Video games take many forms, in a constant evolution of themes, genres, and ideas. How we interact with these games can differ greatly by titles, but some concepts and strategies cross gaming boundaries. Turtling is one such strategy that's often divisive in the community, depending on which side you find yourself.
We'll explore what turtling is in video games, and how it plays out in different genres and game types. Love it or hate it, learning this strategy can make the difference between a loss and a victory.
Turtling refers to hiding behind defensive measures in a video game while holding back on aggressive actions. Basically, you're trying to bait the enemy into making a mistake in attacking you, while making sure you're taking little to no damage.
The name comes from a turtle in its shell. The turtle is safe, while the attacker has one hell of a time trying to break through the turtle's strong defenses.
Acting the turtle in a game will present different opportunities based on the genre, but the approach will always follow the defensive goal. The turtle sits back, and it’s up to other players to put in the work to break the shell.
Turtling, meaning a strong defensive position, creates a disparity in power dynamics. Anybody turtling knowingly places themselves in a safer position, so the other side needs to extend and expose themselves to more danger to combat the turtling approach.
This is divisive because, at low-mid levels of play, turtling can offer great rewards for comparatively little effort. It places the burden of action on players who want to be active, and many see this as unfair, boring, and unsporting. Sure, everybody could turtle, but doing so could drag a match out far beyond a reasonable timeframe. Because of this, turtling is often seen as a cowardly and selfish strategy.
Turtling psychology is simple: "I stay safe, and you put in the effort". It's much easier to punish an attacker than it is to break open a defender, so turtling is a way of playing safer to try to improve your odds.
Many games offer the ability to turtle, where the most pronounced examples are found in fighting games and RTS titles. In fighting games, taking a life lead and then backing away the whole match means your opponent has to open their guard to make progress. In RTS titles, turtling involves building strong walls and sitting behind them, taking potshots at enemy units.
Ultimately, the turtling strategy is to stay safe and force your opponents to get frustrated and make errors. After all, turtles can still bite, and when performed with the right timing, these bites can be deadly.
Turtling is usually remarkably effective at the low to mid tiers, but it rarely succeeds at higher levels of play. In RTS games, players who turtle will usually find themselves at a resource deficit. In FPS games, turtling (regarded as camping) limits a player's movement, exposing them to indirect fire. Fighting games can be the exception, but getting an early lead can still mitigate turtling strengths.
Remember, the turtle has a strong defense, but it's not indestructible…