'It: Chapter 2' Spoilers: Screenwriter Explains That Street Fighter Scene
People my age (I’m 27) were among the last to enjoy arcades for what they were: Gathering places to show your stuff. But modern online gaming replaced arcades at such lightning speed, it’s hard to remember the last time us elder millennials walked out of an arcade and never went back. However, It: Chapter Two uses the fabled setting of arcades, and specifically Capcom’s classic game Street Fighter, to help nostalgic audiences remember that very specific time and place.
And, as screenwriter Gary Dauberman tells Inverse, the inclusion of Street Fighter is an homage to a childhood where “hundreds” of hours went to mashing buttons with friends. He even knows what character Pennywise would play.
Light spoilers for It: Chapter Two ahead.
In It: Chapter 2, Richie (Bill Hader) has returned to his childhood home of Derry, a Maine town plagued by the demonic entity Pennywise.
At an abandoned theater with a line-up of killer hits — including Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter — Richie remembers being a kid (played by Finn Wolfhard) trying to wrestle with his sexual identity. And he did so through several quarters worth of Street Fighter.
While the Losers usually avoided the town’s bully, Henry Bowers, Richie recalls an afternoon playing Street Fighter with Henry’s cousin, briefly split from Henry’s gang. A lingering high five between them clues us in that this isn’t the first time they’ve exchanged Hadoukens.
Moments later, when Henry Bowers arrives, he taunts Richie for trying to “date” his cousin and lashes out at him with homophobic slurs.
It’s a traumatic memory for Richie, which Pennywise uses to terrorize him. “Hey Richie, wanna play a game?” he asks an adult Richie, hovering in the air with a hundred red balloons. “How about Street Fighter? You love that game.”
Richie did love Street Fighter, and so did screenwriter Gary Dauberman.
“Oh man, I spent hundreds of hours of my youth, years of my youth, in arcades. I know Street Fighter pretty intimately,” Dauberman tells Inverse.
"I did write that in because I’m just a huge video game guy.
In drafting It: Chapter Two, Dauberman dived back into his childhood for inspiration. He wanted Richie to play the revolutionary sequel, Street Fighter II, the game that single-handedly launched the fighting game frenzy, but it wasn’t released until 1991. It: Chapter Two, when it flashes back to the Losers’ adolescent memories, takes place only a few years prior in 1989.
“I looked at what would be in the arcades in 1989, and it’s Street Fighter,” Dauberman says. “Frankly, I wanted Street Fighter II, but that happened years later. But yes, I did write that in because I’m just a huge video game guy.”
Dauberman remembers practicing proper arcade etiquette, which has vanished with arcades themselves. Back in the day, gamers would claim their turn by placing a quarter in the corner of the machine. “Putting my quarter up, waiting for my turn on these fighting games,” he says, “It’s a little special thrill for me to include stuff like this.”
It: Chapter Two doesn’t make a huge fuss over retro gaming, but its inclusion is a little slice of pop culture history. The early 1980s saw the industry explode with hits like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong. Home consoles like the Atari 2600 became must-have holiday gifts, but arcades still ruled with superior machines and the spirit of competition.
But in 1983, the industry nosedived. Though this is mainly associated with the decline of consoles, arcades were also hurt; 1,500 arcades in the United States alone closed in 1983. Gaming was essentially dead until Nintendo, a then-unknown Japanese company, saved the industry with the mighty successful Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985.
The resurrection of arcade gaming also happened at the same time, thanks in no small part to the birth of a competitive scene. In 1987, Japanese publisher Capcom released Street Fighter to an unsuspecting public.
Though not the first fighting game, nor even considered the best in the genre (that honor would go to Dauberman’s beloved Street Fighter II), Street Fighter was still a foundational title that led to the formation of the fighting game community (FGC). It was fighting games like Street Fighter, The King of Fighters, Marvel vs. Capcom, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat that gave arcades its last breath before dying en masse in the late ‘90s and 2000s.
Arcades may be gone, but fighting games thrive thanks to a healthy esports scene that is televised and streamed to audiences around the world. You can log into Twitch right now and see people play Mortal Kombat 11, a new way of looking over people’s shoulders to glimpse the sickest fatality.
When I ask Dauberman what Street Fighter character Pennywise would play, the screenwriter offered up an amusing answer.
“He’d probably pick Blanka because he always goes for the easiest [route]” he says. “I feel like he would go with the one with more power, you know, like Blanka. He overpowers a lot of the characters.”
It: Chapter Two is in theaters now.