Skip to main content

Change the way you think to get better at games

So. Why do you play games? Immersion? Exploration? Social interaction?


A lot of you would say, “No, I don’t want a challenge. Life is hard enough. I just want to sit back and enjoy myself.” This is a reasonable response. But this article is about change. About striving for something more. “Why bother?” you might say. Well…

Years ago, I played a little game called Warcraft II. I’d never seen an RTS before, so it blew my mind. It never occurred to me to play anyone else, or to learn more advanced things like hotkeys. A few years later, I was working as a tester at a game company, and got to work on another RTS game. At first I thought “Ugh, I’ve seen everything an RTS can do. I’ll be bored to death.”

I got assigned to multiplayer balance testing. The company hired a couple of hardcore RTS guys to teach us how to play. Suddenly, my brain went: “Wait, WHAT? You can do THAT in an RTS? You mean it’s a FAST PACED game?” Not only did I learn that RTS games are fast paced, they are the fastest games in existence and also the most difficult games to be remotely competent at.

Above: StarCraft II is coming, and if you have fewer than 150 APM (Actions Per Minute) then you will suck, horribly

I went from thinking I knew everything about a genre, to realizing I knew nothing, and a new world opened up. See, getting better at games isn’t just about feeding your ego or conquering arbitrary, meaningless goals. It makes games more fun. It makes them deeper, richer experiences. The great part, though, is that you can take this challenge as far as you want. The moment a game stops being fun because you’re too focused on getting better, you can dial it back and enjoy yourself.

So with this guide, I encourage you to cherry pick the things you want to do. Try them out, and don’t do them if you don’t find them fun. Now, there’s one glaring thing I need to address first…

The definition of skill is debated constantly on game forums because everybody has a different viewpoint. For our purposes here, skill is what you want it to be - but realize that pulling off headshots is not the only definition. Skill is applied knowledge along with dexterity and talent. Outthinking is just as skillful as outfighting. If you prefer one idea of skill because it’s the most fun for you, approach this guide with it in mind. Maybe being on the top of the leader/match board is most skillful to you. Maybe being the best team player. Maybe just winning the match. Maybe just devising creative/funny strategies.

One mode of thinking that will absolutely hinder your ability to improve is to point at what others are doing and say “That is not skillful. I am better than them because I don’t do the cheap, skillless thing they rely on.” Now, grenade spamming may or may not be skillful, but worrying about such things is a waste of your time. What you should worry about is how to adapt to grenade spam instead of crying about it. Crying about it is a mental wall that once built, actually reduces your ability to adapt to the thing that annoys you.

Treat everything that beats you as skillful. Why? BECAUSE IT BEAT YOU. They won, you lost, get over it. Even if the winner is technically “less skilled,” tell yourself otherwise. For instance, start thinking of every little thing you can do to not let that grenade spammer beat you again. Yes, grenades may be overpowered and too easy to use, but there’s nothing you can do to change that. What you can do is equip yourself with anti-grenade loadouts, and most importantly, spend time becoming good with the thing you hate. Become an expert grenade spammer. You’ll learn the nuances that play into the success or failure of the tactic. Then, you can go back to your preferred playstyles (you must learn more than one playstyle) and have the knowledge to help you beat the spammers.

Above: Holy shit is this guy annoying. But crying about it won’t stop him. He gets kills because his opponents are predictable. So many spawn kills because the victims mindlessly sprinted for the objective (or stayed at the spawn point), instead of just moving to an unusual spot to wait for his initial spam to pass. Also,Blast Shield

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.