Whether you’re playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Team Fortress 2, or IRL tennis, there comes a time when your victory is so assured that there stands before you no reasonable option other than to taunt your opponent. After all, if you don’t perform a taunt, how will your adversary ever know that he or she is too slow, too dumb, or too poor and Irish to ever stand a chance at defeating you?
Taunts come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. But, in my experience, I’ve found they’re all effective at inducing profound rage.
The crudest, age-old variety is the kind you bark into a microphone or mash out on your keyboard. The objective is simple: remind the opponent they’ve been dominated while also injecting a large amount of vitriol, narcissism, and/or white power hate speech, as needed. It’s a proven method, but “moderators” and “decent human beings” tend to look down on anything that features more than 3 curses/euphemisms-for-genocide, so it’s not always the preferred route to humiliating those beneath you.
In most games, nonverbal taunts are relegated to absurd actions that serve no means towards winning the match. From the infamy of Halo’s Tetley® Teabag Special to the use of particularly snide custom graffiti, using in-game actions as taunts is effective because these actions can never be mistaken as anything other than targeted ridicule. It’s a happy medium between using a pre-scripted insult and spewing myopic propoganda, and allows you to set up intricate “traps” designed solely to force a player to realize he/she has been toyed with.
Of course, the most common type of taunt is the type the developer has built into the game and mapped to a button for your convenience. Sure, you lose a lot of creative license, but these taunts offer an additional embarrassment. Since scripted taunts are usually long-winded, animated affairs, successfully pulling them off puts you in danger of retaliation by your target or his/her teammates. By using these taunts, you’re not just saying “u mad cuz u bad,” you’re also saying, “u so bad u cant touch this lol”. Obviously, dying while using such a taunt often negates its effect, and may result in a counter-taunt. Use at your discretion.
Taunting to Victory and Beyond
The question at hand, though, isn’t “What is a taunt?” but rather, “What strategic value does a taunt have?” The obvious answer is that a taunt may damage an opponent’s ego and enrage them to the point of making a reckless mistake. After all, a player who is hellbent on a single task (avenging his honor) is less likely to spot that rocket your teammate just sent towards his rear end. Taunts allow you to use a player’s emotions against himself.
But there’s more to it than that. Using a pre-scripted taunt at the right time can be part of a spectacular feint. In particular, if you can display vulnerability (by using a scripted taunt) while remaining relatively safe, you can trick your enemy into an unwise attack.
Let’s say you know for a fact that after throwing an opponent in a specific fighting game, you can taunt with enough time to block their next attack. To an opponent who doesn’t know that your taunt animation will end just before they can retaliate, your gloating seems like the perfect opportunity to strike. But their dismay will be doubled when their Ultra Hyper Raging Fatality Combo is blocked, they’re thrown a second time, and once again taunted. (This is known in some regions as the Circle of Life.)
The perfect example is Dan’s Legendary Taunt in Street Fighter IV. This ultimate insult takes up an entire Super Meter and several seconds to perform, but can be canceled at any time into Dan’s (actually damaging) Ultra Combo. Opponents who don’t know this may mistakenly attack Dan during his taunt, foolishly believing it’s “safe” damage. That’s when they eat the Fist of Justice.
Of course, these opportunities are few and far between. Much more plentiful are the occasions when even an unsafe taunt is well worth it for the sheer delight of pulling one off, if not for some kind of delicious frame trap. And if you can humiliate your foes with extra class… why not?
To many, taunts are rude, disrespectful, showboating nonsense. I don’t disagree with any of that, but neither do I disagree with their use. After all, since when is it considered respectful to punch someone in the spleen or empty a shotgun into the back of a person’s head? If you’re going to throw down the gloves, why not go all the way? And some evidence suggests taunting isn’t necessarily all bad; certain types of taunts are actually beneficial to a game’s atmosphere. Make sure you tell that to the next guy who sends you hatemail for repeatedly crouching over his corpse.