Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown puts the balls in the court of videogame taunters
There are a few things guaranteed to immediately endear me to a videogame. Take the parry, for instance, the purest expression of videogame risk versus reward: you either look like the world’s biggest badass, or simply get smacked in the face. I’m a fan, too, of double jumps, and of extravagant, Shoryuken-style uppercuts. But there are rubbish games with parries, some miserable ones with dragon punches, and some absolute stinkers with double jumps. My love for another little mechanic, however, has never served me wrong. I am talking about the humble taunt.
Take Bayonetta, which I’ve been enjoying afresh in its sumptuous new incarnation on PC and uses the taunt in dizzying, gamechanging ways. It freezes the combo timer, enrages enemies, refills your magic bar and even, with the right accessory, restores your health. In God Hand, it’s vital for crowd control, helping you manage big groups by drawing aggro one at a time. And in Nier:
Automata, the taunt has a risk/reward element similar to the parry, greatly buffing your damage output, but raising your enemy’s attack power by the same amount.
The brighter sparks among you – sorry, I’m in taunting mood now – will have spotted a theme. Yes, I love taunts. But I specifically love taunts in games that are about punching and kicking things in the face and body. And while the above examples are all from thirdperson action games, the purest, and best expression of a taunt – where there is no preprogrammed mechanical consequence to performing one – is in the one-on-one fighting game.
Yes, there were mechanical, characterspecific consequences when you taunted in
Street Fighter III. Shut up. In Street Fighter IV there were not, and yet I have never taunted so much in a videogame. Much of that is due to the group I played with – every round would begin with a synchronised taunt. For us it was a cheery hello, a beautiful celebration of a wonderful game. When I first saw it happen on a tournament stage, I was overjoyed.
There’s an American player named Du ‘Nuckledu’ Dang. In the SFIV era, he played as Guile, who had a rare ability: a crouching taunt. He’d stoop low, whip out a pair of sunglasses from his back pocket, and put them on. Dang would deploy this to beautiful effect in tournaments, using it to psyche himself up, whip up the crowd and maybe – though they never showed it – needle his opponent a little. It was unique. It was fun. And it worked. He was frequently the last remaining US player in a tournament held in the US; he was the local favourite underdog, so you could forgive him the odd dirty trick.
These days, Dang is one of the best in the world. He won the Capcom Cup last year, playing Street Fighter V – in which Guile wears shades by default. Instead, Dang has taken to teabagging, frantically crouching as if to whack his virtual nutsack on his prone foe’s head. Perhaps it still gets him going, but to this viewer it’s distasteful, unpleasant, an expression of brash, brattish disrespect.
And it’s spreading. I switched off a stream in disgust recently because there was so much of it, with one particular up-andcomer even dropping combos in order to fit even more of it in. It alerted me to a problem I hadn’t seen coming in esports, and particularly in fighting games. The new generation of world warriors all learned their craft playing online, where people, by virtue of anonymity, tend to be colossal fuckwits. Yet the fighting-game scene was born in the arcade, where you stood shoulder to shoulder with your enemy. As a kid I once took a hell of a dead arm for throwing an opponent three times in a row. If I’d tried to teabag him – and I’d explained what it was, because back then there was no known way to pretend you were slapping Bison in the face with Dhalsim’s elastic, leathery man-glands – I’d have been smacked straight out of the arcade.
This upsets me, and not just in an ‘old man shouts at cloud’ kind of way. SFV got off to a miserable start, but Capcom’s made some good changes and it’s a much better spectator sport. I like watching Street Fighter, but I don’t like seeing 20-something men playing a game deliberately badly just so they can dunk their avatar’s scrotum in an opponent’s metaphorical salty tears. Worst of all, I feel myself falling out of love with taunting a bit, and that worries me tremendously. If anyone ends up ruining God
Hand for me, they’re going to have more than a pretend pair of balls to worry about.
Perhaps it gets him going, but to the viewer it’s distasteful, unpleasant, an expression of brash, brattish disrespect