Change the way you think to get better at games

Visit and participate in forums

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.

Watch videos

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.

And finally…

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.

Jun 23, 2010


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  • 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!
  • 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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