RE: When Passions Flare, Lines are Crossed

After reading all of this stuff surrounding sexual harassment in the fighting game community, I can't say I'm super surprised. As someone who's been tangentially interested in fighting games to the point that I've participated in some tournaments, I have always been aware that the fighting game community has an abundance of unsavory members. This is true for almost all competitive games (including sports), but why is it that fighting games get the bad reputation for it? This is the question I've been pondering for the past few days, and I think I have some answers--or at least some guesses--as to why this is the way of things.

I suppose the absolute main reason why the fighting game community is viewed so negatively is there are so many players who present themselves as negative people. Clearly, this isn't true of all fighting game lovers. I, for one, despise the verbal abuse I've been subject to in SFIV competitions and refuse to respond to it. The problem here though is that my behaviors (and those of my friends that act similarly) don't matriculate up into the higher levels of fighting game play. It seems like the top tier players of many fighting games resort to verbal abuse, and the community as a whole just accepts it because--despite what they say--these players are still really good at video games. As a result of this, the most highly visible members of the fighting game community are mostly these disrespectful people, which entices many members of the scene to emulate these negative idols. This kind of phenomenon, while not exclusive to the fighting game community, is a particularly huge problem in the fighting game scene and this is perhaps why the fighting game crowd is most remarkably viewed negatively.

This point may seem fairly obvious, mostly because it is, but I wanted to point it out because--despite being the primary reason why the fighting game community is considered largely horrible--it's not where all the hate comes from. Saying that "hate breeds hate" doesn't get us any closer to figuring out where it first came from. I know Jeff had some things to say regarding the origins of the fighting game community when he related the scene to that of freestyle rappers, and I think he is on to something there. People in heated situations that are unsure of themselves or in a position of vulnerability (e.g. a one-on-one competition that is being spectated) will lash out and do what they can to try and get an edge and succeed; it's a basic survival instinct. By doing whatever possible to "rattle" the opponent, people in these situations can have an easier time establishing their dominance. This is true in both freestyle rap and fighting games.

The only problem with the analogy between fighting games and freestyle rap, however, is the same problem that exists with every analogy: It's fallacy. No matter how similar these two scenes may appear, they still have fundamental differences that set them apart, and the main difference between these two activities is the skill involved. In freestyle rap competitions, competitors are literally competing to determine linguistic prowess. Because of this, communication is a necessity within this community. Of course, this communication does not have to be aimed at humiliating opponents, but this is (sadly) the norm; the survival instincts kick in for those that are unsure of themselves and they look to construct lyrics that generate enough cognitive dissonance to defeat their opponent. Because freestyle rapping is a battle of language, part of the game includes hurtful language.

In the fighting game community, however, communication is not necessary, at least in the heat of a battle; but, it invariably does occur and it seems that many players use their communicative abilities to take their opponent's focus off of the game at hand. Once again, this is very similar to freestyle rap, but because the game does not actually require communication between players, it seems less-than-necessary and a cheap tactic to try and win. That's right, I said it: talking trash in fighting games--or anything, really--is cheap.

I am fully aware that the big, bad "C" word is a bit of a no-no for fighting game enthusiasts. There are often articles and blog posts cited (mostly by fighting game players) that proclaim: "When you're playing to win, there is no such thing as cheap." The oft cited David Sirlin article-turned-book entitled Playing to Win even suggests players use game bugs to increase their chances of winning. Apparently, if it's in the game, it's fair play. My question for fighting game players though is this: what about if it's not in the game? What about the people that try to win by spouting the most hurtful language they can possibly think of while playing you in hopes that you'll break your concentration? Is that part of the game? This isn't freestyle rap. Hurtful language doesn't have to come with the territory; some people just use it to make the game about something it inherently isn't. Some say this is just part of the psychological meta-game, while others--myself included--disagree. Hate is hate, and it's a cheap way to try to win.

Now to be clear, I don't want to slight David Sirlin or anyone who focuses on playing to win and the ideal of self-improvement. I think these are valuable ideas, but sometimes these ideas are misinterpreted or taken to the extreme. With regard to the trash talking of fighting game fans, I think that the negativity derives from the mentality that you need to do everything you can to win at all costs. This, however, is a misinterpretation of the "playing to win" creedo. Sirlin and others encourage players to do everything they can within the context of the game to win at all costs. They draw the line at things like game-breaking bugs and broken characters. The reason these lines are drawn are because these exploits reduce the game's entertainment value. It's not fun to play a competitive game in which the competitive aspects of it are compromised. This too can also be said of the hateful fighting game community: The negative attitudes of many players compromise the competitive aspects of fighting games because trash talking takes the focus off of what the game is about, which is defeating your opponent by virtually beating the crap out of them (rather than physically or verbally doing so). In short, bad attitudes make the games I love completely un-enjoyable. Please, all you fighting game negative nancies, get over yourselves. You aren't gangsters, and you're breaking some great games by exploiting factors that exist outside the game. Just fight your fight, win or lose, and try to get better. No words are necessary.