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ronda-1128812_1920Any Hunger Games fans out there?

We don’t own any archer themed pictures for this post, so you get someone in odd clothing.

I recently talked to group of skilled debaters about how to develop champion-level negative strategies.  My advice may surprise you. It involves shooting electrified arrows.

Okay, not literally.  But hang  with me here.  Some of the most analytical people I know struggle to win debate rounds.  They become so focused on winning the game that they forget what game they are playing.  They miss a crucial key of effective game-playing.

Often to win the game you have to step outside of it.

It’s a theme common to many of the best victories known to mankind.  George Washington used it to win the American Revolution. The British repeatedly tried to engage him in typical field combat.  Instead Washington developed an almost guerilla-like war strategy we now call “hit and run.”  He refused to play the expected game of traditional combat.  And he won the war.

I admit God was also probably a big reason the U.S. won the American Revolution.  But think about even God.  How many times throughout history has God refused the play the game the world defines for Him?  The Jews at the time of Christ were focused solely on a Messiah who would come and lead a victorious revolution against the oppressive Roman regime of their time.  Christ the Messiah certainly won the victory.  But He stepped outside of the game the people expected.  He defined a new game.  He didn’t engage the physical enemy–he destroyed the power of the physical enemy by defeating the spiritual one.

Can we do this in debate?  Can we redefine the game?

Absolutely we can.   What’s more, good debaters must.

As a negative debater, your opportunities to redefine the game are almost unlimited.  Consider these examples:

  1. If the aff case is all about economics, refuse to play the numbers game.  The aff team is begging you to argue the numbers, which means they probably have a stronger position there than you.  Instead, speak about human rights and how illegitimate it is to focus on economic gain considering the massive human rights issues in the countries involved.
  1. If the aff goal is “efficiency” or “order,” don’t argue that the status quo is actually more efficient that or orderly than the aff plan.  Instead, question the fundamental “goodness” of efficiency and order.  Didn’t Hitler kill the Jews in an efficient, orderly way?  Efficient and orderly policy =/= good policy.
  1. Run a counterplan.  It’s simple, but it forces the aff off their desired turf.
  2. Run a kritik.  Argue that the entire mindset of the aff team is illegitimate and harmful.
  1. Argue plan technicalities.  For example, if the aff is creating a “team of lawyers, judges, and representatives” to create a video to show the jury before they see eyewitness testimony, don’t argue that eyewitness testimony is reliable and doesn’t require a video warning.  The aff no doubt has ten prepped responses to that.  Instead, argue that the concept of getting any large group of lawyers, judges, and representative to agree on anything without adding agendas or unethical agreements is ludicrous.  Argue that those benefiting from a system (lawyers) should never be the ones defining the system.

I could go on, but you probably get the point.  Unless you are very, very confident you can win the aff game, don’t play the game that the aff defines.  Define your own game.

Back to the Hunger Games.  Remember in Catching Fire when Katniss is in her second games (the quarter quell)?  At first she is totally focused on winning the game as it as been defined for her, or at least helping Peeta win.  She plays by the rules.  But how does she ultimately win? Instead of killing her friends to survive (like the gamemakers say she must), she shoots an electrically-charged arrow at the force-field and destroys the entire game arena.  She redefines the game, and she wins.

Go shoot your arrows.  Destroy the aff framework.  Win the game!


Rebecca Frazer is a former NCFCA national champ TP debater and persuasive speaker. She also won the American Legion national speech contest, and even ladies disc golf nationals. All that national tournament winning in one year. Now she’s a college student, as you’d expect.
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