I have a feeling that everyone remembers their first rivalry, regardless of how friendly or heated it may have been. Mine was in a run-down Namco arcade in an outlet mall in Alabama. That’s where I was born, little Crow_Mashboy standing in front of a Soul Calibur 2 machine. My friends and I would go there a few times a week to play, but someone, the same someone, would always show up to destroy us.
To my right, on the player 2 stick, was a guy probably in his 30s or so, dressed in a suit. I guess he worked somewhere in the mall. He always appeared at around the same time, and would only stay for 30 minutes or so. I couldn’t tell you anything else about the man. But I can tell you this:
“HOW DO I STOP IT!?” Crow_SpaceTeen shouted into the void.
He lived for Ivy’s 1A. Mr. Suitman’s Ivy was purely keep out, and revolved around basically any move that had long range. It’s the sort of thing that’s woefully unimpressive in hindsight, but when you’re new and lack the vocabulary and experience of a veteran, it seemed like the gameplay of the gods.
1A was the centerpiece of his game because it hit low. The more I played him, the more I began to understand that Mr. Suitman died once you got close to him. I started to just walk and block when I saw Ivy attack, but then 1A would come out and trip me up. He’d run away and I’d have to chase him down again, rinse, repeat. Rounds were dictated purely on whether I could walk in. Sometimes I’d try and guess and block low to beat 1A, but that usually just resulted in me eating some silly high-damage mid.
I knew that there had to be a way to beat this. After a few days of losing, I asked one of my friends to play Ivy so that we could figure out what the hell was going on. At first we just played normal games, which didn’t teach us a whole lot because neither of us knew Ivy. We had fun, but we couldn’t replicate his style if we didn’t know the character’s inputs.
At some point, my friend found 1A, and I relived every time my ankles had been clipped by that move. I asked him to only use that move versus me, and I tried to find ways to make it whiff or move past it. The more he used it, the slower the move looked. A few minutes of this clearly bored my friend, so he started mashing guard to try and trick me. It got a smirk out of me, for sure, but it wasn’t similar enough for 1A to trick me.
What we were doing there changed the way I viewed fighting games for the rest of my life.
We added more things. My friend would start doing really slow mids that we found. He’d yell “LOW!” while, obviously, not doing the low. Except when he did. If I wasn’t laughing at him, I usually blocked the low. Eventually, he wanted to see if he could block it too. I put him through the same mini game he put me through: at first I just did 1A, but then added more “traps” over time as he got better at isolating that move.
The result of this game we made for ourselves is that both of us could now block 1A on sight. If I had just kept throwing my body into his sword I probably would have never beaten him. But our mini-game not only helped me practice against that move, it found a way to teach me a difficult skill (twitch reactions) in a fun way. I don’t think anyone doubts the virtues of training, but sometimes we forget, or find it difficult, to have fun with it.
Not every training mode is made equal, of course. While it would be nice for every game to have a training mode like, say, Street Fighter V, that’s not always a choice. Training mode also doesn’t take into account the thought process of humans. Sometimes an irrational, heat-of-the-moment decision could completely change a situation, and that’s what you fight against in tournament, not optimal recorded actions 1 and 2.
I am, by my very nature, someone that likes challenges. Ever since that moment in the arcade, if I’ve encountered a problem in a game I’ve had trouble with, I’ve tried to create some sort of mini-game for me to tackle the situation. Conversely, that’s also how I tend to offer advice to people that I see struggling with something. If I tell you to get better at anti-airing, it puts a burden on you. But if I make a game out of it…
“I am going to try and get in. If I get to you in the first 10 seconds of the game, I win. I cannot attack, I can only block, dash, or jump.”
… as a very broad example, I am quickly forcing you to isolate a specific part of your game. It probably wouldn’t hurt if I setup a reward of some kind (for me? Coffee. Make the reward coffee and I will destroy you in all the mini-games.), but if both parties are having fun, it’s probably not necessary. Simple mini-games like this not only cut away a lot of the “noise” of a fighting game match, but they challenge your creativity. “I’m not sure of a solution for this situation. What can I create to make this simpler?”
Guilty Gear’s platformer-esque tutorial mode teaches you the game in a fun, hands-on way without seeming like school work.
There’s likely a larger psychological part to this. I found this little tidbit from a participant in a health mini-game conducted by a group of professors in “Virtual, Augmented Reality and Serious Games for Healthcare 1.” The game they were playing was an augmented-reality game (think: Pokémon Go, with less Pokémon and more Go.) designed as a method of aiding in health improvement and rehabilitation. The participant spoke on why they chose one exercise-related task over others:
So I picked the stairs one a lot because I live on the 4th floor. Going from the lowest one to the top one is like, almost impossible. But because there is this spark (in-game reward), I’ve tended to take them more.
Incentives, however small, can go a long way in driving progress. This game helped motivate someone with a much more significant physical problem then landing an anti-air.
I also think this can be a motivating tool to help with players that are struggling with themselves. Not just a problem with X game, but just their confidence with their game in general. It’s easy to feel lost when you lose a bunch of games, but set a specific challenge in front of someone and you can reveal skills that they, themselves, didn’t see. It helps show players their own possibilities, instead of just a blanket win-loss stat online.
I’ll admit right away this may not work for everyone; if you don’t enjoy training mode, or mini-games, or just the idea of separating tasks, this may not be for you. But your brain is an organ that behaves like a muscle, and it can be trained and strengthened in a lot of different ways. If your end goal is to get better at anything, I personally think you should find a way to both have fun, and work towards that goal efficiently.