Games

Quiet Community Building in 'Splatoon' and 'Rocket League'

From squid parties to replay trolling, I don’t really need to talk to my opponents or teammates to know who they are.

This has been an unexpectedly multiplayer-focused summer. I’ve probably put more hours into Splatoon and Rocket League than some people have put into the The Witcher. I’ve gotten familiar with my teammates and competitors’ personalities, but not because I’ve been talking with them. Splatoon and Rocket League downplay verbal communication and the result is an interesting mixture of emergent cooperation and trolling.

Splatoon is all about team coordination, but you only have two two text-based options to put your thoughts into words: “C’mon!” and “Booyah!” The word choice here is simple, but versatile. “C’mon!” can be a rallying cry to your teammates or a exasperated shout. “Booyah!” is a general purpose exclamation, albeit with a bit of an aggressive connotation. At least in the U.S., “In your face!” (or something similar) often follows up “Booyah!” Still, it’s fairly neutral in tone and even more so when you look at it in the context of other non-North American regions where it has been replaced with “Nice!"

The limits keep the Splatoon’s tone cheeky, but good natured. There’s no direct way to verbally congratulate or antagonize. Thanks to these limits, certain actions and abilities have been repurposed for communication. On the charming side, you have squid parties where opponents will lay down their arms and instead flop around or just hang out in squid form for an entire match.

On the more disrespectful end of the spectrum, “squidbagging” has become a fairly common occurrence. Yes, everyone’s favorite FPS taunt/quad-building exercise has made its way into the adorable world of Splatoon. Even in the absence of voice chat, people have found a way to act out trash talk.

This is something that has become much more prevalent in Rocket League as well. As the player base has grown more numerous and more skilled, a trollish undercurrent has crept into the community. Despite the option for voice chat, most Rocket League communication happens over quick chat commands mapped to the d-pad. Instead of Splatoon's two options, there are a host of contextual phrases for commenting on saves, passes, shots, and general exclamations.

Much of the time, these phrases are used sarcastically. “What a save!,” when you accidentally knock the ball into your own goal, or “Nice shot!” by a teammate when you miss an open kick. People could, of course, type in a custom message or jump on the microphone, but spamming the same command during the replay gets the message across quickly.

The subject of the replays themselves has become a big topic of contention in the community. When any player scores, the scoring play is replayed in spectacular and excruciating slow motion. You can skip it, but only if all players agree to the skip. While each replay only lasts for a few seconds, some folks find it annoying to watch a “bad goal,” especially while others sarcastically spam chat.

It’s a question of in-game etiquette that says a lot about who you’re playing with without ever having to say a word, especially in a 1-on-1 situation. Someone skips every replay regardless of who scored? Must be a serious competitor doing it for the love of the game. Someone who watches every replay? Must be a student of the game or someone who just really likes slow-mo. Someone who tries to skip your goal replays but never skips theirs? Clearly, the scum of the earth, who has their own circle of hell waiting for them.

Regardless of whether it’s innocent or devious behavior, Splatoon and Rocket League have both cultivated their own sets of norms without much in-game communication. Both games show that repurposed mechanics and message board debates can create lively communities out of what are otherwise relatively quiet games.

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