Loose Screws – Discourse in the NRS Community

I was surfing Twitter recently, and I came across a random user tweeting about a game that I follow pretty closely, Street Fighter V. Street Fighter V just released its latest downloadable character, Zeku, and as usual, the circles of the internet that I hang around are on it like sharks on blood. In very much keeping with the style of famous analytical personalities like Colin Cowherd, Stephen A. Smith, and Shannon Sharpe, the FGC section of Twitter is always rife with “hot takes” on the character, even though it has been a little over a week since his release, one of which I saw on my timeline. By definition a hot take is deliberately provocative and very shallow, so I wasn’t surprised by what I read, moreso just reflective on how it was said. I can’t find the exact tweet, since it was a retweet and for the life of me I can’t remember from who, but I remember the content to a T:

“zeku is cool but not unga enough for sfv 😦 bad buttons, bad neutral, no 3 frame. feelsbadman #SFV”

Dad Arn

Now, any layperson reading that is most likely frantically smashing the back button wondering what the hell they clicked on, and I don’t really blame them. Like any community of enthusiasts, the FGC has developed its own de facto method of communication that involves highly coded words and phrases. That language has also shifted and changed with time, much like a pidgin language, in order to suit rapidly evolving social media websites as well as simplifying discussion between players from around the world. I can translate this gobbledygook pretty easily myself:

“Zeku is cool but does not have enough of a simplified game plan for a simple game like SFV 😦 He has poor attacks, nothing effective to do when he’s not attacking, and no attacks fast enough to defend himself. This sucks.”

Woo, that was a mouthful, wasn’t it?! My point with this is to illustrate that this is the usually the kind of discourse one can expect for any modern fighting game, and it’s pretty heady. When you add to it that most of the language is molded and shaped by one particular type of fighting game, it can get pretty messy and disorganized. In today’s age, no one has any sympathy for those who can’t understand this cacophony of terms, so most tend to throw around these terms in order to let their opinion have weight, sometimes without realizing that the words they are saying are often times shallow and maddeningly unspecific.

sf_terminology_guide
The popular FGC news website Eventhubs created this. I think it’s pretty accurate.

I’ll put you can example of how fucked up this can all be. Let’s take a sport like football; you could describe a team’s “rushing game” or “passing game” as their main forms of offense, and the “run defense” or “pass defense” as their main forms of defense. Obviously there is a ton of depth within those sub-categories, but generally, we know which team is on offense, which is on defense, and the options immediately available to them. Even in a more volatile sport where offense and defense can switch dramatically and quickly, like hockey or soccer, it’s pretty clear which side is playing what game and the options they have in order to start winning.

If we were to try and apply that same labeling system to fighting games, the modern answer would probably boil down to one of these two words: “Neutral” or “Footsies.” Both are terms used to describe the times when neither character is on obvious offense or defense, but the problem is this includes literally hundreds of scenarios because the options available are varied and broad, and it probably represents the most important part of a match. Two characters may be separated by the entire length of the screen, but certain moves that one character has may make this a defensive or an offensive scenario, just as an example. Because of how much is encompassed in just these two words, it’s hard to nail down just exactly what aspect of a character that people are talking about when they use these terms when discussing higher level play in fighting games.

To bring this rant back into perspective, the combination of highly pidginized language and its broad definitions, plus the “hot take” culture of Twitter and other popular chatting forums like Discord means that talking fighting games is often a war of who can say something mildly intelligible sounding first, and to hell with whether the argument is informed or not. While it effects many communities, the NRS community has a unique position that is not available to most fighting game players in that it is one of the few American developed fighting games with developers who are willing to interact with the community and are known for frequently patching the game if it is seen to have issues. This looms heavily over all discourse related to balance and character strength, and it stinks.

I want to stress before I begin diving in that hot takes can be fun! No good argument ever started with two people civilly disagreeing about a subject, and fighting games are no different. Some of my most profound moments of realizing I was being dumb about something came from having my hot take cooled down and brought into a more intelligible light through arguing on forums and/or Twitter. But, like anything, it’s fun in moderation, and that’s the problem I’m having is that the balance is way out of whack in the modern discussion. Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

Having a healthy developer that is willing to patch the game is a tremendous boon to a game, but it frequently becomes the pin cushion whenever something is perceived as too good or not good enough. Weirdly, players seem to give up faster then in most other titles because whenever they run into a problem, they seem to immediately run to Twitter or TestYourMight, the main NRS forum, and compile these spreadsheets of minute, ultra-specific changes that need to happen, lest chaos should ensue and bears start running Congress.

screenshot-3-e1509324231287.png
A screengrab of the most recently commented TYM topics. See what I mean?

Look at that. Aside from the pinned main topics of some sub-forums, two of the main threads that get views and replies are, more or less, topics that stress that a character needs to be toned down. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making threads like this, but if you look at these topics, there’s not exactly nuanced, informed discussion happening.

Amidst the usual bleating of low level players who can’t handle the basic strategies a character employs, there are those who claim that “If you can’t see why this is broken, I don’t know what to tell you,” which is a useless platitude that serves as nothing but a lame attempt at a put-down by someone trying to sound like an authority figure. Then you have the players that play the character raging against those who want them changed, claiming “I wish these idiots would just learn the matchup, now NRS is going to ruin [insert character] because of all the crying!” Then you have the dirt worst, people who claim a certain tool just “breaks the rules of the game,” as if there’s a large rulebook one can look up in a library that breaks down the exact things allowed in a fighting game ala The Fairly Oddparents.

da_rules_at_fairly_odd_baby.jpg
Strangely, this can’t be found for fighters. Calling all lexicographers!

Sadly, the majority of the major topics on the forums look like this. If it’s a character considered bad, it’s the exact same, where people who play said character just bemoan the state of the character and demanding that they be “fixed,” only now that means the character needs to be strengthened as opposed to weakened. This is all in addition to the fact that most of the discussion revolves around a character having “bad footsies,” “nothing broke,” or my favorite, “no neutral.” What are we supposed to believe there? That the instant you pick the character and the screen loads up, your character just curls up in the fetal position, so terrible that they can’t even make a move?

Now you might be saying, “Well, yeah, that’s bad, but that’s just the chaff from the low end of the pool. The top players are still breaking it down intelligently!”

anigif_sub-buzz-25972-1479741401-2

There are too many tweets and posts to find of people that could be considered very good players being contradictory, incendiary, and just plain bullheaded when it comes to this very same topic. Now I can chalk a lot of this up to the fact that for the past few months, a heated tournament series has been raging on the Injustice 2 Pro Circuit, where every tournament was a potential make or break for a lot of players. Just in August, players were flying out to as many as 3 events in just a month. When the travel is that grueling, there’s really only time for hot takes, because the next tournament is right around the corner and everything has to focus on the now. It doesn’t completely excuse the typical low level talk, but I can at least understand.

Brant “Pig of the Hut” McCaskill has claimed to have long since retired from the game, but as a former elite level player, his words still travel to many followers. His specific type of attack is to do this weird kind of “When are you going to apologize for…” or “When are you going to admit…” shaming, where those who play the character and don’t have his exact opinion are being actively insulting. Worse still, this type of tweet is almost like a drunk tweet, except he’s probably drunk off the last set of matches he played, so naturally, if he lost, he’s got to let the world know in about the biggest hyperbole as possible. In a day or two the opinion might (might) mellow out, but it’s very much tweet first, ask questions later. Unfortunately, because he has a lot of followers, they come out of the woodwork like termites and start agreeing and begin a nasty discourse that really doesn’t help anything but stir the pot of similarly angry players.

Sayed “Tekken Master” Hashem is a current Injustice 2 top player who will be playing very soon in the E-League Invitational event airing on TBS. He, too, has a habit of shooting first and asking questions later when it comes to his thoughts on balance. The context of this tweet is referring to the character Batman, who is able to put his opponents in a situation in which they must guess in which direction they have to defend against his attacks. This has been the dominant strategy in fighting games since time immemorial, and I’m not sure when it was ever the case that it wasn’t. Still, Tekken Master would claim that it’s so busted a move that it needs to be gone, and the fact that it hasn’t has made him understand why people would think the game is bad. I wonder how well it comes across to his sponsors when he says the game he competes in and is paid to do so is such crap that he gets why people think it’s really bad, but I digress.

These are just two examples of hundreds I could pull where the hyperbole and the drama is so high when discussing the nuances of the game that no real thoughtful discussion is coming from it. It’s just venom, barbs, and witticisms until someone backs down or finally puts their cell phone down long enough to forget the entire tweet thread. And all this for a game that is literally less than six months old; in the modern age, games and strategies get broken down much faster, especially if it’s a continuation of a franchise like Injustice is, but that is absurd! In fact, if we were to take the game just from its most recent big patch, which came in late August, then that’s only two months for the game to flesh out and develop! And yet all anyone can talk about is how much intervention NRS needs to do in order to “fix” this broken game.

As usual, there are outliers, those who do use intelligence and critical thinking in order to assess what is going on in a game. And God bless those people, really; they are fighting a very uphill battle. They probably outnumber the screeching reactionaries by quite a bit, they just tend to be a little more quiet. And for that, we thank you! It means that you’re probably playing the game instead of running to your phone, a take so hot it might scald already on the tips of your fingers.

My advice is that people need to start being less reactionary in the hopes that it will get noticed by a random NRS developer who has the power to change things, because the odds of that happening are more than likely at least a million to one. Instead, unless you truly find it so repulsive that you need to not play it lest you snap the disc in half, focus on playing the game and figuring out what exactly is going on, because you just might find an answer if you are playing smarter, not harder. Less use of buzzwords like “neutral” and “footsies” and get more specific and in-depth so people know what the hell you’re talking about. Only then can the community as a whole start to change the image of our game, which is shaped around how people on the internet see its players interacting, which right now is quite poorly.

If you somehow made it to the end of this, you are the greatest, and I love you. As always, please leave a comment if you feel so inclined and I’ll do my best to try and get a dialogue going. In the meantime, I should have a new post for my Money for Nothing series next week, looking at the fateful Injustice: Gods Among Us tournament at the MLG Anaheim 2014 event and how it went so wrong with all that money. As for Loose Screws, I think my next article is going to focus on the imaginary “rules” that some fighting game players have in their head that must be followed, lest the game suffer for it. Until then, seeya next time!

 

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