Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Respecting the Opponent

I first started thinking hard about this topic when I made this post, to address the notion that being angry about a loss is the same as showing disrespect to the opponent.  Unfortunately, it wasn't very well written, nor had I thought things through fully.  I prefer to leave these things online in unedited glory, so future generations can bear witness to my follies.

Before discussing this, let's define "respect."  I define respect as "acknowledging value," and showing respect is externally acknowledging value.  You can have respect for somebody without showing it, just as you can have no respect but falsely present it.  Respect involves an element of honesty, because you can't acknowledge value unless you truthfully assign it.

Second, I also want to distinguish between one's value as a person--which is assigned by the way they conduct themselves and treat others--and one's value as a competitor.  They are not the same.

There are very wonderful people in this world.  They'll give you the shirt off their back, help you with any problem, be honest and good and true to you in all situations, and deserve extreme respect as people.  And sometimes these great and terrific people really suck at video games, and--often because I respect them so much as people--I will not falsely respect them.  Likewise, there are some really talented jerks out there.

My perspective is that you should not bundle your identity as a person with your identity as a competitor.  How you treat others and act around them is not tied to how good you are at getting headshots, or how proficient you are at executing one-frame links, or how well you predict opponents, or anything like that.

People have a tendency to group character traits together to form a simple, comprehensive picture of somebody's personality.  They associate one trait with another, whether for better or worse, just because it takes less mental effort.  Some people may think that because you are good at a game, you are funny, always right, very cool and attractive and not at all a scumbag for any reason.  But they may pattern-match the other way as well, and if you're very skilled but shy, they'll line you up in the archetypal elitist jerk category, when really you're just bad at talking to people and you get embarrassed by praise.  It can go either way.

My first piece of advice regarding respect and value is this: don't fall into this trap, and don't bundle different kinds of value together.  It's better for your self-esteem, and it helps keep your interactions with others honest.

Second, and this was the point I took forever to address in my thread on Smashboards: anger can manifest for a variety of reasons, and does not always correlate to low respect for a competitor.  The thing about externally expressing anger is that it makes almost everybody very uncomfortable, so they try to discourage it, even when it's not intended as disrespect.  They may label an explosive incident as a sign that the person is a poor loser, or spoiled, or thinks he/she is better than his/her opponent.  This is a bit unfortunate, especially if somebody we ought to respect as a person has a troubling issue--and it's not related to being a poor sport or spoiled brat--but they are labeled unfairly.  That is a form of disrespectful behavior as well--you treat somebody worse than their actual value merits.

Then again, one could argue that knowingly causing discomfort to people around you is disrespectful.  So it's a little cloudy.  Ultimately, I feel the whole scenario ties back to advice number one though; a lot of anger issues (when it comes to gaming) comes from associating self-respect as a player with self-respect as a competitor.  It's part of why people can become so heavily invested and emotional even though it's just a game.  I think it's natural for that to happen, and that passion and emotion is part of what gets people to become amazing at their chosen endeavor in the first place.

At the end of the day, it's pretty much agreed that exploding in anger every time you lose is not only uncomfortable but unhealthy, and it just benefits everybody to deal with the issues behind it.  Nobody's surprised if somebody is devastated after a really rough loss in the finals of a tournament, but the more explosive outbursts aren't ever pleasant to be around.  I've been on the receiving and giving end of those kinds of outbursts, so you know what I'm talking about.

Third, and relating to point two, try to acknowledge the opponent's feelings somewhat.  You shouldn't tip-toe around people with bad attitudes (since it only encourages them) but if you want be a respectful person, it goes beyond just acknowledging value.  You need to acknowledge that a person's state of mind matters and you might want to adjust your behavior accordingly.  When somebody is in a sour mood, you can go out of your way to exacerbate it, or you can do things to mitigate them.  It depends on the kind of person you want to be.

In-Game Respect

What about when it comes to how you play the game?  Is there a specific way you should always play to show respect to the opponent?  What about certain behaviors like flashy/inefficient play when you know you're going to win?  Or zoning out and going auto-pilot on lesser players who, for their part, are giving 110% just to scratch you?  What counts as disrespectful play?

I have some guest words from Taj--the hidden boss of Arizona Melee and #1 Mewtwo player in the world--and he had some useful insights to share.

"To respect something in sport, is to acknowledge the opponents "potential" to effectively counter something you would deem to be either too basic or too obvious.

Respecting your opponent as a competitor is to acknowledge their capability either through their status or from direct observation. Thinking things like, "He will expect the third repetition of this move," or "His reactions are really fast! I need to make sure I don't swing big."

Respect is essentially just acknowledging someone's prowess and acting in a way that suits that assessment. Another few examples would be recognizing when you've lost, not playing certain matchups due to the opponent's strength, or even showing acts of desperation in a match to win.

The first example I give also ties to honoring the opponent, but my third example is often perceived as negative to most people even though the thought of acknowledging that someone is stronger than me and the only way I can win is by dragging the match down to my level carries the acknowledgement factor."

Taj addresses some interesting points.  First off, we share a similar definition, wherein respect is honestly acknowledging the opponent's skill level and using tactics that reflect that.  Against really good opponents you might try to go for what's guaranteed and safe, not try to overextend, and avoid gimmicks because you acknowledge they are savvy enough to stop them.  You won't do stuff that's unsafe because you assume they will know how to deal with it.  Instead, you take ground where you can get it, take no opening for granted, and play it cautiously.

His last paragraph, however, is interesting because sometimes gimmicks and gambits are ways of respecting your opponent.  You acknowledge they would probably beat you in a head to head fight--this is why lower-level players try and go for cheese and gimmicks against better players, trying to topple them quickly.  It's because they know that if the game drags on, their opponent's superior fundamentals and game sense will overtake them and leave them unable to win.  So if the lower level player wants to win, he HAS to go for the desperation gimmicks.

What about deliberately taunting the player by playing suboptimally?  It might be an attempt to make your opponent look stupid and weak and embarrass them, so you're trying to disrespect them as an opponent and a person.  Or you might just want to put them on tilt so they don't play as well, so in a roundabout way you're showing you acknowledge their strength as you try to get them to play poorly.

And what about coasting through matches against weaker opponents?  What if the other person's skill level doesn't merit any real effort on your part?  Isn't it on them to not take that kind of thing personally, and honestly acknowledge that they are well below you in ability?  Then again, they are taking time out of their life to enter this event, and it's hurtful to have honest effort be met with apathy or even disdain. This kind of stuff can get confusing.

I try not to take any strategy personally unless I know the opponent is only doing it to bother me or boost their own ego somehow, especially if it's at the expense of his own victory.  Players that camp me just to try and get one extra stock before losing, players that spam a move I find annoying even though they know I'll eventually punish it and destroy them, these people are just trying to put me in a negative mood, or say they got an extra stock just to make themselves feel better.  I feel disrespected in cases like this.  Not only are they annoying me, they're kind of wasting my time.

But when a strategy is honestly beating me, even if it's lame and boring, or flashy and suboptimal, the end is that it's my job to defeat the way the opponent plays.  If I can't, then I don't have the strength and value of a competitor required to deserve more.  As mentioned before, part of showing respect is honesty, and being honest with myself is part of that.

This subject is, truthfully, pretty tricky.  People can feel disrespected and slighted over a variety of things that aren't intended as such, and because how you perceive (dis)respect is based on your experiences and values, and how people show (dis)respect is based on their experiences and values, it can be a big messy issue.

The best and healthiest scenario is this: we keep a healthy distance between our values as people and players, we give due respect to opponents as people, and honestly acknowledge and accept our own value as players.  If you don't require somebody's full attention and efforts, then don't demand it, or just try to become good enough until you do.  And afterwards shake hands, say good game, thank them for the time they spent playing you, and don't make excuses to devalue an opponent's victory.  When the majority of people in the community behave this way, you end up with a healthy and positive community.  As long as you orient your behavior towards that, you'll generally find people respecting you back.  You also might develop thicker skin and a good sense of humor in the process.

Thanks for reading.


  1. misunderstanding is a bitch, isn't it?

  2. Pulled my trapezius and couldn't sleep, just spent like 2 hours reading every post in your new blog, good shit wobbles, keep it up.

  3. I was a bit surprised that you went into so much detail about respecting someone inside the game. As far as I'm concerned, as long as they don't hack the game through their controller or something weird like that, then everything goes. A game is an interactive opportunity for players to take control and use it to do what they want/can. In the same way that we have the Sirlin style "playing to win" attitude we should also have a "just play" attitude. It's not up to you to tell the opponent what they shouldn't or shoudln't do. You just do your best to beat them.

    I don't care how many times they taunt. If they stall and its within the rules, then deal with it. It's a fighting game. You'll have to fight against more than just the punches and kicks. The best part about having a digital computer system be the judge of matches is that we don't have to evaluate actions based on these squishy human values and tendencies.

    Still. Good post.