For all the discord and enmity in the United States today, there’s at least one surprising area of widespread agreement: video games. As recently as 2015, most of us believed that video gaming was mostly or entirely a waste of time, and Joe Biden (a Democrat) and Donald Trump (a Republican) have associated video games with “creeps” and “the glorification of violence in our society,” respectively. Somehow, despite the ubiquity of video gaming in popular culture and in our everyday lives, a negative stereotype about gaming and gamers persists.
If you’re one of the people who believes in that stereotype, the video you’re about to see may surprise you. But if you’re a member of the Fighting Game Community (FGC), what you’ll feel instead is the pride of recognition.
The happy couple in that video are Tania “Killer Miller” Miller and Eugene “eltrouble” Lin. They’re onstage at Combo Breaker 2018, where Lin just completed his undefeated run to the Super Street Fighter II Turbo title. Lin finished atop a field of one hundred and thirteen competitors, one of whom was Miller herself, who finished just behind him in fifth place.
But in the video, none of that matters. There is no violence in that video, either digital or physical. Nobody talks trash or makes threats or pounds the table. Indeed, the only heckler in the whole video calls out, “Marry him” – which, as events unfold, is precisely the course of action that Miller proposes. “I hope he’s my practice partner for the rest of my life,” she says. And then, to a spontaneous round of applause, she’s down on one knee, opening a black ring box, and offering to pledge herself to – yes – a gamer.
Yet that’s not even the best part. The best part is what happens next: in a moment that perfectly distills the FGC’s mix of competitiveness and companionship, Lin pulls out his own ring box, gets down on his knee, and proposes right back. And why not? After all, the love of his life is a gamer, too.
Miller and Lin took two very different paths to the FGC. Lin’s is the archetypal story of a gamer for life. “I’m old enough to remember the insane impact Street Fighter II had when it released [into arcades],” he says. “I remember first seeing the cab [i.e., the arcade cabinet] at this weird bookstore with World Warrior in the back, seeing how good the pixel sprites looked, how crazy Blanka looked.” Although he was drawn by the arcade version of the game, he mainly played at home on the Super Nintendo until he was old enough to wander the wider world on his own.
Meanwhile, Miller had to get her gaming in on the sly. “My mom didn’t really allow me to have a system until I was around 13. She had the idea that TV and video games would rot your brain. I was lucky enough to be able to play at my uncle’s, friends’, and cousins’ houses whenever I could (and mostly without her knowledge). So I have that weird background of being 80% a spectator and 20% a player when I was first introduced to video games.”
Both she and Lin played other genres as well: platformers and RPGs for Miller, first-person shooters and real-time strategy games for Lin. “I lost my cousin’s chocobo,” Miller recalls. “He’s still mad to this day.” Indeed, although the two of them are now hardcore FGCers for life, it was arguably World of Warcraft that brought them together in 2007. “At the time,” Lin says, “our friends were really into WoW, and us two not so much, so we would just break out and hang out on our own as friends. We were actually friends for months before we started dating officially.”
When Street Fighter IV arrived in 2008, Lin came back to the FGC. “It had been a long time since the last main title SF game came out,” he says, “so my friends and I were excited to play it. I even bought a cheap HORI fightstick to practice playing on arcade sticks again, since I wanted to play at the arcades around town.”
One experience in particular stands out. Lin visited his local Round 1, where he found a head-to-head cabinet of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, better known as Super Turbo. Unlike most arcade machines in the US (where players compete side-by-side), your opponent is blocked from sight by head-to-head cabinets. So, after Lin lost ten games straight, he stood up to say good game and “saw an Asian girl cheerfully smiling and giving me a courtesy wave. Now, at the time, I thought that was a rare sight to see. I don’t remember any girls playing in the arcades back in the day, so it was a shock to the system seeing a girl on the other side just whooping [me] like it was nothing. It was actually really neat! And I thought there must be some incredible players in the area if they’re beating [me] and not even trying that hard.”
That era was important for Miller, too. She describes Street Fighter IV as a “purely selfish” pleasure. “It was just fun and super competitive.” As her results at Combo Breaker 2018 show, Street Fighter IV was hardly her only competitive title. But soon both she and Lin would start on an adventure that would grow larger than either could have imagined.
In 2012, Miller and Lin decided to head out to the Wendesday Night Fights tournament series hosted at southern California’s late, great Super Arcade. Weekly tournaments for Street Fighter IV were just starting, Lin says, “and of course, Tania and I joined in. But while there, a guy named Darryl (aka Muffin Man) started to run two-dollar ST tournaments on the side just for fun. We didn’t know it at the time, but that basically got the Street Fighter II hooks deep in me, and I eventually just started to play more and more ST.”
Those two-dollar tournaments would change the arc of Miller and Lin’s lives. “I’ve been a player, a TO [tournament organizer], bracket runner, [done] commentary, helped out with streamers, made a few tutorial vids, all that stuff,” Lin says. The list looks much the same for Miller: “I’ve been a tournament organizer for the past couple of years for mostly Southern California tournaments. Eugene and I also used to run ST at SoCal Regionals and Evolution every year. For a year or two I was running ST at Wednesday Night Fights every week.” With help from a friend, the two also created a series of ST tutorial videos, each of which has thousands of views on YouTube.
And that was just the beginning. Their game may have seemed like a niche interest, but it was a niche interest with global appeal. “I’ve made friends all across the world thanks to ST,” Lin says. “It’s given me a lot of amazing opportunities to travel the country, go to Japan, Taiwan, France, and Spain and meet with friends both new and old, and it’s something I’m very grateful for, and something I don’t take for granted.” Miller’s sentiments are the same, but her list is longer, including Canada, New York, northern California, Chicago, and Texas. She even “once met 3 dudes from Sweden who played ST.”
Miller was a veteran traveler even before she and Lin got together. On her first international trip, she traveled with her high-school psychology class to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. A few years later she studied abroad in Italy, and a few years after that she visited her family’s ancestral home of Terciera, Portugal. “When we first went on our first international trip, I told [Lin] it was a test,” Miller says. “He passed with flying colors. And me, I’m still taking makeup exams.” She’s the planner of the pair, she explains with self-deprecating humor. “But in the moment, in the place, he’s cool, calm, and collected. All I’ve learned is where to find the good deals – oh, and where to find the good food.”
“I would urge [everyone] to travel,” she says. “It really opens your perspective about the world.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your travels deepen your connection to your community. Lin remembers one occasion on which he and a group of Japanese Street Fighter players “paid like twenty bucks to stay at the arcade overnight to play video games. And they also provided snacks and drinks as well. Pretty much all of us drank and played ST. And alcohol and video games are a wonderful combination more people should try. But I distinctly remember players getting so wasted and tired that they were literally slumped over on like card game machines and pachinko machines just passed out. Some of them curled up like on a bench. It’s a very bizarre and interesting sight, grown adults passed out in a brightly lit and loud game center room.”
For both him and Miller, the games are wonderful, but they’re a secondary attraction. “Usually we just hang out with the locals, eat good food, drink good drinks, and just relax,” Lin explains. Playing ST is fun and all, but ultimately, I remember the experiences I have with the people the most.”
When I talked to Miller and Lin, I interviewed each of them separately. Partly that was because we all had busy schedules, but partly it was also because I wanted to get to know each of them as individuals and hear their unique thoughts about one another. The impression that I got was simple: they were made for each other.
“Tania and I are pretty chill people,” Lin says. “Nothing crazy. I’m probably more conservative with spending my money. Like, I won’t spend money on myself, but I’ll happily spend it on Tania or other friends and family if it makes them happy. I’d say my strength in life is being able to look at a problem or a situation from multiple angles and perspectives. It’s come in very handy for TOing events. I think I’m more pragmatically minded. Tania’s better with people. She’s more emphatic, social, energetic vibe. I’d say she’s good at looking at the heart of the matter and how it affects herself, the people around her, friends, etc. But we work well as a team. We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well I think.”
Miller expresses the same idea of complementarity, albeit with a minor correction: “Eugene is the chill one. He balances my crazy energy and ridiculousness. It’s like if Dhalsim and E. Honda were real-life roommates, I would guess that Dhalsim would offer meditation to hectic Honda every day.”
She explains that the two of them have a couple name: Tangerine. (Tania + Eugene – get it?) Early in their relationship, they “went halfsies and co-owned a PS3. We called it our first tech baby.” But the best moment of all was when I asked them about their wedding plans. Both of them told me the same thing: that they were in no rush to get married because, in Lin’s words, “it wouldn’t change a thing about us or how we feel about each other.” They also both said that they were leery of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a fancy ceremony when they would be just as happy having a casual party with family and friends.
Then – without any planning or coordination or knowledge of what the other had said – they both told me something that proved the strength of their relationship beyond a shadow of a doubt. Instead of spending money on a wedding, they said, they’d rather spend it on other things. Like what, I asked?
Like “a house or condo or traveling or buying arcade cabinets,” Lin told me.
Like “investing that money in a house and inviting everyone over for more ST sessions,” Miller said.
And if that doesn’t make you smile at least a little, I don’t know what will.
Miller and Lin are both still young, and they each still have an adventurous spirit. Miller wants to see Mexico and Brazil, and she wants to return to Portugal “and make [Lin] run from a bull.” She also dreams of being the best ST E. Honda player outside of Japan. For his part, Lin is looking forward to buying his first motorcycle, maybe “an old Suzuki SV650 or a modern Yamaha FT/MT07.” And although he’s best known for his ST Dhalsim, Lin says that lately he’s had “a lot more fun playing Ryu, Ken, and Dictator [Vega in Japan, M. Bison in the US] than most other chars. So who knows? Maybe I’ll switch characters again.”
In the meantime, he works as an independent court reporter and she works as the manager of a math tutoring center at a local community college. Needless to say, their lives aren’t perfect. Lin jokes that “Dhalsim players are usually nice guys with a lot of internalized salt and anger brewing and fermenting deep down. As a kid, I got picked on a lot. It happens when you grow up as an Asian in a predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods.” Likewise, Miller had her own childhood troubles. “I didn’t learn balance until I met Eugene,” she says. “He was pivotal in helping me realize balance in a lot of aspects of life.”
Both of them cite communication as a key in their relationship. Having spoken with both of them, I would also credit their openness to change. Lin’s natural aversion to risk contributed to his analytical mindset and his preference for a “very defensive, zoning-heavy, patient” playstyle, but his relationship with Miller is teaching him how to lean further out into the world. Similarly, Miller’s passions run hot, allowing her to face the unknown with courage and daring, but her relationship with Lin is helping her to focus that energy where it matters most.
Equally important is their shared relationship with their adoptive home, the Fighting Game Community. “I got this theory,” Miller says. “The reason we all love the FGC is because we have had to fight in life for something – some more than others, and some of us are still stuck fighting. At the end of the day, we all just want a place where we fight and love. Fight on screen. [Receive] acceptance and love in real life.”
Together with each other and with their community, Miller and Lin will keep fighting, loving, and thriving, just as ST is still thriving twenty-six years after its initial release. With their help, the FGC gets a little bit closer every day to Miller’s dream of a time “when any person walks in on an offline FGC event and fights like hell. And they get a fist bump: ‘You fought a good fight. Keep [it] up.’ No mention of attributes.”
“Small differences add up to big differences,” is how Lin sees it. “And working to make a difference is what we should all strive for. At least for me, in the end, it’s all about leaving the world a better place than when you left it. That legacy is all that truly endures in the end. I thought those dumb ST tutorial videos I made weren’t going to get any traction. And to my surprise, people like them for some reason and ask for more. You never know what’s going to make someone’s day better. Something as inconsequential as dropping a stone in the water causes ripples that move out for miles.”
This is the true face of video gaming and the true face of the Fighting Game Community. Here, a first-generation Taiwanese-American boy can drop a pebble into the water and watch the wavelets travel across the entire planet. Here, a girl can find a home for her “lost younger” self and prove, in her own words, that “bleeding every month doesn’t mean I can’t body you.” Home, legacy, courage, and love: these are the four pillars of the FGC. And no two people represent those values better than Tania Miller and Eugene Lin.
To show Miller and Lin your support, follow their Twitter accounts here and here. To learn more about Super Street Fighter II Turbo, watch Miller and Lin’s tutorials here and follow the ST Revival Twitter account here.
Eli Horowitz (@BODIEDnovel) is a writer and software professional who lives in Pittsburgh. His first novel is set in the FGC.