My grandfather was a boxer. Came here from Scotland barely out of his teens as Philip Heron, but his manager figured “Red Munroe” would look better on the fight bill, so he changed it. Either his new name or his right hook worked well, I guess, because he ended up as middleweight champion of Canada back in the ’30s. He married a Finnish gal named Esther, and the two of them grew old together.
By the time I knew Grandpa, he was rarely far from his pipe and easy chair. He would, on prompting, show us the tiny golden gloves he’d won, made tinier by his huge, battered hands. He’d gently unfold the yellowed newspaper clipping that he kept in the trophy that sat on top of the china cabinet, and point at his picture with his pipe.
All of which goes to explain why I was drawn across the arcade as if by strings when I noticed the gloves hanging from MoCap Boxing (Konami, 2001).
It’s an arcade game that uses motion capture (hence the name) to track your gloves and body movements as you fight various digital opponents. You hold the gloves and deliver uppercuts, hooks and jabs, taking care to sidestep or duck away from punches. As I started the game, I thought I could smell pipe smoke in the air.
I was able to get to the third round, finishing off one opponent with a 20-jab combo. I was breathing hard by this point, and noticed that there was a little calorie counter in the corner.
I couldn’t quite believe this, so later I checked out the Konami site: “If, like us, you’re used to taking your exercise in front of a PlayStation with a bucket of chicken wings, then you’ll soon find yourself panting in front of the machine … the game developers have also included a calorie counter which ticks along satisfyingly the longer you stay on your feet.”
No, no, no. Wrong. Boxing is not about calorie-counting. It’s about hitting people in the face till they fall down. Its machismo is its only appeal, and this is severely compromised by the idea of being concerned about your weight (except as it pertains to the division it places you in). Bad idea.
The interface, however, is a great idea. A lot of arcade games with innovative interfaces — guns, wheels, snowboards — are dismissed as gimmicky, but in my experience it makes the game more immersive. This is where arcade games have a real edge over the home PC and consoles: they can custom-build the interface to suit the gameplay instead of having to rely on controllers or the keyboard-mouse combo. If I’m going to pay a dollar to play, I don’t want to make a guy run by slapping two buttons, I want a goddamn treadmill under my feet.
Konami also put out the arcade game Police 24/7 (Konami, 2000), which allows you to duck under very slow bullets fired by yakuza — a much poorer use of the motion capture technology.
I enjoyed my time with MoCap Boxing. It was about as close to the real thing as I ever want to get. When I was a boy, I asked my grandfather to teach me how to fight, but he wouldn’t do anything beyond let me throw punches at his listless white palms. When I was a skinheaded teenager roaming the streets, I wondered if I had inherited his fighting ability, some kind of punchy gene. Even in my twenties, a punching bag had a certain appeal. But now that my grandfather’s dead, I wonder how useful the skill of knocking people unconscious is. It’s dramatic, sure, but doesn’t really apply to our lives, except in extraordinary action-movie circumstances. The last person my grandpa punched out, in an incident on a farm, quite justly had him charged. In his sixties, he still hadn’t learned a better way to resolve a conflict.
I’m happy that my interest in boxing never moved beyond a fantasy. I feel the same way about fighting in a war or driving — although they’re often presented to us as being without consequences, the only time they actually are is when it’s a videogame.
I only ever wanted to throw a few punches, bob and sway a bit, and get a little taste of what it was like; I wasn’t willing to lose teeth or even hurt someone else for the privilege.