The Agony and Ecstasy of Scrub Quotes

“A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly, and is also known as a buster,” TLC announced on their 1999 megahit “No Scrubs.” Widely misinterpreted as attacking young, poor, or unattractive men for daring to approach women, the song is in fact much more about the attitude of particular men than their current financial conditions or appearance. As the very next line says, a scrub is “always talking about what he wants” yet “just sits on his broke ass.” That’s an important distinction that applies in the world of fighting games, too.

“I consider a scrub to be an unsporting loser who makes excuses and/or confidently misunderstands the rules of the game,” the anonymous operator of the Twitter account ScrubQuotesX tells me. Scrolling through the account’s posts bears this out with a bevy of user-submitted comments and messages from enraged fighting game players. The quotes range from run-of-the-mill sore losers to slur and profanity-laden tirades, the kind of total psychological breakdown one might expect from heated political debates rather than a loss in an online video game. These aren’t just bad or new players — there’s something else going on.

“Scrubbery is absolutely not a measure of skill,” ScrubQuotesX agrees. “It’s a measure of attitude. The worst player in the world is not a scrub as long as they have a good attitude. And of course, a top player can just as easily be a scrub if they throw a fit or have some terrible hot takes.”

The list of things scrubs rage about is endless — matchmaking systems, particular characters or moves, the idea that some players dedicate more time to the game than them. Of course, raging is a common factor across all online games, and in fact can be seen to go far beyond video games. Seeing particular tactics in sports or even war as “ungentlemanly” is, in a sense, an example of the scrub mindset. “Scrubbery is as old as competition itself,” ScrubQuotesX says. “And every now and then someone sends me a scrubquote from some dusty old tome about how the newly-invented “curveball” is unsportsmanlike or how using a longsword is a scumbag tactic of filthy Saxons.”

Still, there’s something about fighting games that seems to bring out the worst in people prone to this kind of mentality. As far back as Street Fighter II, people were arguing whether or not tactics like throwing, fireballs, or blocking were “cheap.”

“The one-on-one nature of fighting games puts all of the pressure on the individual player, since there’s no team to carry or lose the game for you,” ScrubQuotesX notes. “It can be discouraging to jump in and get owned over and over, and trying to cope with that is just human nature.”

A generous interpretation of the scrub mentality would be that these players are looking for a dynamic experience in fighting games, and that playing against an opponent who exploits a repetitive strategy isn’t interesting. And in casual play amongst friends, social pressure can solve this problem — play a game in a way your friends hate, and they might not want to play with you anymore. But players can’t assume shared norms online. The fledgling fighting game player then has a choice: “Good players communicate, make friends, and put effort into learning,” ScrubQuotesX says. “Scrubs lash out.”

To rage is human, to learn from defeat divine. And being a scrub might even be a natural part of that learning process, to an extent. As players continue to fight, they can free themselves from the internal rules that are holding them back.

“I believe being a scrub is a phase and most people grow out of it sooner or later,” ScrubQuotesX tells me. They recall posting a “slur-filled meltdown” about how popular and openly gay and nonbinary fighting game player Sonicfox was “a fraud.” Three years later, they received a message from the same person thanking them for putting them on blast, taking responsibility for their comments, and noting that they had since become a much happier gay, nonbinary person themselves. There is hope for scrubs everywhere — and in the meantime, we’ll always have scrub quotes.