Insomnia | Commentary

Domination 101: On Cheapness

By Seth Killian / June 10, 2008

This article is part of a series of articles originally posted on the Shoryuken forums sometime before the Great Crash of 2003. In an effort to bring them to the attention of a new generation of players, we will be re-posting them here in the coming weeks and months.


This week's question touches on the ever-controversial topic of "cheapness":

Q: "Why is it that you shoryuken foolz seem to think that playing cheap is cool? You should be a man and take a stand against lamerz for honorable play."

(name withheld out of mercy)


Ah, the call of the scrub. They bleat out something like this to attract others of their sad species (known in layman's terms as "losers"), who will feel sorry for them, and commiserate about the unfair tactics of their shamefully dishonorable tormentors (more commonly known as "winners"). They play the game in a little world of make-believe where they all aspire to earn the respect of their fellow losers, and to play with "honor" (even though no one's quite sure exactly what that means).

We get a lot of stuff like this. I have to wonder -- where are all these scrubs coming from? Portland aside, it's hard to be sure. I mostly just think of them as the Street Fighter equivalent of the Amish, but sometimes I wonder anyway -- how did they get so confused? Why do they hold on to such silly ideas?

The precise contours of "cheapness" are pretty mysterious. Far be it from me to actually be able to penetrate fully the dark workings of the mind of a scrub, but in an attempt to get a better feel for what they're talking about here (if anything), I'll try and analyze some apparent commonalities between the wide variety of things called "cheap". Something that is cheap:

1) Wins. Ever notice that no one who just loses all the time ever gets their style called "cheap" (or "dishonorable") no matter what they're doing? I start with this because it helps to underscore the generally whiny, name-calling nature of the complaint. No matter how you play, no one seems to care much... unless you're winning. If you're not threatening their (sorry) dominance at the machine, the scrub doesn't care what the hell you're doing. It's only when you're doing something he can't beat that he bothers to drop terms like "cheap". How can an innocent scrub tell when he's been scandalized by the dreaded "cheap" play? The easiest way to recognize cheapness is not by looking for certain characteristics to the style of play (that can be confusing, and seems downright impossible since what's "cheap" seems to change all the time!). No -- just wait until you're losing a lot. Then, rather than experience the fear that you might have to figure something difficult out, you can rest assured that the reason you were losing was because you were the victim of "cheap" tactics! The advice to aspiring scrubs here should be clear: If you want to ensure that you never accidentally play "cheap" (the precise definition is danged tricky!), just don't win too much. Everyone knows that not winning too much is a proud tradition among all "honorable" players.

2) "Cheap" tactics violate the sanctity of "blocking". All scrubs seem to feel that blocking should be some sort of unimpeachable stronghold -- a scrub "fortress of solitude". Apparently the thinking is "When I'm blocking, no one should be able to hurt me, no matter what!". Where this idea came from is anyone's guess. Ever hear of blocking in Space Invaders? Could Pac-Man block? Blocked any quad-damage railgun shots lately? No. But the scrub still feels somehow especially violated when he's hunkered down, jamming the stick into block, and something still disappears off his lifebar. "What the hell! I was BLOCKING!"

Well... so what? What is it about the block that makes the scrub feel he's entered the magical-happy land of no damage, no worries, and no threats? I have no idea. The fact is, he isn't in that happy place. It just isn't true. It was never true, of course, although enough people insisted on playing make-believe for so long that they almost believe it now. And when someone walks up and, say, throws them, giving them the unpleasant reality check that reminds them they were playing make-believe, the poor widdle scwubs get all upset.

The reason the Capcom designers didn't make blocking completely impervious to damage is extremely obvious -- if they had, the game would be reduced to a question of who could hit who first, then block like a madman for the rest of the round. That would suck. Everyone knows this -- even the dim-witted scrub -- so instead of abandoning the first make-believe rule that led them into this mess, they tack on another make-believe rule. Rule #2: "Too much blocking is also cheap." How much is too much? "Well, um, you see... it's not a set amount, exactly -- it's, uh... Godammit -- I know it when I see it!" So instead of just facing up to the glorious truth, the scrub has dug himself deeper into a pit of nonsense, trying to cover for the initial nonsense. This is another clear marking of the scrub -- when called on their crap they will never admit they were just wrong -- they'll retreat endlessly into as many tacked-on rules as are necessary to get you to quit picking on them, often making desperate appeals to this being their "opinion", as if that makes what they're saying somehow less stupid [Editor's note: It doesn't].

The obvious appeal of this highly stupid approach is that it's easy. It's very easy to call things cheap and tack-on more rules (free, actually), whereas learning to, for instance, counterthrow effectively is very hard. Since those in question are scrubs, and not very skilled, they're very happy not to have to learn anything else. What's always been so amusing to me was that the scrub actually tries to turn this around to his own advantage, claiming that throwing is "just pushing the stick, and hitting a button! It's so stupid -- I'd rather flex my might with my amazing combos!" (Editor's note: combos by these scrubs are never amazing) (of course combos aren't just pushing the sticks and hitting the buttons, right, right?). It's also amazingly stupid in the way it seems to imply that the skill in a game is being able to do a move (or series of moves), rather than understanding that it's seeing when to do a move that counts. The scrub, who sees little more to the game than combos, never has to grapple with this -- after all, when's the right time to do a combo? All the time! You never even have to think about it!

One response to the hordes of unskilled losers who are most often the champions of crying "cheap!" has been simply to claim "There's no such thing as cheap". If the one-word cry of "cheap" didn't convince anybody by itself, neither should this tough-sounding little catch-phrase. Although it may be surprising, I think it's pretty obvious that there is, at least hypothetically, such a thing as cheap. Imagine a regular SF game, with joystick and six buttons. Now imagine a seventh button, available on each side, labelled "WIN". If you hit that button at any time during the match, you win. It would be simple enough to design. If Capcom started releasing their games with that feature, and you were notorious for hitting that button, I'd be perfectly willing to admit that doing so was "cheap". If enough stuff like that finds it's way into a game, then it's just a bad game -- you can play as hard as you want, but that simple tactic can't be surpassed. This emphasizes a third characteristic of "cheap" tactics -- that they're efficient.

3) "Cheap" tactics kill with minimal effort. In this respect, they're difficult to distinguish from just plain good tactics, which are aimed at making you efficient, effective winners. Good players play to win -- they're about winning, not whining. But scrubs become edgy and irritable when they're killed really easily. They know that killing a serious player should be at least a little bit hard, even if he is a scrub. This resistance to extreme efficiency is well-founded, in some respects. A tactic is great when it kills efficiently, but can justifiably be called cheap when it kills too efficiently. In our hypothetical MVC2 game with the "WIN" button, the best tactic is too efficient in just this way -- once people catch on, the game just becomes stupid. It's not fun, nor entertaining. It's Capcom's job to provide games that are fun for a wide range of playing ability without allowing the game to become transparent, and to degenerate into simplistic routines for winning, incapable of holding a serious player's interest.

Some answer cries of "cheap" with a different cute little catch-phrase: "If it's in the game, it's in the game." Well, of course. How could that not be true? That doesn't really advance the "debate", except by pointing out that by banning throws (or whatever they're calling cheap that day), what the scrubs are really doing is just playing a different game. So if MVC2 came equipped with that "WIN" button, it would obviously be fair to say that it's "in the game". But the previous point about actually hitting the button still being cheap also stands. That would just be a really crappy game. Which is what I think it really comes down to: "Cheap" is an aesthetic judgment.

When you claim something is "cheap", what you're really saying is that the game would be better without it. In effect, you're staking your judgment against the combined efforts of the best design team in history. Sometimes people can be right about such judgments, as in the case of obvious bugs/glitches (e.g. resets, L/M-ism A3 bugs, etc). Why are these obvious candidates? Because they weren't things that were intended or assessed by the designers, so they don't already have their tacit stamp of approval. And, unsurprisingly, they tend to detract from the game (though this isn't always the case, of course -- interrupting normal moves with specials for combos wasn't originally intended in SFII:WW, but turned out to be a happy accident that evolved into the world's most-loved combo system). The best way to tell whether something helps or ultimately hurts a game is to play the hell out of it. If it really turns out to detract from the mechanics, then avoid it -- fine. But you'll never be able to decide that if you don't play it to the fullest to begin with -- something people fond of denouncing things as "cheap" never seem to do. Does this mean I think that everything that was intended by the designers is necessarily a good idea? No. But it should be a hint to scrubs that maybe they should play around with that aspect a bit more before deciding it's "cheap", and writing it off. Especially if you want to have a chance at winning in a tournament, or against real players. Remember -- when you claim something is "cheap", especially if it's something the designers clearly intended to be there, you're attempting a very sophisticated judgment. Since most of you are morons, this is usually a very bad idea. Let's look at examples of things that are most often (and wrongly) declared "cheap" by retards:

-Throwing in general, and the SFII series especially. Bzzz. Wrong. Very wrong. Yes, it's difficult to counter at first, but once you do, the game becomes far more complex and interesting, not less. Don't believe it? Ask anyone who's any damn good.

-As for keepaway tactics being "cheap" in MVC2 -- please. This only reveals how little most of you understand not only MVC2, but SF in general. Historically, the greatest dynamics in SF games have always come from the opposition between keep-away and up-close characters. One side tries to keep the other out, the other pushes constantly to get in to the sweet, sweet chewy center. In MVC1, the majority of matches were completely dominated by up-close tactics. In MVC2, the balance has shifted, apparently favoring keep-away tactics. All this means is that you have to think about what you're doing for half a second before going into your same old dial-a-combo routine that you think looks so cool. The fireball (beam/projectile) is the key feature behind all high-strategy in SF games, and one that's been sorely missing from most of the Versus series. Complaining about its return in MVC2 only shows you to be the arch-scrubs you are. It also completely fails to appreciate any real character variety. Was Dhalsim cheap for trying to keep people out in the old Street Fighers? Was he a scrubby character? Should he rush in with a bunch of chain combos in MVC2 to avoid playing "cheap"? Or would that make you dishonorable for picking the pixies that are so much better at that type of game as to make Dhalsim look like a joke? What the hell. So stupid.

Also, Scrubs: do not give yourself the undeserved break that comes with thinking "keep-away players only play that way because they're not good enough to do combos!". That is simply a dud. The timing and precision involved in a really good keep-away trap is typically far in excess of all but the most difficult trick-shot combos. Also, since there are no air-tight keep-away games, you have to be on your toes to play that way. You must think dynamically, and react to the adjustments your opponent tries to make. In a combo, once you start, you can virtually go on auto-pilot. Finally, players good enough to execute the best keep-away traps also have great combo skills -- they're just not naive enough to try and use them all the time. Now what's up, combo-boy?

-Block damage: Busting somebody out for 50% damage even while they're blocking seems more impressive than doing the same thing in a combo, doesn't it? Which one is harder to do? Which one takes more resources? What percentage of characters can do it? Of players? Is it harder to hurt the opponent while they're blocking, or while they're not blocking? Then how can you say dealing out major block damage isn't skilled, if it's harder to do? The ability to deal substantial amounts of block-damage is critical in a game with as much play-area to hide in (re: turtle) as you have in Versus games.

So the surprise conclusion is that there clearly is such a thing as "cheap", but history (throwing is cheap!) and the current batch of whiners (keep-away is cheap!) show us that, apart from painfully obvious glitches, most people are too stupid to be able to determine just what that is. Instead, it gets used as a crutch for players too weak to play the game seriously in the first place.