Judge John Hodgman Episode 237: Trial by Kombat

David Rees

Laura has refused to play Mortal Kombat with her boyfriend Austin since he began doing extensive research and practice outside of their video game sessions. Should Austin come back down to her level so they can play a beloved game together? CAN he even do so?

We're joined us by Guest Bailiff David Rees of the TV show Going Deep, which returns THIS EVENING, Wednesday November 11th at 10/9c on the Esquire Channel!

Thanks to our own defendant, Laura, for this week's case name.




why cant we see these people? buzzmarketing the florida gov?
im left to assume these are trolls on the outside

Yeah... that isn't creepy.

Yeah... that isn't creepy.

Ah, the social politics of gaming

From my own experience with fighting games, I have to agree with what some of the others are saying. Memorizing button sequences doesn't enter into it. It STARTS as memorizing button sequences and memorizing your opponent's "tells", just as learning to play piano and read music both start as very difficult things that require a lot of conscious attention to what notations means and what your fingers are supposed to be doing. But overtime, the notation just flows into you like you are reading it with your mind's eye instead of your physical eyes, and your fingers just go where they are supposed to go at the right time, like they don't even belong to you. And once your body internalizes a skill to that level, you can perhaps "get a little rusty" after a few month's rust, but I guarantee it will take a matter of MINUTES before that skill comes right back. Fighting games, like piano, are just this way.

But despite the ruling, I get the strong hint that this is precisely what the judge suspects will happen. The "wait three months and give it a try" ruling strikes me as more of a "let's do this just to make absolutely sure I'm right about my ACTUAL verdict" more than it is something he actually believes will work. Meanwhile, the true verdict is twofold: 1) Face the fact that the elbow touching moment is never going to come back, 2) Games can be about competition, but they can also be about fun. Here I think of the famous sword fight between Inigo Montoya and the man in black, where they are sparring for minutes and both having a wonderful time, when Inigo reveals that, actually, he is not left-handed. A moment later, the man-in-black reveals that he is not left-handed either. I don't remember if the explanation is given in the movie, but in the book it is explained that they both had gotten so good at fencing that it became boring to them, so in order to still enjoy it, this is what they had to do.

Now, I'm not saying that the solution is for him to handicap himself. But as was explained in the (true) final verdict: there is an enjoyment and thrill to be had from games that is not dependent on victory.

I wonder if the couple have ever tried implementing their own arbitrary rules, which is something my brothers and I do from time to time. For example, in a fighting game, the agreed upon rule might be, "let's see who can win using only kicks" or "let's see who can win using only aerial attacks". Just some stupid rule that messes up the whole game, makes it silly and funny, and makes you both have to learn new strategies to win on the fly.

Hope these two find a fun way to spar again, whatever form it happens to take.

Great Show, poor decision

There's no way his honorable Judge Hodgman should have allowed Laura's request to force Austin to abstain from playing. This will solve nothing. Playing fighting games is like riding a bicycle, once you get good at the timing and move execution, that never goes away. After waiting three months, Laura might have a chance of doing well in a couple of games, but it won't be long before Austin regains his rhythm (probably in the first game session) and begins once again dominating with combos.

Unfortunately, the only answer is to move on to another game. It's quite possible Austin's competitiveness has ruined video games for them forever. Hopefully not.

Trial by Kombat

This episode could have benefited from an expert witness who was familiar with video games that were created in the past decade. This case had three possible resolutions that involve little frustration to the Kombat-savvy couple.

1. Have this guy play with his crappiest characters (eg Not Predator)
2. Alternate with Cooperative games (Gears of War, Borderlands, Battlefront)
3. Lauren could find someone on her level to play with online

Agreed. I was bit

Agreed. I was bit disappointed with the judgement because it hinges on Laura's idea that learning combo's is a matter of remembering button sequences, so Austin might forget them over time. That is not how it works. Higher level fighting game players don't think about which button they are going to press, but instead rely on muscle memory and finding a certain rythm. Those skills are significantly harder to forget, and to some degree they are transferable to other playable characters as well in the sense that it will be a lot easier for Austin to get back to his present skill level, even after a few months. So I'm afraid that it's only a matter of time before the skill gap between Laura and Austin grows too big again (or maybe this time Laura is going to get ahead).

It's why you see a lot of couples move on to cooperative games, or only play competitive games if they're both very bad at it :D

Playing on the same side

Love this show. Competitve games between my wife and I pushed us toward "cooperative games" like World of Warcraft.

Alternate Solution

Laura should challenge Austin to a long session of MK after spiking his chicken parmigiana with a high dose of ketamine. Nothing evens the field of fighting games like a hallucinogenic disassociative.

Alternate decision

Isn't there a choice to play as a random character in mortal kombat? If he had been ordered to do that I would guess he wouldn't be as superior as often.