On Spamming, and Why It’s Okay
This post may be a little off my usual topics, but I’ve been playing an unhealthy amount of Mortal Kombat X and it’s been on my mind (that, and I’ve been seeing loads of posts online about this). Now, I’m not a hardcore player of fighting games, as I don’t have the time to spend learning the ins and outs of each (because I’m too busy playing other games). However, I’ve played many, and enjoyed them immensely; though one common theme runs between every series of fighting game, and it used to annoy the hell out of me. Spamming!
Spamming is when your opponent (another player, in this case) keeps as far away from you as possible, and uses the same projectile attack over and over (“spams” it). This is annoying because it breaks up the typical flow of a match, and if you’re inexperienced can lead to losing in (what feels like) an unfair way.
Even if you’ve never fallen victim to this tactic, you can probably imagine how annoying it is. Your opponent is too far away to hit and they’re slamming you with fire / knives / bullets / whatever, which means you never even get the chance to land a hit on them before you’re dead.
So, why do I think it’s okay? Firstly, I should reiterate that I think it’s okay. It’s not great, it’s not good, it’s not awful, it’s okay. It’s bearable. It’s not a real issue. One of the reasons I think this is because if you’re losing to a spammer, frankly, it’s because you’re atrocious at your chosen game.
Fighting games – like all competitive games, really – are about predicting your opponent. Typically, if you can do this, you can win. So why do spammers ever win a match if they’re literally using the one move?
This changes from game to game, but I think it comes down to a lack of understanding of basic fighting game mechanics. I’m yet to play one that doesn’t accommodate a way around this kind of technique, and I doubt I ever will. Admittedly, they range from simple to more complex depending on the game, but you can always fall back on the trusty block.
Take Street Fighter 4, for example. One frustratingly common tactic was “turtling” as Guile. This meant that the opponent (playing as Guile) would sit as far back as possible and launch his signature attack, “sonic boom”. When you got close he could hit you with this crazy backflip kick and start the whole thing again.
That is, if you couldn’t find the block button. It’s true that you typically take “chip damage” when blocking an attack in most fighting games, but it’s usually negligible, and it also prevents you from being knocked off your feet.
Going further, SF4 allowed players to totally avoid damage if they knew the mechanics by using something called a “Focus Cancel”. By holding down two buttons, the player could initiate a Focus Attack. This was a slow moving attack that dealt a good amount of damage, but more importantly, would absorb the first hit made against you while you were attacking, and would heal the damage from said attack over a small amount of time.
Typically, this was used to absorb a quick punch or kick before your focus attack landed, but there’s more to it – by quickly moving forward while focus attacking, your attack would be cancelled. This allowed players to “Focus Cancel” – quickly activating and cancelling a focus attack to absorb a hit. This could be done endlessly, though if you were hit for real (or hit twice during a single focus attack) all of the cumulative unhealed damage would be dealt, meaning you’d essentially lose the match.
On top of that, there’s also the simplest – dodging. While this is more effective in 3D fighters, side-scrollers like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat still allow players to jump or duck attacks that they couldn’t or didn’t want to block.
So, why is “spamming” considered such an issue? I think it’s because it stops the matches being as fun. A great fighting game match comes down to each player trying to predict the next move and acting appropriately, leading to tense edge-of-your-seat moments, but because spammers are so predictable, it quickly becomes boring.
Over the course of writing this, I’ve changed my mind – spamming is not “okay”. It’s kind of shit, but only because it leads to a boring, easy win, and if you’re bored when you’re playing a video game, you really are wasting your time. I stand by the notion that it’s a legitimate strategy, and if you’re losing to a spammer it’s because you’re on the lowest level of skill (no offense intended, but it’s the truth). However, I can’t empathise with people that do spam – it doesn’t seem fun for either party.
Mechanically, fighting games are extremely tight – tighter than any other genre, I’d say. Each animation and attack is looked at down to the frame and balanced carefully, so it should be no surprise that spamming isn’t something that can just be disabled. Games already do mitigate it as best they can, but as long as you have projectile attacks, you’ll have spamming. Learn to deal with it, and try not to do it if it bothers you this much – just remember that it’s easy to play around once you’re a bit more practiced.