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When Competitive Games Aren’t So Competitive

I spent the majority of this weekend playing Splatoon 2, and for the most part it’s been an absolute blast. I participated in a Splatfest for the first time, played a ton of Salmon Run, and generally did my best to take advantage of my resurrected enthusiasm for the game. The only problem arose when I encountered a group of players that were entirely uninterested in competing. They stood in the center of the stage, spamming their squid form (a technique hilariously known as “squidbagging”), and only engaging in combat to defend themselves. I was initially pissed off, we were playing a competitive game after all. By refusing to compete, these players were devaluing my experience and ruining my fun. At a certain point I resigned myself to doing my own thing and leaving the idlers alone. Later, I realized there might be more to consider about the situation.

This isn’t an uncommon practice in competitive games. In Team Fortress 2 these players even have a dedicated name: the “Hoovy”. Obviously there is some appeal to this phenomenon that I’m missing. Maybe it’s the mischievous rush of playing outside the game’s rules. Maybe it’s the control that it gives them over the other player’s experience. I may never understand why such a thing is fun. What I’m trying to determine is whether or not it’s ethical.

A typical Hoovy

On the one hand, every player has purchased a copy of the game. They paid money to play Splatoon 2, why shouldn’t they be able to play it how they want to? On the other, they are preventing the game from being as it was advertised. That’s clearly an issue for Nintendo; a competitive game’s community can make or break its success. This is why a lot of games have EULAs and report systems to prevent idlers, griefers, and other unintended playstyles. Splatoon doesn’t have a ban system for that kind of conduct (if that statement is in error please let me know), so these irreverent players can have a huge impact on gameplay without any punishment.

My question, though, is whether they should be punished to begin with. Certainly, their enjoyment of the game is in direct opposition to mine. They are preventing me from having the experience that I’d like to. That’s frustrating for me, but, if you think about it, it’s not a fundamentally different dynamic from a regular match. When players are competing, they are doing their best to decrease the quality of the opposing team’s experience. It’s not fun to lose, but you obviously wouldn’t begrudge an opposing player for trying to win. Some players are going to have fun at the expense of others, it’s just a basic property of a competitive game. If that’s the case, then what exactly are these idlers doing wrong? They may be devaluing the game for some people, but they are doing something that they enjoy.

None of this is to say that I want these people in my games. They still irritate me to no end. It just occurred to me that this issue was a bit more complicated than I had initially considered. Additionally, I’m aware that there have been plenty of discussions on this topic already. I’ve just never seen this kind of player behavior in person, so I thought I’d post my musings on it. How do you guys feel about idlers? Are they just playing the game their way, or should they be mercilessly sent to the ban hole? This is probably a passionate subject for more habitual competitive gamers, so I’d love to hear your opinions.



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