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    KUMITE: “Street Fighter, the hero’s return”

    Kumite is the traditional and conventional fighting form of karate. In our world, it means the official international tournament based on the “Street Fighter” video game, organised by Red Bull.

    In an imaginary world, it means the annual championship that gives renegade prisoners a chance to win their freedom.

    And when the two are combined, we find ourselves in a new form of storytelling: fiction-reporting. Which one is real? What is the truth? 

    Enter the story, and you will understand.

    That day I was coming back from the cemetery, as I did every year on the same date. It was 20 March. The anniversary of my father’s death. I had been granted special permission to go there in person. Since the arrival of the 5th Republic, a lot had changed… “Real rights” had been stripped away in favour of “virtual rights”, and while we were allowed to live full lives through our personal avatars, almost everything was forbidden in real life. And that included going to a cemetery to leave a few flowers. The authorities thought the psychological strain was too high, and that it could easily lead to sadness, depression or anger. Too dangerous for a humankind that had decided to protect itself from any kind of suffering.
    As a soldier’s daughter I was granted certain privileges. After all, my father died for this country, so this country did owe me a bit of compensation…

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    In the morning of 20 March, I was walking slowly through the Père Lachaise Cemetery, telling myself that I had to enjoy this small trip out as much as possible, before I returned home to shut myself away. It was a nice day, not that cold, almost warm. I couldn’t really tell anymore. It had been such a long time since I had been for a walk… It was at that moment that it hit me:

    “You’re here! Perfect!” said the old man. “Take that, and don’t tell anyone, especially not the police. Your life depends on it.”

    I took a few steps back and let out a little cry of fright. No one had ever approached me like that. It was strictly forbidden to talk to anyone in the street. The government did not authorise people to speak freely to each other, face to face. One ill-placed word, a dirty look, and a fight could break out. Too risky.

    The old man didn’t have time to tell me more. He fell to the floor, as if paralysed, his whole body trembling. I just had time to realise he had been tasered when two government guards jumped on him.
    They asked me what had happened, what he had said to me, then they took down my identity and ordered me to go home. That was the end of my special dispensation.

    On the way home I looked at my watch, and was surprised to see I was wearing a cloth bracelet that didn’t belong to me. I thought back to the old man. “Take that”, he had said… Had he had the time to put the bracelet on my wrist without me even realising? I looked discretely down, and saw there was something written on it.
    “I’ll have a look at home”, I thought. Was anyone following me? I don’t know why, but I was starting to feel paranoid. This was no ordinary day.

    When I got home, and was hidden from the gaze of the world, I read the inscription. It said: Kumite.

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    Just like everyone else, I knew full well what Kumite meant…

    Even though the modern world had created avatars to make them do the most horribly things virtually, in order to preserve the reality of humanity, some renegades had never accepted living through a pixelated image.
    There are dozens of people who revolt against all that is forbidden. It is true that some commit bloody crimes, but everyone knows that most of them only commit “crimes of reality”. They organise protests, they speak to people in the street, and sell products without using the obligatory e-commerce network. They all end up in prison, or are condemned to fighting all day, controller in hand, through their avatar. We call this punishment Street Fighter, to remind them that the only violence the street can accept is virtual combat.

    Every year, the government organised a big tournament, Kumite, whose winner is rewarded with freedom. The tournament rewards the best prisoners and virtual fighters, those who train constantly, those for whom Street Fighter had become such a passion that they would never want to live in reality and break the law… At least, that’s what they would have us believe.
    My father often told my brother and I that Kumite was just a façade. He thought the government was hiding something behind the event, but he was never able to find out what.

    Did this message mean I should go to Kumite? The place was going to be packed, and I’d probably be stopped before I even set foot inside the arena. With my special “soldier’s daughter” card, maybe they would let me in?

    During the days that followed, I have to admit I was worryingly inefficient. Hooked up to my virtual reality station, I applied to have a few days off work. I did some shopping, went to a restaurant with my friends, went to the cinema and talked to my boyfriend Joshua, all without even leaving my bed. Looking at the ceiling. Looking at the bracelet. Having a drink with Léa and Jessie. Looking at the ceiling. What would my father have done?

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    I hardly had the time to ask myself the question before I knew what I had to do.
    28 March:
    The following week I got up the courage to apply for trip out from the Urban Security Department. Every inhabitant had the right to 5 trips out per year, and other than my escapade to the cemetery, which wasn’t counted anyway, I hadn’t yet used my coupons.

    I took a completely strange way to get to the Wagram Arena, where Kumite was held every year. When I got to the entrance I notices that the guests were simply showing bracelets on their wrists, and were allowed in without any other form of ID.

    There were very few women, and I was scared someone would approach me or ask me questions. I was being stupid! I had forgotten that that was forbidden. I still felt uneasy, as it had been months since I had been with so many humans at the same time, and to top it all off I had no idea what I was doing there… There was a very…masculine odour hanging over the arena. Frustrated they couldn’t fight any more, the men (more than the women) always loved this sort of encounter.

    I stayed in the shadows on purpose, and found a place on the front balcony stand.

    In the middle of the large room a cage had been installed, surrounded by four gigantic screens.
    The prisoners would soon be led into the cage, a left to fend for themselves…

    Why was I here? How exactly had I thought that stupid tramp had a message to give me? To me? What if he had made a mistake? What if there was no message? What if he was just a madman? I tried to convince myself I was completely crazy, but something made me want to stay. To understand. To know.

    Crouched in the darkness on the first level, I watched the crowds getting worked up with impatience and excitement. The sound of a gong rang out violently, and a poignant, strange music began to play.

    The first prisoners walked forward. They entered the cage, and with great concentration, installed themselves in front of their respective screens.

    Their avatars appeared, enormous. The fight was ready to begin.

    The two men were holding their controllers tightly, their gaze stony, frozen. Their postures didn’t betray any anxiety, in fact they looked as if they were in a state of meditation. Their fingers danced impossibly in every direction, and on the giant screens these acrobatics were transformed into positions of strength, killing blows and knock-outs.

    One of the two players was qualified. He didn’t smile. No hint of happiness. He lowered his head and avoided looking at his defeated opponent, who was dragged in front of the Case of Freedom. Inside this box was a digital ring that proved its owner was freed of any accusation. It was the official document granting total freedom to the winner of the championship. The Case was locked with several padlocks, and each loser had to unlock one of them, to make victory sweeter for the final champion. An extra punishment.

    Other fighting duos faced each for the next few hours. Nemo, Luffy, Snake Eyes, Valmaster and their avatars Rolento, Rose, Zangief and Chun-Li…

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    I was glued to my seat, captivated by this bloody fighting. Captivated by the superhuman forms of the prisoners’ avatars; professional Street Fighters in their own way, with bulging, disproportionate muscles, immeasurable power.
    I didn’t know that avatars could evolve and develop. Mine and those of my friends and colleagues were closer to reality, with “normal” bodies, rather soft and thin. Nothing like the monsters fighting before my eyes.

    I was thinking about everything that was happening when something caught my attention.
    Something, or should I say, someone.
    One of the men in the audience was different. He was sitting on the front row, motionless and stony-faced, watching the fights with an emotion in his eyes I could feel from where I was sitting. His face. His posture. His clothes. Something told me I’d seen him before.

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    – “I know that man”, I said to myself in a low voice. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, even though the prisoner known as Chuchu was having his heart beaten to a pulp.

    – “I know that man”, I repeated quietly, hoping that I’d finally come to my senses.

    I tried to make everything match. I was here. Why me? The cemetery. The bracelet. The crazy old man. “Take this. Your life depends on it.” This man. His t-shirt. His eyes… My God his eyes… His hair… “But it’s impossible!” I screamed silently. That man…

    He had just stood up and was currently walking around the cage, as if he was the one who was trapped inside. He inspected the interior like tiger waiting for a young trainer to venture into the prison.

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    The prisoner named “Infiltration” was thrashing about trying to stay alive. Alas, his avatar, “Decapre”, couldn’t take every blow, and collapsed.

    – “He’s waiting for something, that’s for sure”, I murmured. What was he doing there? How was it possible? I must have been dreaming. It must be some sort of joke!

    I was covered in sweat. My heart was beating unbelievably fast and I felt dizzy. I tried to stand up, but just ended up falling back into my seat, my knees trembling.

    My vision became blurry. I was scared of going blind. I had to go down. I could have asked for help, but I didn’t dare. People would ask questions. I wasn’t allowed to enter into contact with anyone in real life. I could have connected and tried to talk to someone in the virtual world, but I had to act quickly. Especially because the gong sounded again, announcing the grand finale.

    Bonchan against Tokido, known as “Murder Face”. Two brothers. Which made the victory of whoever one a punishment in itself…

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    I managed to slip out into the corridor. I walked down several steps and finally arrived in the main room, facing the cage.

    The two brothers’ avatars were killing each other.

    A little dazed and trembling, I walked towards the man I thought I knew. When I got to him he turned around and gave me a threatening look that immediately changed to surprise.

    I was him. I was sure of it now.

    It was my father’s avatar: Guile, the soldier. As crazy as it seemed, he was sitting right in front of me. If my father was dead, then surely his avatar was dead too! But no, he was alive. And the craziest thing was that he was in our world! In the real world! With his muscles, his improbably large jaw and his G.I. appearance.

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    – “Dad?” I said, without really knowing what I was doing.

    – “Marion! What are you doing here? You can’t stay here, it’s dangerous. You have to leave!” he said, trying to stay calm.

    – “What’s happening? Dad? What’s happening? Is it really you?”

    – “Yes, Marion. It’s really me. I would take too long to explain everything, but I’m back.”

    – “But why?” I said, unable to stop myself from crying…”

    – “I have a message for someone.”

    – “To who? To me?”

    – “No… To Tokido “Murder Face”. He is the only one who can save humanity.” He can’t lose, otherwise it’s th…”

    Just then, the loudspeaker announced the champion. Bonchan had just defeated Tokido…

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    Murder Face was dragged out of the cage, and taken before the Case of Freedom, so he could unlock his padlock. Guile put his hand on my shoulder and looked at with a deep sadness:

    – “You shouldn’t stay here, Marion. Go and hide somewhere. I need to save Tokido. And if I’m going to succeed, believe me, it’s going to be some fight…”

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    (to be continued….)

    Cover Photo and HD Credit: Katya Mokolo / Red Bull Content Pool

    Arts Street Fighter Video games

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    Adeline Grais-Cernea
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