Essay about people who complain about "cheap moves" in games

Today a friend of mine was complaining to another friend that she should always use a “backhand slice” when she’s playing tennis against him. His complaint boiled down basically to saying that there was no way for him to beat it. “I’m supposed to be on the offensive, then you do that move, and all of a sudden I’m on the defensive. What am I supposed to do? It’s unethical.”

I told him I should send him a link to this essay I once read about “cheap moves” in video games. An example of a “cheap move” would be using the same kick combination in a fighting game over and over again until your opponent loses. The essay criticizes the criticism of moves as “cheap,” saying that the correct response is, rather, to learn the counter to the “cheap move” or learn how to avoid giving your opponent the opportunity to use it.

Seems an obvious point, one you hardly need to read an essay about in order to get it, right? But my friend’s response on hearing this was “Exactly! Those are cheap moves! They’re completely lame! And this backhand slice thing is cheap, totally cheap.”

:dubious: :stuck_out_tongue:

Looks like he doesn’t get it. Maybe actually reading the essay will help. So I’m trying to find it but am having no luck. Does anyone have any clue what I’m talking about, and if so, do you know where I can find a link to it?


Oops, just found it here.



This should totally be in the “Game Room” forum.

The malus belongs to myself.


In the original Mortal Kombat, you could volley your opponent in the corner continuously until he died. Once it started, there was no counter except to physically punch the other player in the face. THAT is a cheap move.

I recall a friend getting some fighting game (I think it was Soul Caliber 2 but I’m not certain) and we were playing a bit of a round robin set up. One of the people had played the game before and said they were “unbeatable” with a character. Now most of my other friends didn’t play a lot of games and so when this person repeated the same move over and over again they broke down. Finally I got my turn and despite never having played before I took him apart; he was so transparent that even without knowing the game I could dance around his move and win without taking a hit.

I’ve seen this in a lot of games; the “cheap” moves are often extremely simple to overcome with even some basic tactics. I played in the national championship for a particular miniatures games, for example, and one currently popular tactic dominated but I did pretty respectably with a rather clever mobility plan (I placed roughly 20th in a field of a few hundred; most of the people above me used tactics similar though they took it in a bit more effective direction than I did).

My point with those two examples is not how great of a gamer I am but rather than the people who do rely on such methods are typically very poor players who can’t deal with anything that doesn’t fit with their expectations. They can’t deal with someone who times their moves to slip in between their attacks or (to go back to tennis) throws off their stride. Learning to deal with that kind of thing is one of the big steps to being a good player but a lot of people just stop with an “unbeatable” move.

The problem comes when a game is so poorly designed that “cheap” does equal either unbeatable or even beatable only if the player totally dedicates themselves to just beating that tactic (a good example is the Australian tactic in Risk; it’s unbeatable when played correctly unless one or more players effectively removes themselves from the game to neutralize the player using it). I consider that more of a problem with weak game design and just avoid playing those games rather than trying to impose a set of social restraints on people to keep them from playing well.

A game is a set of rules under which people agree to behave. Some of these rules are enforced by someone called a game designer through the agency of something called software. Some other rules are enforced by the players through something called “common decency”. Both software and common decency represent the same thing, albeit expressed in different ways and different sets of rules are more or less fun for different people in different situations.

Now what the “no scrubs” article is arguing is that player generated rules always makes a game less fun (except when it doesn’t) and that the funnest game is the one the game designer has laid out in code. And he’s probably largely right, most of the time, most changes that people want to make to games will make it less fun simply because game design is a skill and so the average person is usually not very good at it.

But at the same time, by taking such an absolutist position, he refuses to even acknowledge this participatory role of game design and how that affects the nature of gaming. Game designers certainly try hard but they make mistakes as well. Games are complex. It’s possible for even the best of games to come out hideously unbalanced in one aspect or another and minor tweaking of the rules can lead to obviously better gameplay. By refusing to even view such tweaks as legitimate, he denies this exploratory process as a legitimate part of gameplay.

He does this because that exploration process is scary. It requires you to have good taste in appreciating games. In order to stumble across better rules, you first have to know what is a better or worse game and again, this is a skill which he would rather leave up to professional game designers.

Think of it this way, Chess is a game played on a board which physically doesn’t contain the capabilities to enforce the rules of Chess. Because of this, thousands of Chess variations have been derived and most of them suck. However, there was a dude like him in the 14th Century who was writing about all those “scrubs” using the en passant rule because it wasn’t how the game was supposed to be played. Would Chess be a better or worse game today if we were capable of building boards which could actually enforce the rules of Chess and such an exploration process was discouraged? I don’t know but I think it’s another legitimate way of viewing this situation.

Actually, I think a big problem of “cheap” moves is that some of them discourage people from playing. Think about MMORPG’s. If I know that, say, a Paladin can beat me 9 times out of 10 unless I have one specific counter set up which maybe gives me a 50/50 shot, I won’t want to fight Paladins. I may stop playing if paladins are runnning around swatting me down. Or take a fighting game - if the game comes down to an energy-blast duel almost every game, and all the other moves get me killed, I may not want to play anymore if I enjoyed those moves.

Being able to compete and learn something is fine. Losing frequently is good. Even getting seriously crushed now and then isn’t a problem. But when people get crushed repeatedly with seeming no way to escape, then even if there IS an alternative, they may not stick around to find it. Sure, there might be a counter for that weird unstoppable combo, but is it worth the heartache of finding it? When people start even thinking that the game has a problem.

I used to play a lot of some variant of Street Fighter II back in college. It was… ummm… when you could play the four bosses but before all the “new” characters were introduced. Anyway, it was trivially easy to beat most people with Vega by just doing sliding kicks. The other guy’s “get up” time was longer than it took for me to start another kick and so once you were down I could just slide-kick you into oblivion.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone posted now saying how easy it was to stop that. Be that as it may, no one in my dorm could do much about it and it was a cheap, easy way of killing someone.

It was really boring and I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for not wanting to play me if that’s all I was going to do. Hell, it was boring to do and felt cheap and stupid.

Games are supposed to be fun and often fun because they’re a challenge. Lame moves make it not fun unless you’re the type who pats your own back because you just slide-kicked yet another person out of twenty-five cents.

My checkers “hack” was leaving my last row intact. My opponents would rush across the board to be kinged, jumping my men as they went. However, I would keep at least a single checker free, kinging it and moving it back and forth if necessary, until my foe had no way to move ahead.

Mind you, this was back in 6th grade…there was no way to produce a book of rules. Anyone who declared that I was REQUIRED to jump had no way to prove it. That entire year we played without any official rule book. I retired as the 6th Grade Champ. Hated, perhaps, but still the champ.

I often find that playing a game at this “higher level” is less entertaining then the game I wanted to play. Take Starcraft or Warcraft for example. The single player games were great, but to have any hope of being successful in the multiplayer world, you had to follow a strict build order for the first several minutes of play. Then it usually boiled down to who could press the keys the fastest, thereby micromanaging faster. The fun aspects of developing a strategy, and reacting to different situations were gone. The “game” at this higher level is monotonous button pushing. That is not fun, in my opinion, so I don’t play that “game.” I guess I am a scrub because I hold the arbitrary rule that a “game” has to be fun.

By calling it “monotonous button pushing” do you intend to imply that there is not as much or more strategy involved at the “higher level” than at the “lower level?”


I would think a better analogy would be more like this. Person A always opens by moving his rook pawn. Person B always loses to this, and so starts accusing A of doing a “cheap move” whenever he uses that opening. And Person C–the writer of the essay I linked to above–says “No, B, don’t complain that it’s cheap. Rather, find the way to beat it.”


That analogy fails unless moving his Rook Pawn always caused an unstoppable chain reaction that always cause person B to lose.

That article really exists in a weird zone. It’s ok to use bugs to win…except these bugs. It’s ok to ban a ‘super’ character…but not these super characters. He just made up some arbitrary standard that ok’d how he enjoys playing the game while bitching about all the people who disagree with him.

I think the point is that for those games, at a certain level, the objectively best strategy is a solved problem, and the top players have memorized it, and it’s just a matter of who can hit the memorized sequence faster. At lower levels, you have players trying out all kinds of different and possibly unexpected strategies, that may not be ideal for winning, but are more fun to play against.

Chess beginners sometimes complain about ‘odd’ moves.
“He moved his rook pawn - what do I do now?” “He keeps offering to exchange queens - it’s not fair.”

All this shows is that they don’t know a lot about the game. An unusual strategy can be disconcerting, but the more you know about the game, the more you understand how to deal with eccentric moves.

In a UK Chess Championship qualifier, my youthful opponent played 1. h2-h4 (moving his rook pawn forward two squares). I won in 20 moves. :cool:

Did you play 1. …d5 and win the exchange on the second move?

Nitpick: I don’t think the en passant rule came in until about the 17th century, when the double pawn move was introduced. I may be wrong about the date, but I don’t think it was as early as the 14th century. Now, where is that “geek” smiley?

No, if moving the rook pawn always caused an unstoppable chain reaction that always leads to victory, then Chess wouldn’t be a game worth playing.

A “cheap move” as discussed in the article is not an invincible move.

Yeah, I have similar questions for the writer of the article as to where to draw the line. But as the article says, these are “gray areas.” He’s not pretending he knows exactly where to draw the line.

Don’t you agree with the basic point, though, that rather than complaining that your opponent did something which, though allowed by the rules, is “cheap,” instead, you should figure out how to respond to the move, or prevent the opportunity for that move to be made?


My opponent was rated 2200 ELO, so he wasn’t planning 2. Rh1-h3!
I replied 1…Ng8-f6.

I’ll have a stab at the date and say that en passant, castling, double pawn move and the current Queen and Bishop moves all came in about 1490.
(I’ll see your ‘geek’ smiley and raise you a ‘nerd’ smiley!)

Right, I take this to be right in line with what the article was arguing.


Speaking as someone who used to play SFII competitively, I can tell you that Vega was a top character, but not top 5, and definitely not game breaking. Sub-Zero, then Scorpion, then Raiden were game breaking characters because they exposed flaws in the MK engine, i.e. they exposed infinite combos and there was nothing you could do to escape it. Sub-Zero’s was the most nasty, as he could trade his ice ball with whatever attack and he would combo that into an infinite.

Vega’s slide was not broken, unless there’s a hacked version out there that I don’t know about. All the opposing character had to do was block (or dragon punch, or some other dp/limited invulnerability move) and either counter or throw. That wasn’t even as difficult as throwing or counter-throwing in the earlier versions where it seemed especially broken. However, someone broke down the graphics frame by frame and showed exactly how far throw ranges extended, and the exact times frames where throws needed to be executed. Difficult but not broken.

I miss SF.