If you’ve ever visited a game discussion forum, you know they can be unfriendly places. It’s almost a law of physics. However, it’s faster to learn from what others have discovered than to discover it yourself. Forums often have guides written by amazing players who have thought of things you will never think of. You can try their ideas and decide what works for you and what doesn’t.
That said, don’t be afraid to try something everyone says “sucks.” Often times, terrible players will get together and all agree that some strategy or piece of equipment is underpowered. They can be so wrong that in fact the object of their complaint may be overpowered - they're just so bad at the game, and clouded by the Dunning-Kruger effect, that they can only imagine that if something doesn't work in their hands, it must be useless.
Above: A forum is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Also: wisdom (not pictured)
Game forums are certainly not for everybody. If you don’t like the atmosphere, you can still search for useful guides without exposing yourself too much to obnoxious posters.
Many techniques are better viewed than explained. Not all games provide a replay function (other than RTS games), but there are usually videos posted on YouTube that can teach you a lot about a game. Some are tutorials, but don’t forget about tournaments. Many FPS and fighting game tournaments are posted online, and watching the best in the world compete can reveal concepts you’ve never seen before.
To get the most out of them, approach watching as you do training: don’t just watch passively, but focus on specific things a player does. Does he appear to do something random? He likely did it for a reason. Try to figure out what it is. You can become good faster if you first copy the good players, but then become your own player. Think about it like learning to paint: you have to learn the “rules” (painting realistically) before you can break them (painting in impressionism or cubism).
Attempt to achieve Yomi
Yomi is a Japanese term that basically translates to “knowing the mind of your opponent” and is another concept championed by David Sirlin. Now, some people have made fun of this concept by saying, “lolz so I should be psychic?” The answer is no, you’re not supposed to be psychic. However, attempting to understand and anticipate what your opponent will do is a skill in itself, and is reserved for advanced play. To predict the opposition’s actions, one must first know enough about the game to deduce the best course of action in a given situation. Also, repeatedly playing the same opponent - as in a fighting game - obviously lets you learn his or her play styles.
Don’t worry about trying too hard to predict you opponents’ moves until you’ve gained at least a thorough grasp of other game elements. Once you have learned enough to feel comfortable, though, and aren’t seeing much improvement in your twitch skills or tactical thinking, then it’s time to focus on attempting predictions. Just like the section above on intelligent training, try focusing all of your energy on thinking on the higher level. Let the other elements of your game slacken and think mostly about “What would I do if I were my enemy?”
Initially, you’ll want to only think about what your opponent’s immediate response to the existing situation is. This is a single layer of thinking. For example: “I just sniped that guy. I bet he’ll try to sneak up on me next time.” To reach true Yomi, though, you’ll want to start thinking like Vizzini from The Princess Bride:
Above: Attempting to know your opponent’s mind is dangerous if you overdo it
How far you can take it and not go off the deep end like Vizzini up there will determine your mastery of Yomi. To take the previous game example and follow the next layer would be: “Since I’m anticipating that my opponent will flank me, I’ll move to a nearby location and watch for him sneaking up on me. But assuming he might be anticipating that I’ll do that, I shouldn’t just watch the most obvious entrance to my last sniping perch. He may be first checking the nearby area to see if I’ve moved in order to surprise him.”
Remember, everything in this article is about approaching your game with a mindset of improving yourself. Trying to anticipate opponents can get you killed, but that’s part of the learning process. The idea is to make even that thinking process natural and unconscious, so you just automatically start predicting what people will do. Of course you won’t always be right, because you aren’t psychic, but you can appear to be psychic to your opponent, and that alone will give you the advantage of frustrating and baffling him.
Games, as more than time-wasters, can be an inspiration to accomplish things in life, to tackle difficult goals. Get better at games, and then apply that energy and attitude to your real life. Does that sound corny? (Hint: I know it does). Think of it this way: games are the perfect environment to push yourself. There is no real-world consequence for failure. You can’t get hurt. You can use games as a safe place to go outside your comfort zone, which is where you have to be to improve yourself in anything.
Why not get more out of your experience? Why sit back and have fun when you can have fun AND challenge yourself to improve and think. You’re already there on the couch/at your PC desk - why not make the most of your time? Remind yourself that games are games, not movies or books. Simply consuming them passively is missing out on the crucial aspect that makes games… games. When you finish a movie, it’s just finished. When you beat a game, you’ve CONQUERED it.
Got a bone to pick with my ideas? Have other, better ways to improve your game? Sound off in the comments.
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