“Help! My friend can’t hold their Ls”
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I play various fighting games with a friend who gets really salty when he loses. Last time we played, he seemed a little extra salty, I think because he beat me quite a bit the time before and this time I kinda blew him up. How do I get him to hold his Ls better?
Thanks for your help,
Let’s get the Real Shit out of the way, Sodium Free: fighting games are designed to be frustration machines at pretty much every level of the experience. You’re going to play this game with people who get salty, and part of the bond we share as fighting game players is the understanding that it’s okay to show it when you feel it. These games are emotional and people are going to show emotion. That’s part of what makes them so beautiful.
So while I can give you advice to help you deal with your friend’s salt, I think you should also check to see if you can teach yourself to feel more comfortable with your friend’s frustration. It’s completely understandable that your friend doesn’t feel joyous about getting their ass handed to them, and I can’t tell if you’re asking about your friend’s salt because you’re concerned about your friend, or because your friend’s salt harshes your mellow. For some people, the willingness to show frustration to others is an indication of deep trust and vulnerability.
That said: Ideally, we could spend all our time playing with people who have the time and motivation to level up, and have enough self-control to handle their own salt levels, so we can spend the sessions completely focused on bodying each other.
However, that’s not how it is most of the time. Honestly, that’s not how it ever was most of the time, even in The Arcade Days — it’s just that the only people who stuck around were the ones who could deal with salt because no one else was going to deal with it for you. So don’t worry — we’ve got some tech for that. But the tech depends on the matchup; salt comes from different sources, and some of that is based on your relationship to the other person, so if you want to handle it well, you’ll need to read the situation first. (For more on this topic, read Grown Adult Anti-Salt Tech.)
If you’re playing someone significantly newer and weaker, and they’re getting blown up and not taking it well, your main goal in the session should be to find a way for both of you to have fun. Experienced players are usually good at managing their motivation and salt levels, and know how to treat sessions where they’re getting blown up as valuable grinding time, but if the person you’re playing with hasn’t yet developed the characteristic grit and resilience that veteran fighting game players are known for, you don’t want to risk pushing them so far into the salt mines that they might not come back. Ideally, you two can just tool around in training mode and practice stuff, but if they’re not up for that, you might have to find ways to make things a little easier on them.
Personally, I take these sessions as opportunities to level up my game knowledge, either by changing up my playstyle — using different tools, experimenting with stuff in your character’s kit that you’re less comfortable with, going for wackier setups, that kind of thing — or switching to different characters.
You may think you know a game, and then you pick Random Select and realize you haven’t played 90% of the cast after you finished all the trials in the first week. It’s good for developing your game, it makes sure your play partner isn’t just getting beaten down by the same shit, and it turns down the expectations for the session to be less about Serious Video Games and more about having fun. (Yes, it means you might have to hold a few Ls as well — deal with it.)
If you’re playing against someone who generally expects to go even with you, on the other hand, you may have to work around their pride (“Don’t go easy on me!”). This player may not have fully embraced the cooperative part of casuals, or they might be so deep in their own head that even if you tell them what they should be doing differently, they may not be able to process your advice quickly enough in live matches. So if it’s clear that they’re not really making progress, try going to training mode and figuring out some stuff they can do to beat some of the things you’re doing — taking the game out of Vs mode and into training mode can give them the time and the space to break their muscle memory and experiment.
If they’re really proud and you want to let them save face, you can even frame it as a favor they’re doing you (“Hey, can we hop into training mode real quick? I want to see how you’re supposed to deal with this setup.”) which is handy because now they get to practice dealing with specific situations but as a “favor” to you (so you can work on your yomi layer 4 options, of course) instead of having to stop the Vs. mode to work on something for their own sake — which some people might be hesitant to ask for because they’re worried it might come off as selfish or not in the spirit of the session.
Now, this is all some nuanced personal growth shit, and while it’s nice when it works, sometimes other people just aren’t up for leveling themselves up like that. So, if their salt is a recurring problem that’s making it harder for you to enjoy playing the game, you might have more luck pulling other folks to the session. At the very least, that’ll give them other people to lose to, which is a bit less frustrating, and if those other folks are new players, then you’ll be creating a situation where your partner will also have to learn to do some of the emotional labor you’re doing. It’s not a guaranteed fix, but it might be just enough to take the edge off a little bit.
And if none of that works, you might just have to do that real-ass adult thing and talk it out. When it all comes down to it, this isn’t just a situation in a video game, it’s a source of conflict in a relationship, and how you deal with it is part of the relationship you have with this person. So talk with them about it — preferably before they’re salting up a session — and work out a strategy to deal with it. Because you can’t stick around in fighting games without learning to hold those Ls, and maybe this is how your friend learns this.
For what it’s worth, my wife gets salty as FUCK when we play Smash against each other, and after talking through it we decided to switch from 3-stock to Unlimited while we’re playing each other. She was also very clear about how she wanted me to accept her salty self and to not let her frustration prevent me from offering advice in the moment. (Ah, nerd love.) So now when we play, we’ll play a matchup for like 40 minutes, switch characters when one of us gets frustrated, and I get to tell her to stop going for the same stage recovery timing all the time.
Thanks for reading!