"Reading" isn't just the provenance of drag queens. Not anymore, at least. The partly-psychological, partly-social practice of "reading" another person is an essential piece of playing fighting games like Super Smash Bros. effectively. So how does it work? An excellent new tutorial by Rush Hour Smash spells it out.
Narrator Corey "False" Shin defines reading as: "the psychological strategy used in observing an opponent's habitual behaviour and patterns, and punishing them." That's a fancy way of saying that you can (and should) become familiar with the unique ways that an opposing player behaves with his or her character, and then use that knowledge to your advantage.
On its most basic level, "reading" an opponent means that you can then predict what they're going to do next, and therefore prepare a devastating counter. Take, for instance, this moment in a match-up between Mega-Man and Diddy Kong when the Mega-Man player perfectly calls out what Diddy is gonna try and do to get back on the stage:
The commentators called it "the hardest read in his life." Pretty much!
"Reading" isn't unique to Smash Bros., mind you -- though not every game calls the practice reading. The early period of any given League of Legends match begins with an impossibly tense few minutes of squaring off with the opponent in your specific lane, each of you trying to get a similar feel for each other before doing anything too risky, like going in for the kill. But since Smash is such an idiosyncratic fighting game, reading in the game works in a special way. Shin demonstrates in the video that expert-level reads have an enormous impact on aerial plays and the ledge game in any give Smash match, to give one example.
Like most advanced tech, "reading" might sound like one of those things that either makes Smash Bros. intangibly complicated or unnecessarily dry and dense, since it's applying nuanced competitive tactics to what is, ostensibly, meant to be a party game. But I'd argue that reading actually makes the game a lot more fun regardless of your skill or experience level, because it encourages you to personalise your gameplay experience by developing a much more intimate relationship with your opponent. Even if you only play Smash as a party game, you've probably "read" an opponent every time you've griped about how your brother, sister, or best friend always goes for the cheap shot with Jigglypuff's rest combo. Or something.