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Change the way you think to get better at games


Getting over the hump

This one seems obvious, but there’s a psychological component that needs pointing out. Every difficult, frustrating thing in a game eventually becomes less frustrating, and may even become enjoyable. It’s important to keep this in mind. Some humps might not be worth getting over, and it’s up to you to decide. The key is to actively pay attention to the potential of a game when you first dabble in it. Even though you might get your ass kicked by better players constantly at first, keep your eyes open for nuances that might intrigue you. If you examine a game, give it a chance, and still think it will never get fun, abandon it.


Above: “Somewhere over that hill, there are noobs to be owned”

However, realize that many of the most rewarding games are frustrating at first precisely because the games are deep enough that the “real” experience comes after you have learned the ropes. Part of getting better at games is recognizing which games will likely be the most fun at high levels of play and which will test your skills enough that you'll be better at other games as well. Then you have to grit your teeth and fight over the hump. Again, though, getting over the hump is only partly about improving dexterity or precision. It's mostly about opening your eyes and paying attention to what others are doing so you can adopt the right tactics and strategies.


Play games on Hard mode

I grew up playing games on Normal difficulty. I never played Easy because that’s just embarrassing, but I also never played Hard because the idea was scary, and games were harder back then anyways, so Hard mode in the ‘80s and ‘90s was tougher than it is now. Plus, I had this idea in my head that Normal was the “true” experience the devs intended, with Hard mode in there just for crazy people.

One day I decided to start playing all games on Hard mode. I don't regret it one bit. It makes gaming frustrating at times, but most of the time it doesn’t even feel difficult. But it does feel tense. Most importantly, it has forced me to think more as I play.

See, if you play Hard mode, but are also motivated to avoid irritating repetition of difficult sections, you must approach everything focused, and you must use your brain. It’s not really about how well you can aim or pull off combos – if you fail at a scenario, try approaching it in different ways, learning the tricks that make things easier. By approaching all games with the attitude of focus, concentration, and thinking with an adaptive mindset, you’ll not only be better at games, but games will be more intense and more fun.


Above: In the hard mode of Gears of War 2, the razor hail will kill you in one second. This makes the razor hail scary. Scary = fun

Just realize that beating a campaign or a computer opponent on Hard mode does not make you good at the game. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect. Graduating from Hard mode just means you’re the big fish in a little pond – once you go online, what you’ve learned will help, but there will be tons of people better than you. Often times, the single-player aspect of a game will actually teach you the completely opposite from how you need to play multiplayer. So don’t get stuck in the mindset of what the computer taught you – focus on how the humans around you behave.

Oh, and by the way – turn off auto-aim in every game. Earn those kills – it builds your aim and is just more satisfying and fun.

96 comments

  • fryry - June 6, 2014 6:28 a.m.

    I made an account just to say that this is one of the most finely crafted and interesting pieces of video game writing I have ever read. Well done!
  • tehgamingworld - September 30, 2012 6:44 a.m.

    What a great guide! I find that playing games on the hardest mode possible, does improve your skill but is defintiely time consuming. I personally much prefer to get straight into the multiplayer section of games, and I tend to learn what I need from there. I found another post similar to this one, which really helped me with fps games, I will leave a link to it below if anyone is interested, but quite honestly any game requires a lot of focus and dedication to become an 'expert' in it. Nevertheless, it's always good to havesome useful tips behind you! http://drspaniel.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Get-Better-at-First-Person-Shooter-Video-Games
  • SuperCharizard101 - July 19, 2011 1:10 p.m.

    @SparkleDevon but Protect is an accepted part of the strategy, and if you predict their use of it, it is free switch.
  • SuperCharizard101 - July 18, 2011 5:21 p.m.

    I love this article, especially the stuff about cheapness. I play competitive Pokemon, and I used to call people cheap when they applied the most overused movesets or Pokemon. Now, I try to find unique ways to counter the overused sets and take joy in doing that.
  • LewisR - July 16, 2011 12:57 p.m.

    The best games article ever. The buzz of outthinking an oppenent/oppenents is a very hard feeling to match. Kudos
  • SparkleDevon - May 17, 2011 2:43 a.m.

    Meh. I agree that really there isn't "cheapness" and I know i'm a pretty crappy player, but no matter what you say, Everyone knows it's annoying as hell when someone uses Protect or Detect, and you don't have a Pokemon that knows Feint with you >.<
  • ReaperBR - April 30, 2011 7:01 p.m.

    Great, GREAT post.
  • Milkman - April 29, 2011 12:10 a.m.

    Well said, I play a lot of Brutal Legend, and when someone utilizes a "cheap tactic" instead of trying to tell them to stop (which is pointless)I think about ways to counter it, thus finding knowledge and wisdom out of a frustrating noob moment. Also I love it when i completely dominate an opponent, i get a response along the lines of "No fair! you didn't give me time to rebuild my army before you attacked!" XD
  • elpurplemonkey - August 16, 2010 3:01 a.m.

    Damn, what a great article. Also, that Sirlin video is an eye opener.
  • chicknwang93 - August 13, 2010 1:44 a.m.

    I really enjoyed this articles point on cheapness. And thanks for the advice on sniping. I almost beat one of my friends (big sniper), he won by 2 or 3 kills in a one on one match
  • Metroidhunter32 - August 12, 2010 9:20 p.m.

    Time to change the way I think.
  • InnocentBud - August 5, 2010 5:57 p.m.

    I love how you say you can use video game as like a trail for life. You can be fearless much easier in a virtual world and use it as practice for the things you do in life. Thanks for the help!
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - June 28, 2010 6:18 p.m.

    @BadCompanyBrik I haven't played Rome Total War, but I'm familiar with strategy games. Here's my take, for what it's worth: The Elephant cannot be cheap, but it can be overpowered. I don't regard the two terms to be the same. Now, even if Elephants are too powerful, it still may be possible that there is a counter for them other than the unconventional setup you metioned. I've seen in strategy games where a specific unit designed to counter some power unit (like Elephants) actually isn't an effective counter, because of the reason you describe. However, often times pro players will discover another counter that doesn't involve the counter unit, and instead involves a particular army composition or build order. The key, of course, is that this counter doesn't ONLY counter Elephants. Sometimes, the developers won't fix something that is overpowered. What you have to decide as a player is: does this problem affect enough of my matches to make this game not worth playing? Since you can't force your opponents to not use Elephants, you have to decide: stick with the game and keep looking for counters, or move on to a better-balanced game.
  • chavbuster1 - June 28, 2010 11:45 a.m.

    This is better than the Art of War! lol
  • Smeggs - June 28, 2010 1:24 a.m.

    "Use a weapon that I am better at using than you are, so you will lose against me." How have I never thought of it like this before? My god...EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW ABOUT MW2 IS A LIIIIIIE!!!!
  • vigeoman - June 27, 2010 7:43 p.m.

    I actually really enjoyed this article thx
  • araknafire - June 26, 2010 10:49 p.m.

    After reading this, i totally agree with there being no such thing as cheapness. And using something over and over to get he ins and outs of it. This is in my opinion one of the greatest GR articles ever. Also the translation of use a real gun, noob was preatty great.
  • zexorg49 - June 26, 2010 8:42 p.m.

    I have to say to all the people who Bashed this Article, Just Stop Playing games. This Article is PERFECT. I used to pay old games like Spyro the Dragon (whole original series) and all that. My first game I beat? Spyro 2 Rypto's Rage. I thought I was the S*** for years. Games got easier and easier, Then Came the current generation consoles and online play. Wow was I wrong. Did I whine and B**** about it? No! I trained to get better, Played More, Played Harder Difficulty, Played more people. I'll admit, Compared to tournament Gamers, I SUCK! Compared to most Gamers, I suck. This article is exactly what it takes to become a true Gamer. Don't Bash this at all. Listen to it. It's all true. Thank you for this Amazing and True Article, I await more like this.
  • BadCompanyBrik - June 26, 2010 7:46 p.m.

    Very interesting. On the subject of cheapness, you say that a good game will have a counter for everything. But what if I'm playing a game in which there is a tactic that has no effective counter? As an example, in Rome Total War, people generally regard Elephants as cheap. Now, there is a counter to Elephants, but it needs a pretty unconventional setup. The thing is, you can't know whether your opponent will use Elephants, and so you can't know which setup to use. Do you use the anti-Elephant setup, and run the risk of facing a normal army that will kill you, or do you use a normal army, and run the risk that the opponent will deploy Elephants? There is no way to know, and it turns a normally deep strategy game like Rome Total War into a coin toss. So most people play without them. Now, I ask you, are Elephants cheap?
  • CAPST3R - June 26, 2010 2:49 p.m.

    Actually, I use gaming as a release for my emotion, allowing me to stay rational the rest of the time. I also enjoy the adrenaline rush given by faster-paced games (if you don't get this, try immersing yourself in the game more. The only drawback in this is that you will shout vulgar words. Loudly.)

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