Wisdom can be found in the least likely of places. This is a story that talks about such a situation.
I love video games, and I used to play fighting games a lot. When Street Fighter II came out (yes, I’m that old), I used to rule the arcades with either Chun Li or Dhalsim. Afterwards, many Street Fighter clones as well as true original fighting games came out. I never was the king of the arcades again, but I managed to stay competitive. By the time King of Fighters 94 came out, I was still good compared to the average player. However, once King of Fighters 95 came out, my skills weren’t a match for drugstore children (so named because they spend all their time playing an arcade at a drugstore) and I was reduced to mere spectator.
I was forced to play only console games where I could practice enough to beat my friends, who had little to no practice whatsoever. But if I played at the arcades, I did so only from time to time and just to try out a new game or to see a new character. I knew perfectly well that I would play until some child or teen came to challenge me and then I’d last, oh, about 30 seconds and I would have my ass handed back to me.
I still bought fighting games available for consoles. One of the ones I wanted to get was Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, mainly because it featured Doronjo from Yattaman fame. Unfortunately, it’s only available for the Wii, which I don’t have.
Then, one day, as I was taking the subway, I saw that there were some arcades at a station. They were somewhat hidden in a tunnel and I decided to take a look. And Voila! They had Tatsunoko vs. Capcom! I was very surprised since it is a game popular only in Japan.
Needless to say, I played it, and managed to get somewhat good with Doronjo and Chun Li. As usual, except against people who were just trying out the game, I lost to everyone. However, I still liked to go there often and play whenever the machine wasn’t being used. And I also memorized some basic moves by looking them up on the Internet.
One of such times, I was playing and some guy came to play to my left. He seemed cheerful and nice, and he asked a few questions. I specially remember that he asked how to change characters in the middle of a fight.
“Oh, you press this button and you pull the joystick backwards at the same time,” I said.
He pressed the button a few times, but he didn’t change characters because he didn’t pull the joystick backwards at the same time. I thought he hadn’t understood me, so I repeated the instructions again.
“No, you have to pull the joystick at the same time.”
He still continued to press only the button and not pull the joystick, which I though was stupid. Then I finally understood why. He was missing and arm! No wonder he couldn’t push the button and pull the joystick at the same time.
He started to play against me. I felt a bit sorry for him, I must admit. I was trying a new character before he arrived and I didn’t like it. Because of these two reasons I let him win the first match.
With new characters, including my beloved Doronjo, I started to play a bit better. I was still experimenting with new characters, because I figured I’d go easy on him. Also, because he wasn’t able to change characters, I decided I wouldn’t change characters either.
I expected an easy match, letting the fight seem close and then maybe winning by a bit or letting him win. However, I was surprised to see that he was good, much better than I expected in any case. In fact, I was so used to change characters in mid fight in order to have a better strategy that by not changing characters, I felt seriously handicapped and had to really focus, barely winning in the end after lots of efforts.
Most of all, I was surprised that a person who was missing an arm would enjoy spending time and money at the arcades. I mean, I was thinking that if you lose an arm, then you’d pretty much forget about playing video games. Yet, there he was, enjoying the challenge. When I noticed this, I realized that I wasn’t doing him any favors by letting him win. In fact, he was there for the same reason I was: to learn about a game, measure his skills against other players, and have some fun while at it. By playing less than my best, I would be depriving him of all of these. Plus, I figured that handicapped people would like to be treated as equals, not with pity.
So, I started to play my best. I was definitely better than him, but not so much that it was pointless to play. Still, after every time I beat him, he just inserted another coin and played again, as happy and cheerful as he arrived. He even took time between fights to eat chips.
I must have beaten him about 10 or 15 times in a row, and then some other guy came and challenged me. I knew him. He used to go there from time to time, but unlike the guy who was missing and arm, he was both serious and better than me.
As expected, he beat me in the first fight, although I was happily surprised to see that it wasn’t as bad of a defeat as usual (all that practice seemed to work!). As I usually do after every defeat, I just backed away a bit and I expected the one-arm guy to do the same. After all, if he couldn’t beat me, he wasn’t going to be able to beat the serious guy, was he?
Well, I was wrong again. After I lost, he just inserted another coin and challenged the other player. He lost the fight, but I admired him for trying. So, as soon as he lost, I too decided to play against the better player.
But here’s the interesting thing. Even though the other player kept beating us over and over, he didn’t seem like he was enjoying himself. He was very serious looking and it seemed like playing against us was a chore for him. The one-arm guy, on the other hand, seemed to be having a good time. He asked questions, learned some moves, lost a fight, ate his chips, etc. He even offered me some chewing gum.
After a while, another guy came and he was even better than the first one. And then a third one came that was even better. At that time, I decided that it was enough for me. I said good bye to the one-arm guy, shook his only hand and left.
It was an interesting experience and I learned some valuable lessons from it:
a) Handicapped people are just like you and me. They don’t want our pity. The best think you can do for them is treating them like equals.
b) Happiness is a state of mind, not a result from circumstances. The guy who was missing one arm was definitely happier than the guy that had both arms and played better than us. I suspect that’s true not only at the arcades, but in every other aspect of their lives.
c) It’s ok to fail. What’s not ok is to give up. Be prepared not to succeed at the first try. Just get up and try again, learning from your mistakes, and give it another try. As long as you have life and tons of coins, there will always be another chance.