The Anatomy of the “Medium Boi”

Before I get into the article, I would like to take a moment to give thanks. My name is Andy, and I now have the privilege of writing new content with a group of amazing, beautifully strange, helpful and passionate nerds. I have also been awarded the time and attention of you, the reader. For that, I am truly grateful.

That said, buckle up luvs, it’s gonna be a weird ride.

If you would, please, step into my make-believe time machine made of magic, internets and a generous pinch of imagination and nostalgia. Its summer of 1991. You are me at 10 years old. You are pale, rail-thin and your head is impossibly large. As you open the door to the dry, dimly lit arcade, the tingle of excitement reaches a crescendo across the back of your neck. They moved the games. This means new games.

You politely run to the token machine, tiny claws jittery as you insert dollar after hard earned dollar into the slot; your reward the satisfying jingle that only arcade tokens make. They sing to you sweet promises of vidya games. Only now do you allow yourself to peer around and see the new offerings in store. Your tiny face prepares to be blown off. You look around. No, no more Narc. That game has had me help enough addicts with a rocket launcher to know that if you use drugs, cops in motorcycle helmets will show up in a Lamborghini and teach you the law speaking only in uzi fire. Next! Bad Dudes? Nah, that one’s old hat. A kid can only beat up so many ninjas while looking like a back-up dancer from a Menudo concert before it’s time for something new.

Suddenly you notice all the grown-ups huddled around one game towards the entrance. There is lively, peppery chatter and a tangible air of excitement surrounding the tiny pack of nerds. You push your tiny frame into the crowd. Your eyes meet the screen. Birds sing. Fireworks explode in your disconcertingly large for your body cranium. “That karate man is kicking that pilot dude’s ass!” This is Street Fighter 2.

Fighting games have played a relatively large role in my development into whatever the hell this is that I’ve become for various reasons. There is an Anime troupe where many characters believe something along the lines of “You can only learn about someone’s true nature in a fight!”. This is less bullshit than it sounds, and sadly, less so than eye beam attacks. Fighting games are a way to learn the truth behind this cliche but accurate sentiment without the pesky assault charges. Fighters have forged countless friendships, rivalries and communities. The genre has had a great deal of influence in the creation of e-sports as well, pitting the best of the best from across the world via the internet or even televised tournaments.

The first character I picked in Street Fighter 2 was Guile. He looked like my friend’s dad with a broom on his head. The grown man next to me selected a stoic and plain looking karate man named Ryu. I was subsequently destroyed. It was the fastest 14 seconds of my life. Dejected, I moved the milk crate I had to stand on, placed my token at the end of the line on the machine, waited and watched. This simple character was running through the competition like a sumo wrestler through a battalion of toddlers. What was his secret?

Within my fighting game team, we refer to the starter character of a fighting game as “Medium Boi” in homage to Ryu. The term helps us quickly identify the learner character if one of us is new to a game. Though they are not always male, any good fighting game has Medium Boi. This character is there to teach beginners the nuances and techniques of the game. They get us acclimated to how the game plays so that we can learn the fundamentals and eventually have the option of branching out to other characters.

Ryu is the best example of this character archetype as his normal attacks cover most situations a player can find themselves in. His special moves provide solutions to common problems the player may face. If my opponent jumps in, I have the dragon punch to knock them out of the air. If my opponent retreats, I can keep the pressure going with a fireball or move towards them with a hurricane kick. By teaching the importance of movement, spacing and countering with a simple moveset, this character is all the tutorial one needs to begin learning the game.

The Medium Boi is not a concept solely employed by fighting games. With recent genres such as MOBAS and hybrid squad shooters like Overwatch or Borderlands, we find characters like Axton or Soldier 76 who are meant to teach us the ropes so we don’t instantly get rekt and put the game down. There are even troupes with variants of this concept. Often we have the “Extra Medium Boi”; your Kens or Scorpions; who provide the same learning gameplay for people who want a flashier or slightly different twist on the ol’ bread sandwich main character type. There’s even the “Evil Medium Boi”, a powered up, often edgier version of the main character. These allow players who have outgrown the game’s Medium Boi, but enjoy the playstyle.

This teaching mechanic and philosophy is a huge and integral part of video games across many different genres. It is as ingrained into what makes a good video game as balance, challenge and quality of design. But to me and my fighting game brethren, it has earned a deeper, slightly cringey and inspiring meaning. The Medium Boi always strives to better his or herself. They seek the true path to mastery. That’s solid advice for everyone from gamers to alligator wrestlers. The path to perfection is training. Fight on. Get strong.

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