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« Cognitive Dissonance: F for Fake »

Over the last several years, two expressions have become popular insults when referring to players: fraud and exposed. Both show a clear lack of respect for the target, suggesting that player's skill is merely an illusion. It also showcases an increasing belief in the objectivity of skill in fighting games, an idea for which the measure is becoming increasingly ignored.

The idea of frauds or fakes in fighting games is often rooted most in a player's own grandiose opinion of themselves. If a player believes themselves good, but still loses, then clearly the rules of the game were broken or something altered those rules. A common modern excuse is to blame the tournament format for allowing “randomness.” This is where claims of “scrubby” play occur, where unexpected strategy throws a player off their game causing them to lose. Instead of admitting a lack of preparation or total understanding of the possible situations they could be put into, the losing player blames their opponent for being bad, of not playing with established methods of success, or claims they would succeed in a different format. The assertion amounts to little because the only true measure fighting games have for skill in a player-versus-player environment is wins and every player agreed to the format when they entered the event.

Another variation of this excuse has become that it is not the player but the game that is bad, causing players to label others as being exposed if they cannot win at a different game. This is another flawed statement, because different games obviously have different sets of rules. As player-turned-designer Adam “Keits” Heart pointed out, each game has its own “set [of fundamentals] to learn and master.” A player cannot expect to transition from Street Fighter to Tekken and immediately be successful (although some exceptions have) because what is necessary for success does not transfer on a one-to-one basis. While the principles may be the same—spacing, poking, awareness of options—there are different technical skills that may be required. For example, skilled Tekken players would point to the game's system of wakeup options as being very different from Street Fighter. As this example should make obvious, a player's lack of success in one game has little bearing on their success or skill in another.

A third popular refrain has become that a certain player is “not that good.” This seems to say a player's assumed talent is overrated, but when placing determines the success of a competitor, how is this a valid argument? Players enjoy throwing out phrases like “character armor” and blaming “50/50s,” but they are parts of the game that each competitor has agreed to play. Believing that you lose at character select or that an opponent's character requires little input from that player to win probably means you haven't put in the time or energy—which can include devising character-specific strategies, finding a different character or even picking the same character as your opponent—to win.

Comments like the above seek to take accomplishment away from other players, to deprive them of the hard work they have put into the game and their hobby, all calling to some higher objective plain of skill. What that level is, or how it is achieved, however, seems elusive. If wins and placements do not denote skill, then what does? It would seem that the ideal of skill, then, is knowing every situation and always making the right decision (or guess) in that situation. And yet there is no player that does that consistently. Does that mean we're ALL bad?

In some ways, it actually does. Every player has something they could improve on, whether it is knowledge of the game, execution or even the ability to be calm under pressure. And because of that, maybe everyone should worry more about their own play rather than commenting about how bad others players are.

Cognitive Dissonance is an editorial series by IPLAYWINNER editor Paul "SuperFX" Dziuba. Views from this piece are not representative of IPLAYWINNER as a whole.

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