ashenoff. Paul Heyman. Gabe Sapolsky, Rob Feinstein, and Doug Gentry.
Masato Masuda. Oliver Copp. Adam Ryland. Yuke’s. Tomy. Acclaim Entertainment. THQ. 2K Sports.
The pro wrestling video game that kicked things off for the genre was Nintendo’s “Pro Wrestling,” released as the third overall professional wrestling-related release (after M.U.S.C.L.E. and Tag Team Wrestling) for the 8-bit console in 1986. The game was so popular that Computer Gaming World named it as the Best Sports Game of 1988 for Nintendo, and by 2001, Game Informer named it the 79th best game ever made. By 1989, the World Wrestling Federation truly began their cornering of the video game market with the still niche-beloved “WWF Superstars” arcade game in 1989. Both of these games paled by comparison to the actual action in the industry of these eras, moreso merely replicating in game form pidgin versions of what allowed the industry in both America (where the WWF and NWA had a stranglehold on television and popular culture) and Japan (where New Japan and All Japan were massively successful) to dominate.
However, by 1989, with the release of “Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag,” “Pro Wrestling’s” developer Masato Masuda unleashed a new game and began the work that nearly 30 years later has put pro wrestling in a most unique situation regarding creativity in booking and action. In turning both into a limitless and bound-breaking notion, have we gone too far, or in this case, is it actually possible to put the toothpaste back into the tube?
Since 1989, the “Fire Pro Wrestling” series has been so popular that it has been released in 40 different iterations for 20 different gaming systems. The game has distinguished itself by not being licensed by any major professional wrestling promotion, but nonetheless still featuring performers who are spot-on likenesses of real-life wrestlers. As well, there’s an extensive wrestler creation and edit mode that even allows for editing the game’s artificial intelligence to make it possible for a computer wrestler to behaves in computer matches in a manner similar to his real-life counterpart, even when the computer is in control of the wrestler. Thus, the ability for absurdly true-to-life dream matches — which only occurred in real-life wrestling once in a generation — to take place every second of every day, worldwide. At this point, the control a promoter had over the fan and what the fan was able to see as a main event drawing match had completely flown out of the window.
By 1994, we had reached an era where the stylistic synergies between what was happening overseas and between promotions and what was happening in the United States that Fre Pro exploited had disappeared. Gone were the days that Ric Flair had to have a 17-year career prior to facing Hulk Hogan, or Hogan had to wait 17 years prior to being in the ring with Sting. Four years after their debuts, Rey Mysterio, Jr. and TAKA Michinoku had wrestled for upstart American independent promotion ECW, and by the end of that year, they were respectively wrestling for World Championship Wrestling and the WWF. However, there was more yet to synergize and evolve.
In 1995, New Japan Pro Wrestling released Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Retsuden, while in the year 2000, All Japan released Giant Gram 2000, the third in their series of video games. At the time, both promotions were in the midst of revolutionizing pro wrestling via the “strong style” and “King’s Road” eras that valued the influence of boxing and mixed martial arts on the heavy striking pro wrestling both promotions were fond of using. Thus, both company’s video games featured a hyper-violent style that, given that All Japan’s released were paired for awhile with Virtua Fighter, a game noted for it’s in-depth fighting engine and real world fighting techniques, makes sense as an influence on where we are today.
Similarly, by the year 2000, professional wrestling had reached a place wherein WWF and WCW had fallen in love with video game-esque hyper-realized and ultra-violent fight sequences occurring with alarming regularity within their rings. In the WWF, the steel cage match was replaced with Hell in a Cell, the ladder match was a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, and the 60-minute one-fall “broadway” was now a multi-fall “Ironman” match. The WWF and WCW’s video game makers reflected this by wholesale using the gaming engine behind New Japan’s Toukon Restuden series, the highlights of which being 1997’s WCW vs. nWo World Tour and 2000-released WWF No Mercy (which wrestling fans still call “the best wrestling game ever,”) both for the Nintendo 64 (64-bit) gaming console.
Post-2000, there’s an argument to be made that the WWF had pushed the envelope on hyper-realized ultra-violence and super-action to the peak of what’s allowed to be sustainably broadcast on television or supported by publicly-traded corporations. As well, when the action on television and the action at most shows is so easily comparable to the action in video games, and yes, both are super-easily accessible, well, things needed to evolve yet again.
In the mid 1990s, German game developer Oliver Copp created TNM, a text-based PC wrestling simulator that allowed users to book any talent available in the world of the video game to wrestle each other in a user created federation. Talent were ascribed user-generated ratings for their talents, as well, which directly correlated to “match quality” ratings that alluded to the five-star rating system as influenced by Dave Meltzer’s wrestling-insider newsletter the Wrestling Observer. Even to this day, it’s an unprecedented concept, and one that allowed for an even more unlimited set of possibilities.
Similarly, in 1995, UK-based creative Adam Ryland birthed “Extreme Warfare,” which was a Strat-o-Matic style wrestling card game that he programmed for Q-Basic on the PC. By 2002, this had evolved into “Extreme Warfare Revenge,” which allowed game players-as-promoter/bookers to wholesale run companies like WWF, WCW, and ECW, to worldwide groups of all sizes down to organizations like Ring Of Honor to yes, a backyard federation.
Fast forward now to 2017, wherein WWE’s the “last promotion standing” in many ways both digital and analog. Intriguingly, WWE’s dealt with numerous growing pains with this development.
WWE’s synergized a 40 year history of wrestling in video game form in its 2K series that for 2017 includes a simple arcade play mode, highly detailed Create-A-Wrestler and Create-An-Arena modes, a MyCareer mode that alows for a Create-A-Wrestler to interact with legends and active roster performers, and a “Universe” mode that allows for booking and promotion. Couple that with the year-long almost video game-esque real-life storyline between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg that accompanied the game’s promotion that included aspects of everything from “WWF Superstars” and “Giant Gram 2000” to “Fire Pro Wrestling” and “No Mercy,” and it all makes sense.
Even furthermore, there’s not much difference right now between WWE’s universe being a flow chart starting with Raw and Smackdown and trickling down through NXT, 205 Live, Women’s Division, Evolve and the UK’s Progress Wrestling, and the uniquely inter-connected universe for pro wrestling that Adam Ryland created with the Extreme Warfare series. Moreover, watching hold and reversal chains between NXT combatants that are akin to WCW vs. nWo World Tour, indy wrestling death matches that make accidentally falling from a Hell in the Cell structure in Smackdown vs. Raw look tame, and if WWE’s Smackdown brand offering us Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler as May 23rd’s TV main event wasn’t something I, you, or someone else had seen on a video game 100 times before, it would’ve been some sort of super special New Japan/TNA/ROH/WWE cataclysm.
We’ve gone all of the way around the sun from Starman vs. Fighter Hayabusa and battling to face video game Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant to Psicosis vs. Mysterio and all-finisher Create A Wrestlers on “WWF War Zone” to Pete Dunne versus Tyler Bate, and yes, one of Wrestlemania’s main events feeling like a video game in real life.
Where do we head next? Who knows? Are we so far gone that we’re beyond repair as an industry? Or, have we evolved all of the way back to the beginning, with at minimum two living and breathing humans being forced now to re-assert their mastery of using human skills to derive things that digital screens cannot.
John Henry said, “I feed four little brothers
And baby sisters’ walkin’ on her knees
Now did the Lord say that machines ought to take place of the livin’?
And what’s a substitute for bread and beans? I ain’t seen it!
Do engines get rewarded for their steam?
- Johnny Cash, “Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer”
So here we are 48 hours out from Capitol Wrestling’s second event. This morning, me (I’ll happily cast myself in the Rose Magowan role) and my friends snuck into the house that mainstream, independent, and video game wrestling inhabit as one bizarre monolithic mini-mega-monster, and we gagged it with a jawbreaker so it couldn’t scream. Then, we threw it in the trunk. And, because we saw the movie, we know EXACTLY what happens next.
This ain’t a scene, it’s a god damn arms race. Engines don’t get rewarded for their steam.
Capitol Wrestling killed pro wrestling. We killed the teen dream. Deal with it.
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