The Arena Discussion Archive: Super Smash Bros Ultimate (11/14/19)

On last week’s episode of The Arena, Janelle Malagon, Daniel Marques, Dave Stanely, and I played Super Smash Bros: Ultimate. This week’s show is a continuation of “Fighter Month” where we’ve played Street Fighter V and will play other competitive fighting games (are there any other kind?) over the next few weeks. We played Smash together playing both 1v1 and 4-person free for all and we discussed (1) fighting game accessibility, (2) skill expression in fighting games and what is a fighting game, and (3) affective response as a player and spectator.

Discussion Points

Fighting Game Accessibility

As we discussed last week, fighting games have an high “skill floor,” meaning that the barrier of entry for these games is prohibitive to new players. We mention an interview with Masahiro Sakurai in which he discusses his design philosophy in making Smash an accessible fighting game series. Playing Smash Ultimate, we can see many conscious decisions to introduce randomness into the game, such as randomly spawned items, playing free for all rather than one on one, and stages with hazards that can buff or hinder the player. These act as an equalizer in a sense, adding even just a layer of play that is often absent from fighting games, allowing less skilled players to enjoy the game without feeling as high of a pressure to perform well. While our discussion only lightly touched on this, it certainly was an undercurrent that we tapped into and informed most of our other discussions.

Skill Expression in Smash Bros and What is a Fighting Game?

Dave brought up relatively early on that he feels “Smash doesn’t have the individual player complexity” that other fighting games have. He notes that the lack of distinct combos, chaining, and other traditional fighting game staples. I (Erik) countered that the player has as many moves available to use as in those other games and we had a fruitful argument discussing how the player expresses “skill” in Smash. Interestingly, despite it being an “accessible” game, Dave notes that he doesn’t always understand what’s going on in the game, which shows how crucial background knowledge is to understanding the narrative of the game.

Smash in part because of its accessibility, doesn’t seem like a fighting game at times. While Dave notes that he “doesn’t feel the need to constantly caveat” his opinions, he did grab onto what is a larger narrative within the fighting game community about the Smash series: it doesn’t “feel” like a fighting game, it is something else. This lead into an discussion where we discussed what makes a game a fighting game.

Affective Response as a Player and Spectator

We had a healthy discussion of how commentators/casters in the fighting game community have a more casual and less professional style than their contemporaries in other eSports and in traditional sports. We noted that our affective response to this style and to other individuals, in particular noting Artosis (Dan Stemkoski) a Starcraft commentator, to whom Dave generally described a negative affective response, can greatly affect how we enjoy spectatorship. Another undercurrent throughout our conversation was that the way a game feels deeply affects how we perceive it and what we get out of it. We noted that there potential positives and negatives to these affective responses, they can reinforce racism and sexism, but they are also what creates “hype” a crucial aspect of the fighting game community which to some degree relates to the “body high” of either performing or watching someone perform at a high level.

Discussion Questions:

On the topic of accessibility, to what degree is accessibility necessary for competitive games, and to what degree does a lack of accessibility relate to creating a competitive structure? Are all competitive games fundamentally inaccessible?

How does the way we express skill in a game impact our enjoyment of it? If, as we certainly posed on stream, all skill expressions are not created equal, what do you find to be rewarding skills to invest time and energy into to feel satisfaction?

While we cannot kill our affective response to certain people, media, and stimuli, how can we better become aware of how affect impacts our enjoyment of media (in particular eSports) and how does that knowledge impact our study of media objects?

Further Reading:

Masahiro Sakurai. “’Painful Memories in Fighting Games,’ Sakurai Famitsu Column vol. 71- Sakurai on fighting games, skill gaps, and more.”, June 22, 2015.

Michel de Certeau. Translated by Steven Rendall. The Practice of Everyday Life. U of California P, 1988.

Erik Kersting

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