Six Psychological Tips to Help You Level Up Your Game Faster Part #2

By on December 22, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Last time we took a look at Chunking, which is a learning strategy that manipulates the way our brain processes information, and Scaffolding, which increases the rate in which our brain receives new information in the first place. Today, we are going to look at Reinforcement, which will increase the amount of information our brain retains after a training session, and Motivation, which will increase the amount of time our brain is receptive to new information.

Tip #3 – Repetition

Repeating Skills Vs. Repeating Actions

Practice, practice, practice! … and then practice, and then practice some more, and then after that practice, and when you are done with all of that… well you get the idea.

This sounds like common sense right? The more you do something, the better you get at doing it. So practice your combos and strategies over and over again and eventually you’ll get better. It’s the same speech we heard time and time again from our t-ball coach back in the days of little league.

Now, that’s good advice, but that’s not all there is to it. While it is true that the brain learns quicker and retains more information when practicing the same task over and over again, it’s also true that the brain learns related tasks quicker than it learns unrelated ones. For example, if you spend a whole afternoon practicing long division and then are forced to take a test on multiplication, you’ll do much better than you would if you were, say, forced to take a test on world history. This is because numbers are still fresh in your mind and are taking most of your short term memory, and while 8/4=2 can be easily reversed into 2X4=8, it will not help you remember who shot Abraham Lincoln.

So when you hit the lab in your fighting game of choice, you shouldn’t only be focused on repeating the same combo over and over again until you get it down, but also continuing to use the skills involved in learning that combo throughout the rest of your training session. You want to keep yourself focused on learning one set of skills at a time, while simultaneously applying those skills to multiple scenarios. You’ll find that re-using similar skillsets will reinforce your skills in tasks you weren’t even training in. For example, have you ever noticed that after a session of trying to nail that one fancy, impractical combo that your BnBs are suddenly much tighter despite not practicing them?

Repetition in Training

Now as common sense as this all seems, we in the fighting game community are notorious for ignoring the benefits of repetition, and that’s just because human beings are easy to distract. It’s easier to stop your training abruptly or to train in a whole bunch of unrelated skills than it is to really focus your training sessions in one area and keep at it until you’ve achieved a sufficient level of understanding. So, keeping that in mind, here is some advice on how to be a little less ADD while using repetition to make your training time more worthwhile.

First of all, do not stop training as soon as you succeed at something for the first time. I see people do this so much and as a teacher it’s nearly maddening. You’ll train all day attempting to hit one particular combo, get it once, and then stop. Then the next time you attempt the combo it’s almost like you are learning it all over again. This is extremely counter-productive and increases learning time vastly, and for no good reason at that! If it’s worth doing once, it’s worth doing ten more times, and if it’s worth doing ten times then it’s worth doing ten times in a row!

Learning sort of has its own momentum, you see. Once you start learning your brain actually wants to learn more because all of that useful information you used to succeed the first time is still in your short term memory. Stopping that momentum just because you learned one thing is about the slowest possible way to learn a new skill. You’ll eventually rest, dumping all the information you had out of your short term memory, and if you didn’t train for a long enough time to successfully retain that information in longer term memory, all your training was for nothing. Your first success is the beginning, not the end, of your training session!

Second of all, do not abandon the skill set you are working on for a different one. Transitioning from learning the Dr. Doom Buktooth loop directly to learning Ghost Rider keep away will hinder the learning process for both. Instead transition from one task to another by finding a common link between the two. Have you been working on Magneto flight combos and you are ready to move on to something else? Try picking up flight combos with other characters such as Nova, Firebrand, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, Dormammu, or whoever really. There are certainly enough flying characters in Marvel to keep you occupied for an afternoon.

Not interested in those characters? Then try moving on to another Magneto skill that uses flight and/or air-dashing, because these are the same skills you used to get his flight combo down. Try practicing his ROM, landing a tri-jump mixup, even playing a successful runaway game. When you pick a new task that reinforces the skills you learned in your old task, it’s almost as if you never stopped practicing the old task in the first place.

Conversely, if you do want to learn a skill that is vastly different from the one you are currently practicing, start learning that skill in your next training session rather than your current one. That way, you won’t have all the useful information you just picked up interfering with learning a new and unrelated skill.

Third, try to integrate repitition into your gameplay as well as your training. This might sound boring, but if you routinely lose to a particular player, play him over, and over, and over again until you get better at the matchup. Ask him for a first to ten, or heck, a first to fifty if he would be down for it. Your brain doesn’t have enough time in one match to analyze what strategy was used to defeat you. By exposing yourself to the same strategies over and over again, you’ll start to put together the pieces to formulate an effective counter strategy.

Treat your online play the same way. If you find someone in a ranked match who just hoses you out of the gate, don’t just go on to another match and forget it ever happened. Instead, private message him and ask if you can have a couple extra matches against the same team. Granted, you’ll probably find a lot of people who will call you a scrub and tell you to screw off, but the few who humor you will provide you with valuable training experience. Losing ten times in a row to Ghost Rider’s jumping S might not sound like fun, but its way better than losing to it 100 times over the next month because you never made the effort to learn a way around it.

Repetition in Game Design

Game designers absolutely need to integrate repetition into their tutorial modes more often. In fact, most tutorial and mission modes are guilty of having you succeed once and never try again. If mission 5 is “do an air combo” then mission 5.1 should be “do an air combo three times” and mission 5.2 should be “do an air combo three times in a row.” If we combine this with our previous lesson in scaffolding, you can get even more effective. Mission 5.3 could be “do an air combo while being attacked”. 5.4 could be “do an air combo while being attacked 3 times.” 5.5 “do an air combo while being attacked three times in a row.” So on and so forth.

Game designers should also help gamers organize tasks with similar skill sets, and should recommend new training exercises to gamers that have just completed a lesson. For example, say you just learned a new combo in challenge mode. The game could ask you “would you like to learn what other hit-confirms lead into that combo?” This will not only give you practical knowledge on how to use the combo but will also force you to use the combo over and over again with each new hit-confirm. Once you master the combo, the game could ask “would you like to try some variations?” Once again practicing similar combos that use similar skillsets will reinforce the original combo you learned, even if you are changing it up a bit to squeeze out some extra damage or meter.

Finally, allowing newbies to sort characters by play style would be not only a great way to have them repeatedly train up similar skillsets but also would allow them to find a character they are proficient with quicker. You could include several sort functions that could categorize characters based on average damage, health, magic series (in games like Marvel), overall style (rushdown, keep away, grappler etc.), and much more.

Tip #4 – Motivation

How Motivational Learning Works

In Devil May Cry 3, Vergil says “Now I’m motivated” before going into devil trigger and proceeding to kick your ass. This means that he was less effective when he wasn’t motivated, or more to the point, being motivated made him a better fighter. This is really just a convoluted way to say that being motivated can help you be a better fighter too.

When the brain gets bored, it stops learning. Without some sort of reward or impetus to continue performing any particular task, the brain gets distracted and people generally start paying less attention to whatever they are doing. Even though you feed the brain more information, it retains only a fraction of what’s fed to it.

Now, you can get by alright by making your reward the simple joy that comes from learning a new skill, but it has been shown that people learn quicker when there is a secondary motivating goal attached to the learning process. In other words, it’s easier to learn because you’ll get a gold star on your report card than it is to learn just because you want to become smarter. When there is a real, visible, and immediate reward in sight, the brain tries harder because it wants to experience the positive emotions that are associated with obtaining that reward. This is also why concrete goals, like the gold star, are easier to work toward than amorphous ones, like being smarter. There’s no milestone or monument for “just becoming smarter” and so you don’t get the same satisfaction as you would get for, say, getting a trophy.

How to Motivate Yourself

Fighting gamers all have the primary motivation of getting better and winning more, but this is pretty much the same as “learning because you want to be smarter.” If we had another goal to strive for that was attached to getting better, we would get better quicker. It’s unlikely that someone is going to pitch us twenty bucks or even give us a gold star just for finally learning to block correctly, so we need to come up with creative secondary motivators all on our own.

An easy way to do this is to create a secondary game out of the learning process. Then, your goal in learning is not just to learn, but to win at learning. I do this by playing “combo HORSE” with other gamers that play the same characters as me. The rules are simple. Say what combo you are going to do and do it. If you succeed, then everyone else has to do the same combo or they get a letter. If you drop your combo, then the next player gets a chance to call his own combo and the process repeats itself. You get it right? I mean who hasn’t played HORSE before?

This simple game fosters useful skills in many ways. When you are in danger of losing you will stick to simple combos, and in doing so will reinforce their execution. When you are trying to eliminate someone you will push your own skills in order to make your combo as hard as possible to execute. Both scenarios trick you into learning important skills by essentially having you play a game about learning a game. It’s way more motivating than using training mode alone. This is also why playing actual HORSE on a Basketball court is way more fun than running drills, even though both teach you important skills in Basketball.

Really, any sort of game or goal helps. Create a dummy account, sit down with your friends, and see who can win more online matches in a row. Take turns trying to overthrow the best player in your group and see who does it first. Heck, even a simple “winner stays in” rotation motivates people to play harder and learn more in the process, and we all already do that.

Motivational Learning in Game Design

Now, as useful as this information is, giving each other pats on the back in order to help us learn a game that we are actually trying to beat each other in is pretty goofy. Really, the responsibility for using motivational learning strategies lies on game developers. It’s actually rather easy to program in external motivators to a game’s tutorial mode. For example, what if mission/trial modes had leaderboards? You would get scored based on how many times you could do a combo in a row without dropping it. Now, you are practicing the combo over and over again to secure your space on the boards, and as a side-effect you are leveling up your execution.

If the game in question could track more in-depth statistics for each match, you could expand this idea. Say the game keeps track of how many hits you take (outside of combos) during the course of a match. It could average these together to get a numerical rating on how easily you are opened up. If you then put everyone on a leaderboard sorted by this statistic, suddenly the number junkies out there start blocking more intelligently in order to go up a couple slots. Similarly, you could do the same for average number of hit-confirms it takes to win a match. Suddenly, people are trying to learn more efficient combos in order to reduce their average and climb higher on the leaderboards.

Game developers could even indirectly support motivational learning by simply holding community events. If Capcom holds a combo competition, suddenly gamers everywhere are hitting the lab in order to find that perfect stylish combo and they’re learning tons of stuff along the way. We actually have concrete evidence of this working in Snoooootch’s Combo Challenges. All he has to do is offer to draw something for the winners and the internet explodes with new combo videos. Imagine what sort of momentum something like this could get if it were backed by a game developer and, more importantly, their money.

Alright everyone. That covers 3 and 4, the “common sense” tips on our list. Stay tuned for our final look at Comprehension and, perhaps most importantly, Frustration Management.

Angelo M. D’Argenio A.K.A. MyLifeIsAnRPG got his start in the fighting game community as a young boy playing Street Fighter II in arcades down at the Jersey Shore. As president of Disorganization XIII, he travels the convention circuit presenting a variety of panels from discussions on gamer culture, to stick modding workshops, to fighting game comedy acts. He has a passion for looking at the fighting game community from an academic standpoint and has completed several studies on effective fighting game learning and the impact fighting games have on social circles. A six year veteran of the gaming industry, he also writes for Cheat Code Central and is a lead game designer for Ember Games. On Tuesdays, you can find him getting bodied by Chris G and getting mistaken for Seth Rogen at The Break.