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Change the way you think to get better at games


Train intelligently

Just playing a game a lot will of course make you better, but there’s a more efficient way to expand your skills, saving you time and ramping up your strengths faster, so you can have more fun kicking ass earlier.

Think of how a basketball player gets better: he doesn’t just play games. He trains specific areas to improve, like free throws or three-pointers. In a videogame, if you just play matches over and over, your improvements will be diffused over too many areas, slowing your progress. Instead, choose a specific thing. For example, say in an RTS you want to focus on spending resources efficiently. So you play multiple games in a row, where your only concern is efficient resource spending. Intentionally allow other aspects to be worse: your micro and strategy will suffer, but that’s okay. You’re burning the one skill into your unconscious, so you can do it in your sleep, at which point you can move on and focus on something else.

Another example is in a shooter. Let’s say you’re not very good at shotguns. Spend time only using a shotgun. Use it in every situation, even when it’s not appropriate. Accept that you will die, and that you’ll look silly doing “noob” things. If you force yourself to only use the shotgun, you’ll learn its effective range to a more precise degree. You’ll also learn timing of shots, and you’ll learn how to fight against the shotgun better.


Above: I finally learned how to really use shotguns by abusing PlanetSide’s uber shotgun, the Jackhammer, AKA the Noobhammer

You can apply this specialized training to any aspect of a game: strafing, flanking, burst firing, micromanagement, listening to audio cues, watching your own back, healing teammates, trying an unusual strategy, etc. By separating each element and learning its nuances, you then have an arsenal of choices at your disposal. You may end up not being a shotgun-focused player, but you’ll know when a shotgun is the best choice, and when you do use it, you’ll know exactly how to use it.


Effort and ingenuity can trump skill

There’s a fascinating article by Malcom Gladwell that shows how if you’re willing to put in more effort than your opponent and/or think outside the box, you can overcome seemingly impossible odds, and your opponent will hate you for it. Interestingly, it ties back into the notion of playing to win. See, often times if you use a tactic considered cheap, it’s because the “good” players don’t like being beaten. They will ridicule your cheapness because if you play by their rules, they will win. You’ll get angry messages like “Use a real gun that takes actual skill, noob.” What this translates to is “Use a weapon that I’m better at using than you are, so you will lose against me.”

If you can’t beat someone at their own game, don’t play that game. Sometimes an unusual tactic will work because the opponent isn’t used to dealing with it, or even better, hates dealing with it, and therefore will get angry and frustrated and make mistakes. Sometimes, it’s more about putting in effort than being unusual. For instance, it might be worth it to creep way around the outside of a map just to sneak up on that sniper. Another example: if you’re not a crack shot, how about learning the maps really well? Of course, putting in the extra effort can mean extra hours, but it can also simply mean stopping to think about how to do something differently, so that (for instance) your flanking attack gives you the edge over someone with faster reflexes.

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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