Change the way you think to get better at games

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.