Doug's Column: To the Salt Mines with You

It feels strange to say it, here, but I’d like to start by introducing myself.

Sure, you might know me. Maybe you’ve read what I’ve written here on Silicon Sasquatch, or you’re one of my friends from high school or college checking out a link from Facebook. But there’s a reason I’m here writing this right now -- I love to write, and I love games. Our history as a site has been up and down, but we all love games and sharing our opinions and thoughts on them.

Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve loved to write. Putting words on a page is a skill and talent I have, and crafting a story is a challenge I relish. And here on this site, we’ve given ourselves the forum to create something purely for the joy of creating -- be it an article or a podcast.

So it is without further introduction that I welcome you to my weekly column. What’s the topic? Gaming -- anything and everything to do with gaming. Could be about a specific game or series, or about anything to do with gaming history and culture. Living in Japan offers me plenty of opportunities to touch on things you may want to know about or may not see otherwise. But I feel like I have things to share and want to get in the habit of sharing them on a regular basis. I hope you enjoy.

And I guess that’s where part of my experience now can help color my views on something that plenty of other people are enjoying.

There’s something pure and simple to the formula of 2D fighting games. Maybe it’s a basic human thing, something that tickles the lower reptile brain -- two combatants enter, one will win. I remember being mesmerized by the introduction screen and the enormous sprites of the Street Fighter II cabinet that stood in the doorway to the Fred Meyer that my mom always went to when I was growing up. The fantastical action hooked me in from small times, even if all I could do was smash buttons and move back and forth. It took me getting into junior high school and trying Street Fighter Alpha 3 to finally “get” the mechanics of a 2D fighting game, and while I’m hardly a tournament player, I have too many fighting games on my system to not call myself a fan. Let’s say I’m a casual fan, then.

If fighting games’ gameplay touches something in our base brains, then surely Salty Bet is the next logical stop -- cheering for and gambling on said one-on-one contests. You may not know Salty Bet yet (check out our newest podcast episode for a primer), but if you’re around certain corners of the Internet, doubtless you’ve heard word of it in the past few weeks. It’s a hypnotic cocktail; let me try to chart the recipe right here:

  • One part open-source M.U.G.E.N. 2D fighting game engine (which allows for almost limitless character customization). Pull two characters at random, have them face off.
  • Add in fake gambling. You don’t bet real money, just Salty Bucks, which can be earned via gambling or by paying for a web site subscription. But, let’s face it, no one’s really earned their stripes until they’ve spent time working back up from “the salt mines” (busting out back to the minimum) to four-digits and back again.
  • Sprinkle in light amounts of acid jazz, downtempo and old video game music to set the mood. If anything, Salty Bet gets an A+ for its sounds, from the soundtrack to lifting the “Terrorists Win” tag from Counter-Strike for when a match runs out of time.
  • Drop in a dollop of heavy memes from the chat, which operates right next to the Salty Twitch.tv stream on the main homepage. Sure, chat isn’t terribly inventive (the memes are familiar to anyone who’s even heard of 4chan), but it makes up for quality with sheer quantity. Whether offering friendly tips (“NEVER BET _____”, “ALWAYS BET _____”), lamentations (“Mistakes were made”), or reactions (streams of appropriate reactions whenever a poorly-made character breaks the game), chat is ever-present and often entertaining.

When Tyler visited recently from Tokyo, it was just after I’d discovered Salty Bet. Our first time watching and betting turned into a four-hour adventure down to the Salt Mines. Fortunately, we didn’t have anything to do but while the day away praying to raise our salts up.

I think Tyler described chat perfectly when he compared it to a squabble of old Chinese men huddled around a cockfight in a particularly seedy smoke-filled gambling den. Seems like that could work as an extended metaphor for the whole site. And you know what? I don't think I'd want it any other way. It's a dumb, crazy thing to bet fake money on AI vs AI fighting game matches, and I don't think I want something that could take itself more seriously.

It’s funny to think that, with so much emphasis put on the streaming of professional gaming tournaments like for StarCraft II, League of Legends or DOTA 2, or even groups streaming interesting games along with commentary (like the Idle Thumbs crew or our own Spencer and his fellow Buslords), it’s Salty Bet that’s gotten me to watching video games be played. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try to raise my salts some more.