Joseph Moorer is beating the shit out of me.
I’m in a crouched position in the basement of his Lewis Center home, backed away as far as space allows and throwing desperate punches at his knees. But he’s relentless. He moves in and takes a swing at my jaw before picking me up like a rag doll and delivering a seemingly endless series of headbutts while I struggle to get free. After he drops me, I wobble on my feet momentarily and then collapse in a heap.
This same pattern repeats itself the next couple of times we play Street Fighter II on a standup arcade machine, no matter which character I select. As Blanka, a Brazilian mutant with a circa-1983 Bon Jovi hairdo, I manage a couple of times to shock Moorer, an electric current igniting my entire body and briefly rendering me untouchable. But then again with the headbutts and the wobbling and the collapse. Balrog wins. Again. (I’ll later get my revenge, sacking him five times and generating a pair of turnovers en route to a 21-7 steamrolling in NFL Blitz.)
Moorer, an improv comic and the co-founder of , is also a nascent video game streamer, having picked up the hobby in the early weeks of the pandemic as one way of finding escape during a time when the outside world felt increasingly bleak. In the months since, he has launched (its name adapted from a menu selection in the Nintendo game Super Smash Brothers) and started streaming and reviewing games for . In late March, Moorer was even invited on his first press junket, taking an expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles, where he was among the first gamers to demo , due out April 28 on most video game systems.
“Joining Gaming Nexus, you hear stories about how the editor in chief (Eric Hauter) went out to Arizona or something to [demo] Far Cry 5. And it was out in an open field, and they brought in the [actor] who starred in the game via helicopter, who stepped off it like, ‘You’re about to play Far Cry 5!’” said Moorer, who spent nearly three hours demoing the new Star Wars game alongside a gaggle of fellow streamers, reviewers and content creators at Goya Studios in Hollywood on March 30. “It was surreal. … The Wednesday night before we played the game, they had a party for everyone that was there, and Cameron Monaghan, the star of the game, walked in and was just hanging out with everybody. I talked to him briefly and asked if he ever thought he’d be in a Star Wars game, and he was like, ‘When I was 19, I tweeted at Star Wars that I wanted to be in a game, and they liked it.’ And he’s 28 now and he’s in two Star Wars games.”
Growing up, Moorer never harbored ambitions of one day being a streamer – a career that didn’t exist in the era of Atari, which served as his introduction to gaming. But Moorer has been a lifelong video game devotee, as evidenced by his basement, which is packed with a half-dozen stand-up machines (including the aforementioned Blitz, now metaphorically owned by this writer), a high-tech computer gaming rig that could pass for the flight deck on a rocket ship, and shelves stocked with multiple generations of gaming systems released by Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and more.
“It was always a getaway, an escape from reality,” Moorer said of his early fascination with video games. “And some of those games were like reading a book – those early RPGs (role-playing games) and games like Final Fantasy. It’s like you’re getting this full story, and you’re almost reading it, and you're encapsulated by the story. And then some of it was just the challenge, like watching my cousin play Super Mario Brothers and being like, ‘I want to play that. I need to play that.’”
The onset of the pandemic reinforced these escapist qualities, with the advent of online streaming also offering Moorer a way to exercise his internal entertainer as the arrival of COVID-19 shelved improv shows along with virtually every other in-person outlet previously afforded him.
“I didn’t know when the pandemic was going to end, and for me it was like, ‘What am I to do?’” said Moorer, who pivoted quickly, picking up a controller and turning a camera on himself. “And if you don’t do that, you’re sitting there thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to my family?’ Also, everybody else is sitting in the house, too. So, if I can’t get out there and entertain you, let me give you something to do. And also, come in and play with us.”
Moorer’s approach to streaming falls in line with his attitude toward improv comedy, where enthusiasm and raw talent can be a welcome stand-in for expertise. “So, the lane I found involves bringing in people who usually wouldn’t be on a stream and playing video games,” said Moorer, who regularly plays alongside folks such as musician and Affirmative Distraction collaborator and Charles Peery, aka Uncle Charles, who Moorer described as “the most shit-talking person of all,” even though he’s objectively terrible at video games.
“It’s just comedy when he starts shit-talking, because he knows he’s bad, and he’ll be like: ‘Oh, my finger slipped’; ‘The battery ran out on my controller.’" Moorer said, and laughed. "We’re not Call of Duty enthusiasts. We’re not Super Smash Brother pros. We’re just people who love video games. So, just come in and we’ll make it entertaining for you.”