Friday, July 3, 2009

Really. Winning Isn't Everything.

A suggestion was made to me to write an article on how to lose. I kind of suggested that I'd already written articles about that, but I went and looked over them and there wasn't a whole lot about not being a sore loser and turning losses into learning experiences.

I sort of take that attitude for granted. Generally I kind of take it as a given that when you play in competition, you take losses for what they were, look at your mistakes and improve. Clearly that's a problem because most people don't have that same view. Like most things here, I feel like what I'm about to say is obvious, but maybe it's just because I've had the view for so long.

Losing affects all of us. Not winning at all is frustrating. I've said before that teaching people involves positive feedback, but losing is negative feedback. The problem with that is that having losses are extremely common in the early stages of playing a game, and only after you improve a lot are you able to come back and start actually winning.

When I lose frequently I tend to get lethargic and lose interest, since it is hard to develop skills based on negative feedback. We work much better in a world of positive feedback. We like to be rewarded for doing good things, not punished for failing to do them.

Unfortunately this means that when we lose in competition, it upsets us. We aren't able to think clearly and often blame other things for our losses. We really can blame just about anything for losing. I've seen people blame stress the day before, their lack of food, the opponent playing 'cheesy', or any number of other things. Some of these factors might have contributed but all of them put the blame out of your hands and none of them provide useful feedback for improvement.

The first thing we should do to prevent losses from being an issue is to avoid external factors that would hamper us from winning in the first place. If we can't blame being hungry, tired or drunk we are more likely to look at the specific match factors that caused us to lose.

Even if we are hungry or tired or got beat by cheap moves, we need to analyze this. What moves did they use? Why did I lose to them? Was I being predictable? What was going on in my head when I did this or that or that? Where did I make mistakes, and what happened?

You absolutely need to do this whether you win or lose. It's just way harder when you lose.

Emotionally, losing is very damaging to us. Negative feedback puts us on the defensive very quickly and upsets us. Losing feels like a personal attack. Even if there's some handshakes and good sportsmanship by the enemy, it's hard not to feel bad.

Don't feel bad when you lose. If you lose, it means you had the opportunity to learn so soak up as much info as you can. If you just get hurt over losing, you're not going to be able to learn from your mistakes.

Don't feel bad when people give you criticism on your play. If they say "oh you should mix up your attacks more" or "you're being too predictable" then you should take that to heart. Not all advice is right of course, but you should at least take suggestions to heart.

The bottom line is that we should always play to learn, win or lose. Don't get down when you lose. If you can, talk to the person who beat you and ask them for help in bettering your game.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gaming is Too Hard, I'll Watch Instead

So a looong hiatus from writing here I have made. The reason is partly because I'm in the process of writing articles now for but it's also largely due to writer's block. I was given a few ideas that I had no idea how to implement well. This idea came to me in a dream last night. Either way, the MMO Hub writing thing will hopefully be awesome. I really like their site presentation and they are pretty cool people to work with.

Today, I'll be talking about gameplay videos. BlazBlue is out (sort of) and I've been watching match videos to get a feel for the game. I don't own it yet, but I've played the arcade version a little bit. It's fun and interesting, but I can't really make a judgment on it until I've played it at the intermediate level at least.

Gameplay videos are our way of learning to play a game without actually playing it. Sometimes the videos are really useful tutorials that show us exactly what we need to do in a game. Other times, the videos are artistic exhibitions that don't really show practical things, but instead demonstrate the limits of what you can do in a game.

I won't be talking much about artistic videos, though.

When we watch videos with the intent of learning things, we need to be aware of what it is we're actually trying to pick up. Tutorial videos are pretty simple to figure out, unless they are in a language we don't know. Even then, it's pretty easy to guess what people are doing and why they are doing it. A tutorial isn't as good as someone there to explain how to do things, but really, it's the next best thing.

Match footage is going to be the real focus of this article. When we watch a competition match we aren't always sure of what we are going to learn from it. We can watch matches of particular characters or matchups, or just big videos of good players (such as tournament finals and so on). These teach us different things depending on what we are looking for.

When we go to watch matches, we generally have something we want to learn from them. If we're having trouble in a particular situation, we might watch matches to see others replicate that situation.

A good example to use might be StarCraft (surprise!) because a lot of the time, the matches have commentary and that helps us better understand what's going on and the decisions we need to make in that game. The commentary isn't always right, but it helps show us noobs (or you pros!) what is going on at least.

StarCraft matches are unique because there are only 3 races, but the map selection means that each matchup on each map must be handled in a different way. Add the commentary to the mix and we can see a lot of ways to play your particular race on any given map.

In addition to seeing strategies, you can see little nuance tricks and strategies. In fighting games, this type of learning is somewhat essential if you are not a training mode god who can figure out combos easily. Even if you are, learning combos and tricks from pros expedites your learning. Even better is that you can see what pros use that is practical, that might not be what you'd learn from a guide or FAQ.

Nuance is very important. If you see that you can do a particular trick such as instant blocking/parrying a particular attack and then get some free damage, that's valuable knowledge. If in StarCraft you see how to sneak a worker through a building or mineral patch using mining mode, that's great info that you can use in future matches.

Nitpicky details are the things we learn best from videos. We don't really learn strategies well, even with commentary. It's difficult for us to see "why are they not doing anything" even if the opponent leaves themself open just a little later, or if they don't fight back against a powerful rush and end up losing. We can't put ourself in the mind of the player and ask why, which is the important part of learning strategy.

The point I'm trying to make here is that you need to try as best you can to ask yourself why people chose to do something instead of something else. Sometime these decisions are obvious and other times they are not. The important thing is that we put our critical thinking skills to the test and learn as much as we can.

The last type of video are artsy videos. Most of these are promotional videos to hype a product, but there are also combo videos, freestyle dance videos (for DDR) and other similar videos that have nothing to do with 'real gameplay' for a game. Some of these are useful even still.

Combo videos and similar types of videos that show intricate, detailed gameplay are the best. While I include highlight reel videos in this grouping, highlights are generally not as 'artsy' as combo videos tend to be. We can learn a lot about a game's mechanics by watching people do combos, because the combo mechanics reveal a lot about what each character is capable of doing. That's pretty useful information.

Anyway, this is a whole lot nicer than reading Seth Killian's article on video watching, but I am going to make the same point that he did:

When you watch a video, think about what the person is doing, and why - and you'll get the most out of it.