Update: The third and final part is now a thing that you can read!
I’ve been playing WWE 2K15, a game where men and women chiseled out of marble and spritzed with what must be the highest quality spring water fight for the entertainment of cheering, howling, jeering masses. It’s gladiatorial combat, but with the absurdity and drama of an American soap opera. I’m in love.
Since I sort of got stuck doing this whole writing about video games thing, I never got to be a professional wrestler, or wrastler if you prefer. Fate has been cruel to me, but like its console counterpart and predecessors, WWE 2K15 has a career mode.
Join me as I explore its sweaty nooks and crannies.
PART THREE – RISE AND FALL AND FALL AGAIN
I have been a professional wrestler for almost a week. It’s been a career devoid of drama or excitement, and I have become intimately familiar with the fists of my enemies and the mat; both being things that my face has collided with many times.
If a wrestling pundit was to sum up my career, it could only be described as an embarrassment to the sport. “Why would anyone let a giant baby-man into the ring,” they would ask. And nobody would have an answer.
I have yet to win a single match, and the name Baby-Faced Babyman has become synonymous with failure. But it’s also become synonymous with a stalwart refusal to give up. I am the underdog of underdogs, always dusting himself off and getting back into the ring for another round of humiliating wrestling.
Now I’m about to face what might be the most important match of my life.
William Regal, the one man who always had faith in me, has come to the realisation that I might be quite shit. My pressing R2 skills are just not good enough. I’m too quick. I’m too slow. I’m never just right. So, when arranging my next match, William Regal selected an “easier opponent” for me.
Enter, this dude.
He’s bad, guys. Like, I can probably beat this dude bad.
I put my pale, flabby body to work, entertaining the audience with my exceptional athleticism, my killer moves and the piece of popcorn chicken that fell out of one of my rolls of flab. They don’t cheer, they roar, with an ecstasy that threatens to bring down the whole building.
I do stuff like this.
But other stuff too.
I do all the stuff. All the moves.
And then, my enemy, Ray Rich, collapses as I punch him right in his gorgeous face. He’s down, and he’s not getting back up. I lie down on top of him, our sweat mingling, and sort of just stay there, rubbing my nipples against his. It’s a classic pin. The ref counts to three, and it’s over. Finally! After all this hard work, I can walk up to someone on the street, grab them, and yell “I am a man who has won the wrestling,” and it won’t be a lie.
I am a man who has won the wrestling.
I now know what it feels like to be a Mighty Duck, the Karate Kid and Sylvester Stallone in that one film where he plays football against Nazis in a POW camp.
William Regal is extremely proud of me. So proud, in fact, that he’s setting up a match with one of the top guys in NXT and if I win– wait, you’re making me fight what?
William Goddam Regal, you sonuvabitch. This is clearly a bad match. Me, Baby-Faced Babyman, a giant baby, against a proper wrestler. A “top guy”. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Trading Places deal; like there’s a wrestler, somewhere, who’s had everything taken away from him, while I, a giant baby, take his place for the amusement of William Regal and his rich friends.
There is nothing I can do. When William Regal sets up a match, you get up and you do some wrestling. And, frankly, I couldn’t conceive of doing anything else. Wrestling is inside me now; it’s what I was born for.
This is who I am to face.
Bo Dallas, one time NXT champion. An inspiration.
I get the feeling that the crowd prefers his entrance to mine. He’s all smiles and giving everyone the thumbs up, while I enter the arena and do a bird impression and then I hit myself.
Bo Dallas is a better wrestler than I am. He wrestles the absolute shit out of me, and I find myself spending pretty much the entirety of the match either on the floor, or being picked up and slammed onto the floor. I’m utterly helpless.
There’s no inspiring underdog story here. Bo Dallas beats me into the ground and leaves me a battered, damp mess. And as I’m carried off, presumably, on a stretcher, Bo Dallas decides to start a fight with the ref. Look at him, sassing.
I’d never do that. I wilt in the face of authority.
With another dismal defeat under my belt, William Regal continues trolling me.
I never thought that William Regal would become my nemesis. I thought he had my back. But this is exactly the sort of soap opera treachery I should have been expecting. I’ve been such a fool.
And who exactly will I face in this contender fight?
This is a sick joke.
For the third time, I face THE WALL. I begin to wonder if he’s in on this conspiracy to shame me, and it all starts to make sense. But it becomes clear that something is different this time. In our last battle, THE WALL might have been declared the victor officially, but I defeated him mentally.
He’s been left with scars. Scars that I dramatically exploit with super awesome wrestling moves.
This time, he goes down and he doesn’t get back up.
I have no way to cope with this. He always kicks out. The world has changed in a thousand, tiny imperceptible ways. THE WALL has come down. What does this even mean?
William the Bastard explains.
It means I’m going to do something very, very silly. I’m going to fight the the NXT champion for a very gaudy, highly sought after belt. And then I’m going to die.
My opponent is a man from Newcastle who also looks like a redneck Dracula.
It’s a fight in the same way that a tank crushing a squirrel is a fight. He shrugs off every attack and retaliated with smug, casual assaults that utterly demolish me without any effort. It’s like watching a man throwing a baby around.
I manage to kick out of a couple of pins because I’m now quite good at hold down A and releasing it at the appropriate moment. But the third time, I do not release A at an appropriate moment, and the ref slaps his hand down one last time, signalling my defeat.
I’m in bad shape, sure. But the real blow comes from William the Bastard’s post-match tweet.
The WWE Universe would pitch a fit if I was fired? Me? That’s when it dawns on me, William Regal is just as much a slave to the universe as I am. He’s not been pulling my strings; he’s just another victim.
Unlike William Regal, I still have my will. There will be no more title fights for me, no more beatings. I’m done. Baby-Faced Babyman isn’t the butt of anyone’s jokes.
That wraps up Baby-Faced Babyman’s journey from nobody to somebody. It’s been traumatic. The final tally was 2 victories, countless losses and one pair of extra-cool sunglasses.
PART TWO – SACRIFICE
I’ve always wanted to be a professional wrestler. Yesterday, when I first decided that this was my life-long dream, I dedicated every single molecule of my body to this goal. Then I downloaded WWE 2K15 and created this man:
Baby-Faced Babyman. The vehicle that I would drive to wrestling stardom.
My story so far has been one of falling upward. It’s been like watching my real life replicated scene for scene in a digital world. As I watched sweaty men pummelling my doughy frame over and over again, as important wrestling tycoons gave me contracts and deals and a stage from which I could showcase my abilities, I could only wonder at how the developers were able to so perfectly capture the journey that is my life.
Will these eerie similarities continue as my career in the WWE moves forward? I’m about to find out.
It’s my very first fight in front of a live audience, and I’m sweating buckets. Because I’m extremely conscious of how important it is to treat my body like the temple that it is, I’ve been drinking from those buckets to maintain a healthy sweat level. That’s the first thing you learn in Wrestling School: always keep your sweat, if you run out, you could die.
The reason I’m a bit nervous? I’m facing Hondero. We’ve fought before, and he humiliated me. This is my chance to get revenge. It will be glorious. I will rip off his mask and wear it as a trophy, and then I will be the luchador. Not Hondero. Me!
For three days the battle rages.
On the first day, I send my cavalry to the north west, under the command of General John Buford, and then send in infantry to assist. Unfortunately, Hondero anticipates this and my men are smashed to pieces by an assault from the north. The survivors retreat back to the town.
The second day sees both of our complete armies gather. My attention has been on Hondero’s men to my right, and too late I realise that this show of force was merely a distraction, and the main attack hits my left flank, growing into a fierce battle. That demonstration to my right has turned into all-out attacks on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. But we hold the line.
Day three, and the battle continues. Hondero attempts to weaken my forces on Cemetery Hill with an artillery bombardment, but I’m prepared for it. I’m also prepared for what follows: 12,500 of Hondero’s men, led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. The enemy is sent packing as my riflemen demolish them, and just as I’m about to strike a final blow and send Hondero back to Virginia, this happens:
The audience stretch out their arms in unison and emit an ungodly shriek for fifteen minutes, causing Honderos, the referee and even me to collapse. I am not awarded a win.
My victory was stolen from me, but eternal optimist William Regal cheers me up on Twitter.
It’s a start. Yes, William Regal. Yes it is. I can already feel it: I’m going places.
Ever since I started my professional wrestling career, William Regal has ignored every loss, every flaw. He believed in me. His flawless hair believed in me. After a match, when I’m all alone with a bottle of whisky and photograph of my ex-wife and kids, wondering how I got to this awful place, I’ll receive a Twitter notification. The tweet is always from William Regal. He’ll tell me, in that lovely impersonal way that I’ve become so fond of, that I’m doing well and that I should keep up the good work. By the end of the next match, that faith would be shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.
Across the matt, I eye up my opponent. I know this man. I’ve fought this man. I am, once again, facing THE WALL. Like all walls, when you knock Tommy Wall down, he just gets up again. It’s physics. I can’t fight physics, and I’ve tried. Many times.
The fight is a mockery of the fine sport of wrestling. I punch him, choke him, gently brush my lips against his, but he refuses to stay down. He laughs, when I try to pin him for the third time. “You’re going to die here,” he whispers in my ear, before kicking out again. I am. I really am. A hundred years from now, children will ask their parents: “Who is that fat, bald statue?”
“That’s not a statue, kids, that’s a giant baby trapped in an infinite time loop. It’s physics, I’ll tell you about it when you’re older.”
That will be my life from now on, but only if I don’t break the cycle. I envision a new timeline, a new start where the possibilities are limitless and I’m not eternally punching a man who simply will not die. I just have to be brave enough, giant baby enough to go through with it. I’m not going to fight him anymore.
I close my eyes and let Wall smash my gorgeous face in. I fall, and I can’t help but smile. This is it. I’m going to end this now.
William Regal does not understand my noble sacrifice. He does not realise that Tommy Wall was defeated, that his true purpose was to trap me in an infinite loop so that I could never achieve my dreams of becoming the number one wrestling man. And I stopped him. William Regal thinks that I lost, and I don’t know if he’ll ever have faith in me again. My next match will be, in William Regal’s words, “a much easier opponent”.
There is no honour in this.
A much easier opponent!
Also this guy!
And some bad news!
Baby-Faced Babyman will return after the Bank Holiday, where he’ll face his easiest challenge yet.
PART ONE – THE BABYMAN COMETH
The last time a game of wrestling was on PC, it was 2K’s Panhellenic Wrestling 515 BC. It’s been a while. And the last time I played one on a console was a decade ago. So as I enter the create-a-wrastler feature, I’m tingling with excitement, but there’s also some quivering with apprehension. Needless to say, my body is doing odd things, as it is wont to do.
The plan: craft a warrior that captures my essence. It doesn’t need to look like me, but it does need to look like my soul. It takes a lot of doing, but I finally settle on the perfect look.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Baby-Faced Babyman.
Every wrestler has to start somewhere, usually in someone’s garden, fighting local urchins for sips of warm beer out of a bucket. But I’ve already done all of that. That dark time is behind me, and I find myself at a tryout for the WWE. It’s all very exciting.
See how excited I am. I’m fucking thrilled.
The coach immediately sees my potential. He sees it in the shine of my glorious bald head and in the contours of my discomforting, flabby torso. I’m picked to show off my natural abilities first, against the crime against fashion that is Barron Blade, the bright green bastard.
It occurs to me, almost immediately, that –despite my obvious innate skill –I don’t really know what I’m doing. The good news is that the coach has some helpful hints, tutorials, if you will, which reveal that modern wrestling is full of inane mini games.
More important than any of the strange games of rock, paper, scissors is the counter ability or whatever it’s called here. Every time that smug git Barron Blade gets in my face, or my belly, or my groin, the game informs me that I must hit R2 (I’m using an Xbox 360 controller). Sometimes I have a second to press it. Sometimes I have a millisecond. Sometimes the doorbell rings and I answer the door and it’s a wizened old man with a letter. I open the letter, nervously. Written in blood I see the letter R and the number 2, but too late, and I’ve already been pinned.
I lose my audition match, which makes me sad, but I’ve learned an important lesson: R2 R2 R2 R2 R2 R2 R2.
I’m informed that my performance has impressed important people, and that they like the look of me. I’m not surprised.
Just look at me.
Look at me.
Wrestling is a confusing game where you can win by losing and everyone says nice things about how great you are even though you’ve never technically won a match. For a moment, I sort of feel like I’ve just received a participation award, but I like participating.
William Regal, who is an important man, let me tell you, isn’t quite ready to let me fight in front of an audience yet. I’m in the gang, sure, but I need to do a bit more training against other WWE newbies. My first match is against a luchador-looking asshole called Hondero. I’m feeling confident. I’m in the big leagues now. The bottom of the big leagues, like, the absolute rock bottom, but it’s an achievement.
That confidence proves to be my downfall, for what is confidence if it is not accompanied by the ability to press R2 at the right time. I’ll tell you, it’s nothing. My pride brings me down.
Then Hondero does.
I’m starting to wonder if I’m really cut out for this. It’s all well and good to stand on the sidelines and smugly state that it’s not really a sport, that they aren’t really fighting, that it’s all acting. But that’s all bullshit when a giant moist man is punching you in the groin over and over again and all you can do is press R2 and then cry when the game says “too fast” and “too late”.
I see it when I close my eyes, which is all the time now because I’ve been beaten so many times that my entire face is just a single giant bruise.
After yet another failure, I find myself facing my final opponent in this string of training matches. His name is Tommy Wall. I don’t know if it’s his real name, or if it’s a slightly boring stage name. Am I to infer that he will hit me like a ton of bricks? Will my firsts bounce off his stoney exterior? Or is that just his surname? The match begins, and my head is full of questions.
Something is different now. The countless beatings have somehow altered my very being. I am one with the wrestling. Mr. Wall punches, and I grab him and toss him into the ropes. Mr. Wall grabs me, but I reverse it and slam him onto the mat. Mr. Wall launches a powerful kick, and I break his goddamn leg. I’m a machine. I’m Robocop and Terminator and Wall-E all rolled into one.
But every time he goes down…
He gets back up again.
Mr. Wall is relentless. I can no longer count the number of times I’ve pinned him. But he has one major advantage over me. When I’m pinned, I have to hold down A until the meter hits a specific spot, and then release to kick out. Each time I’m pinned, that window gets smaller. Mr. Wall is a computer man, though, and it doesn’t seem to matter. He kicks out time after time. And it’s making me very, very tired.
I think this was his plan all along. He let me exhaust myself by beating the snot out of him for what seemed like an eternity, and when my energy had finally been sapped, that’s when he made his move. He goes Super Saiyan, and I go down.
After four matches, including my audition, I have zero wins. I am a four-time loser. Is it time to pack it all in and go back to fighting urchins for piss beer? No! It is most definitely not. This is not a game about winning. It’s a game about being brutally, savagely beaten up, over and over again, and never giving up. I am not dead, so in a way, I’m a real winner. The WWE understands this.
Now it’s about to get real.
A grudge match!
Baby-Faced Babyman will return tomorrow and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to pin a glistening Adonis to the mat.