Chaf Cancel is an esport writer and FGC enthusiast. This column represents his opinion and you can find him on Twitter for even more analysis.
Multiple gaming communities created their own lexical and jargon, to explain a game concept in better terms. One of the best example of this comes from the Fighting Game Community (FGC), which not only did created game-specific terms, but also terms concerning the majority, if not all, of the fighting games played and supported by the FGC.
That important task is often misjudged. Just like any language, depending the context, a word or a term can be misinterpreted, and its usage might change the meaning of the term at its core. It’s like the term “Footsies” in fighting games. Some people claim that we overlook the term, and that it covers a concept that is way bigger than the term itself.
In this article, I will explain my opinion on a misused term, not only by the FGC itself, but by other communities and people outside the FGC. The term is “Traditional Fighting Games”, and I will go through what it means, what it misses and why should the FGC care about it.
The “Traditionalists” and the others.
It’s always hard to pinpoint where a term comes from. Especially on gaming communities. Nobody can really trust one source over another. But a quick search on your favorite web-search engine shows the “Fighting Game” Wikipedia page, when it said that they “traditionally show fighters from a side-view”, or it is told that Super Smash Bros. Is “considered to be an arena platform combat game subgenre, due to its deviation from traditional fighting game rules and design”.
When I scroll down to the search page, I can find many YouTube videos made by content creators. One is titled “Can a Traditional Fighting Game player survive in Smash Ultimate?”, another is Smash Ultimate with in-game modifications that makes it look like a traditional fighter, featuring Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, well-known Smash player.
Outside of the broad, encyclopedic usage, the term is mostly used, and got popularized, by the Platform Fighter Community (PFC), which was built around the Smash series. That community is outside of the FGC, because it has different roots, playerbase, events and celebrities, than the whole community. The most common usage of the term is to separate the whole platform fighter subgenre of fighting games, to oppose it with a “traditional” one. That latter one is supposed to be the general subgenre of fighting games played and supported by the FGC.
Communities and Roots
For me, the most important divide between the FGC and the PFC, and the reason why a “general community of fighting games” doesn’t exist, is because of their different roots. The FGC’s true “Year 0” is 1991. The first release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in the Arcades. Fighting games existed before Street Fighter II, but it redefined the whole genre, with similar games being released soon after, making most of the big series played competitively by the FGC. Soon after, a very unique community was born from the Arcades, since it was constituted of the same playerbase, playing different games made by different publishers.
Super Smash Bros. was never released as an Arcade game, and was always targeted as a Console game. While the first release of the series, on the Nintendo 64, made a big mark, its sequel, Melee, is the one responsible for creating the community we know today. Unlike the FGC, the PFC only started to be a multi-publisher community until much later, thanks to games like Rivals of Aether, Icons: Combat Arena, Slap City and Brawlhalla. Even if it’s a Super Smash Bros. Brawl mod, Project M can also considered as its own scene within the PFC, simply because the project wasn’t made by Nintendo. Project M clearly showed the need of the PFC for an alternative with a gameplay close to Melee, which is what Slap City, Rivals of Aether and Icons: Combat Arena also try to do.
This is where “Traditional” comes to play. It’s mostly used to describe games that aren’t Platform Fighters, and it’s mostly used by the Platform Fighter Community. Because of the influence of that community, and especially the celebrities, it’s now used outside the concerned communities, like in various esports outlets and encyclopedic websites like Wikipedia.
Apples and Pears in the same Pie.
That’s what bothers me with the term “Traditional Fighters”. The different Platform Fighters available show have some diversity, but the source is mostly the same; Super Smash Bros. Melee. For some people, it’s the main reason why the game has some interests, like for Slap City or Icons: Combat Arena, when they’ both use mechanics, attacks and characters archetypes that are heavily influenced by the 2003 GameCube game.
The FGC does not play only one subgenre of fighting games, but several. Street Fighter II is known as the one kickstarting the genre, but even SNK’s Art of Fighting came months earlier during the same year. It was the first game introducing meter bars. Mortal Kombat was radically different to play, thanks to its Dial-a-Combo system. And other games that came later had the same kind of influence over the genre than SFII. Especially SEGA’s Virtua Fighter in 1993, which introduced 3D within fighting games. Or Capcom’s Darkstalkers, which inspired fast-paced aerial-based fighting games like Arc System’s Guilty Gear or French Bread’s Melty Blood.
To me, calling the games played by the FGC “traditional fighting games” is a problem. It hides the huge diversity of games that the community plays. Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter from their core, have as much differences as Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. do. Not only in terms of meta and mechanics, but also on how both players interacts with each other.
The concept of Fighting Game Fundamentals is very interesting, because if we really look at what makes the core of a lot of fighting games, not only do we find the same types of Fundamentals within Smash and Street Fighter, but if a fighting game player listens to how a professional Quake player describes the game’s meta, a lot of things will sound familiar. Especially on movement, conditioning and risk-taking. Even innocent-looking games like TowerFall, Catherine or Puyo Puyo can hide a tremendous competitive depth.
“Traditional” also allows comparisons between those games and Platform Fighters, that are lacking of nuance at best, or derogatory for one side of the fence at worst. One of the arguments that I hear the most about is to explain “how Platform Fighters are free-form and very movement-based, while Traditional Fighters are stiff and combo-based”.
That kind of talk implies that “Traditional” fighting games are all about learning huge combos and executing them properly. Which is totally false, and completely changes, depending the series you’re talking about. And again, it lacks nuances. Smash 64 is a Platform Fighter considered stiff and had very linear and deadly combos, while Arcana Heart 3 is a “Traditional” Fighter with a very free-form approach on movements.
Erasing the Permanent Ink
“But who cares?” “If everybody understands each other, it’s fine, right?” “Plenty of people use the term like this.” Etc. That’s the usual response every term-change proposals have. Especially in gaming. “Metroidvania”, “MOBA”, “Beat-them-all”, and “Traditional Fighters”. All of those terms are used incorectly, or have very poor and vague meanings, but all are used currently by tons of very respectable people within the gaming and esport business.
But that article hasn’t been written for being right or accurate. It’s really hard to translate huge concepts into very short terms, for the sake of convenience. The main reason I’m writing this is because I feel concerned. That term allows a lot of misconceptions, which are the base of a lot of false reasoning.
It’s completely useless to bash one side of the fence, just for the sake of put a better shine on a community. The PFC and FGC can both co-exist within their own circles, scenes and events, just like tons of competitive game genres have tons of different scenes that barely communicate between each other.
For my part, I try to stand as far from the term or the notion “Traditional” as possible, when it comes to fighting games. (What the heck is “Traditional” about Guilty Gear?) Instead, I use “Arcade-based Fighters”. It rolls less on the tongue, I admit, but it underlines the main roots of the genre. It doesn’t disrespect Smash as a fighting game, and it doesn’t describe the community’s overall style of gameplay.
Because I think it’s the most important thing, here. Respect. Both of our respective communities, and the communities near us.