For most of its history, RPS has been an intrinsically personal game, with players priming their actual fists in close proximity. Like most things, however, the advent of Internet technologies has revolutionised the sport.
I have previously discussed how online RPS play often increases throw rate, leading to a focus on quantity, not quality, in gameplay. But from a broader perspective, is online play comparable to real-world competition? Is virtual RPSing even worthy of anyone’s time or attention? If so, how should the two styles interact?
Note that, when I refer to “online”, I really mean a subset of Internet-based RPS competition: sending throw choices to a central server, or to one’s opponent, without the time constraints required by traditional play. These systems don’t allow the viewing of one’s opponent, and don’t feature an audio system, although a text chat is often available.
A good friend of mine makes the distinction clear: he refers to all Internet-based play as “online fantasy rps”, subtly demoralising those whose fortes lie in the online format. And certainly, the two deserve to be separated. On the old Facebook stomping ground for RPS enthusiasts, the application Red Bull Roshambull, scores of players exist who have racked up thousands and thousands of games, but have yet to compete in an offline tournament. Mark “D” Thomas, perhaps the most notorious of these, frequently blitzes seasoned professionals in online-only competitions. Although he has yet to show his ability in a real-life event, it is reasonable to assume that he wouldn’t do as well. Online, a different skillset is required: instead of looking for tells, watching hands, or utilising physical subliminal messaging, the player must be a supreme trash-talker; psyching out an opponent, leading him/her astray, or manipulating him/her into your trap is the sign of a top online player.
Given this vastly different gameplay experience, setting the two standards apart is important. They are only really related in the basic mechanics: Rock still beats Scissors still beats Paper still beats Rock. Although a large departure from the normal game, online RPS still deserves to be recognised, and gaining mastery of the networked beast is perhaps a welcome challenge for players who have reached their peak offline. Although not at the same standard (in the same way that Internet chess champions are not as famous as their offline equivalents), online play can hone skills and increase versatility.
As far as I can identify, a grey area also exists on the online-offline spectrum: players across the globe can use webcams, and software like Skype, to play RPS with full audio and video. For the most part, this doesn’t deviate from the real-life experience: most physical and vocal tells can be gleaned, and strategic moves can also be noticed. Although the necessary lag (due to Internet transmission) may mean that last-minute tells or hand reads are unable to be detected, and may also require a different priming style to compensate (e.g. priming out-of-view, then revealing the throw on-camera), these deficiencies are minimal. This is especially true considering the impressive ability to play against someone in a different country.
I’d welcome your views in the comments: which style do you play most, and which do you prefer? Do you think both have merit?