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EA Sports UFC: blood on the mat, blood on my hands

Beating a man senseless has never looked this good. EA Sports UFC appeals to Brenna's animal instincts.

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I know fuck all about UFC. I know it's MMA, and that unlike wrestling it's entirely real, with people beating the shit out of each other live for your amusement. I don't know how I feel about that. I like that there are women who do it, though. I'd like to be that muscly; I'd like to be able to kick a man so hard his teeth shoot out the back of his skull.

The UFC Gym in Sydney is a revelation. Unlike my local gym - a cramped, ancient place of free towels and tottering local pensioners who throw barbells about with merry abandon - it's slick, filled to the brim with row upon row of the the latest contraptions. It smells like concrete and protein powder. Everyone is in new, high performance sports togs and everybody already looks like they don't need to visit a gym - skinny, toned, ripped, bright orange. I don't know what the UFC brand is selling in this structure but it curls my lip a little.

Walking a couple of flights up to the rooftop weights area where EA Sports has pitched camp in a meeting room of some sorts, we game journalists joke that this is too much exercise for us, eyes skating off each other nervously just as our japes skitter perilously across the surface of the truth. This gym is full of people who spend hours each week living their dreams, while we spend hours each week playing ours. We stare into the bright lights and the power fantasy takes us away from a world where we get a bit puffed jogging for the bus and struggle to open jars; where the kids who picked on us at school could likely still smear us on the pavement.

There are enough consoles set up for us all to play alone, against the AI, but I gratefully accept a colleague's offer to play versus, because I have no idea what I'm doing and EA Sports producer Jazz Brousseau gives a meagre explanation of the controls at best. Face buttons to punch and kick. Bumpers to modify strikes. Right trigger to defend. Left stick button to get up. Some esoteric combination of shoulder buttons and "swooping motions" - he says this several times, "swooping" - to grapple and perform "submission game".

(I brighten up over these last two. I don't know a lot about fighting but I do know a fair bit about alternative sexualities. At least my homoerotic jokes are better than everyone else's, and I'm more comfortable with the image of two men gently swaying and cuddling in idle grapple animations than my heternormative colleagues, even as I feel nagging pangs of guilt for fetishising my brethren for the sake of humour.)

My friend and I are laughing as we try to figure out the controls together. Punching, kicking and defending is pretty straightforward, and the focus on stamina management means each round goes back and forth a few times rather than belonging to whoever gets the hardest hits in fastest. It's neat.

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We start off playing as two of the women. I forget their names. They both look angry and also as if they could mercilessly slaughter us. Neither my colleague nor I can figure out how to get grappling and submission working properly. At the end of the fight I have won on points. I had no clue throughout the match that I was winning, although my friend, a UFC fan, did.

The second time, we play as big brutal heavyweight guys. I pick the most handsome mug from a range of cauliflower ears and broken noses. This strategy stands me in good stead as I dominate through the next few rounds. My friend is playing as a Kiwi which is, of course, a dangerous tactic to bring against an Australian. My national pride is at stake somehow even though my fighter is Canadian or American or Latvian or something. A red mist descends. When it lifts, I have won by TKO, secured by knocking my opponent to the floor, "full mount"ing him from behind (you don't even have to fucking try, it's so easy to pop a homo-boner) and brutally punching him in the ear and back of the neck until he is (probably) dead.

"I don't know why, but you're so much better at takedowns than me," says my friend. This is true. For some reason I have mastered the art of nimbly slipping out of my opponent's grasp. I honestly don't know how, as I just press random buttons and wildly wiggle the analog sticks. Beginners luck, button mashing, maybe. As for my own takedowns - that I have got the hang off. Left trigger, slam an analog stick to the side, hold, then quarter circle the same analog stick. Boom. You're on the mat.

“Such deadly grace,” I note as our opponents stand metres away from each other and kick the air passionately. “Truly the sport of kings.”

From there we get a bit confused. The idea is to grab the other guy and do horrible things to him till he submits, which plays out through a bit of cat and mouse using a screen overlay. We manage to get this to happen three times but each time one of us quickly outwits the other. Also, we don't know how we did it. For each successful submission game we trigger there are half a dozen incidents of our men rolling over and over, patting each other feebly with their giant paws. We really need to see a chart of the swooping motions.

For our third match we try middleweight class and I again arbitrarily pick the guy I think is best looking, who turns out to have legs up to his neck and arms like Stretch Armstrong which seems like an advantage despite his comparatively slender form.

"Such deadly grace," I note as our opponents stand metres away from each other and kick the air passionately. "Truly the sport of kings." We're still giggling.

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But then we begin in earnest. I don't know what's gotten into me but now that we've both got a handle on the controls - mostly - I'm feeling an unusual little spark of competitive spirit. Maybe it's all the testosterone pumping through the air con. Maybe it's how good my hair looks. Maybe it's that I'm twitching mad with sleep deprivation and stress and trying desperately to keep a tightly-fitted lid on the fact that my life seems to be spiralling out of my control again and the Australian political climate has put the fear of death into me and I think I'm going to die in poverty, probably within three years, and the pressure of maintaining this facade is cracking my heart in two.

Whatever it is, suddenly my habitual cheerful grin becomes a snarl, lips peeling back from teeth as I lean into the screen and tighten my grip on the controller. The high-pitched, chirpy tone I use in public takes on a metallic, harpy-like edge as I screech and growl my rage. I do the swooping motion and it is no longer a clumsy flick of the stick but a precise and controlled dive; the attack of a Stymphalian bird, bronze-edged and glinting in the furious sunlight of my rage as I hone in on my colleague's weakness.

It is the fastest match yet. My fist pounds into his jaw. My sole connects with his mouth and nose. My arms scoop him up and deposit him almost tenderly on the floor, but then my torso slams against his and in a moment he's over on his stomach and my knees are on his spine, enacting a brutal pressure. My fist connects with his head again and again and again and again, as blood first spatters and then pools on the shining white mat.

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My colleague had been expressing his enjoyment by doing a fairly good impression of a commentator but his tone changes during this assault. His "a brutal blow there; he felt that one" turns into hushed, shocked exclamations of "oh, Jesus" and "Jesus Christ" and "I don't know what to do," as he fumbles at the controls. Now he's getting frantic, and there's an edge to his voice of helplessness and confusion. "How do you," he asks nobody. And finally, "Stop that!"

I don't stop. One last punch to the ear and the TKO comes - but still I don't stop. I'm remembering 30 years of being weak and small and helpless and alone in the face of the horrors of the world; I'm remembering the few short months after a growth spurt when I used my feet and fists and rage at the world to show children smaller than myself that nobody would or could protect them either. One more blow after the match is made, a punch to the back of the head, to the neck (which actually makes us both lean back a little from the screen when, after we've disengaged and cooled down a little, we see it in replay a few seconds later).

"That's an illegal move," my friend shouts. "That's actually illegal! You've killed him. He's dead."

My lips are back in place over my teeth. My eyes have returned to their normal, slightly blank expression of friendly interest. I can speak in my inside voice again. "Oh yes," I say sweetly. "I snapped his neck."

I have won three for three, two by TKO. I realise people have been watching; a cameraman has been filming both the match and our behaviour during it. Suddenly the adrenaline drains away and I feel ashamed of myself. I'm not a competitive person. I don't like to gloat. I'm not violent. I pack up my things rapidly and make an exit, blushing a little.

It's pretty alright, that UFC game.

EA Sports UFC is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 17.

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