As I mentioned in my last post, I've been reading Bret Hart's autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Professional Wrestling. I'm a sucker for wrestling biographies; apart from the always unforgettable road stories, there's a sort of romanticism to the often bleak life in the professional wrestling business that appeals to me. Even the biggest names in the business spend hundreds of days per year on the road, away from their families, always looking for the next big match in front of a sold-out crowd. It's always struck me as a lonely business.
Read enough wrestling biographies and the grim pattern emerges: humble beginnings, a battered and bloody apprenticeship in smaller territories, hitting the big shot with a major promotion, and then, all too often, a slow and often depressing decline as their physical abilities erode. "Hitman" seems to be striking most of these notes so far. Of course, unlike so many other pro wrestlers who died far too early, Hart is still alive and kicking, despite having suffered a stroke in 2002.
Reading the book, and spending some time over the past weekend with Midway's TNA iMPACT! got me thinking about wrestling games. In the rush to get players into the boots of their favorite grapplers, or at least in the spotlight of the big promotions of the WWE and TNA, the hardscrabble roots of the up-and-coming professional wrestler is practically ignored. And that's a shame because the narrative of a wrestler's career arch is the kind of dramatic fare videogames can thrive on.
To its credit, TNA iMPACT! dabbles in this kind of storytelling--in its story mode, you're a famous wrestler who's unceremoniously beaten half to death backstage and sent down to Mexico where, for some reason,you have to start your rise to TNA fame all over again. And, of course, SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 had some narrative elements of its own, with the individual "Road to WrestleMania" storylines. Still, I think there's more that could be done.
Picture this: In this new wrestling game'scareer mode, you start with a made-from-scratch wrestler using a very limited set of creation tools. Perhaps all you get is the ability to set your grapplers age, looks, and gender, then assign him or her a few basic wrestling moves. No gimmick. No fancy nickname. Not even a finisher. From there, it's up to you to earn your adulation, perhaps even one fan at a time, depending on where your career takes you.
You start your career wrestling in high school gyms and seedy looking community college arenas for local promotions; as an up-and-comer, you won't have much in the way of skills and you'll spend more time on your back jobbing for the local stars than getting wins of your own. As you progress, promoters would notice your ability to work and more opportunities come your way, both in the form of higher profile matches and even a gimmick or two. As your repertoire and skillset improves, so to will the options presentedfor your created wrestler. Want a sweet mask like Rey Mysterio or a closet full of Ric Flair robes? You'll have to work for it.
Any persona you adopt will have a "heat" rating attached to it, indicating the crowd's response to your in-ring gimmick. Not only will these be based on your performance as a player but they'd also be based around the locations you're wrestling in. Some territories might prefer a more technical, less theatrical style, while another would give you props more for your skills on the mic than your ability to lock up an opponent. Knowing the crowd, and what they like and dislike, would be just as important a strategy element as putting in a good performance on a nightly basis. Perform well enough on both fronts and you'd eventually get your shot at the big time--a major promotion, a major push by that promotion, and, if you're lucky, maybe even a title shot. Get enough backstage juice, and you might even be involved in booking your own matches, or even an entire show.
All of this rigmarole might not be for everyone--some folks just want to jump in the jean shorts of John Cena and get to "FU"-ing fools. But, if nothing else, this kind of attention and care in your from-scratch character would provide some much-needed investment in your created wrestler, an aspect I think all wrestling games gloss over these days. At some point, most wrestling fans have wondered what it would be like to step in the squared circle--I'd like to see a wrestling game that lets you experience some of the life outside of the ring.