Today's article is short, because I'm still getting accustomed to my residence in Cairo (excuses excuses). Hopefully it proves interesting anyhow.
Two words people bandy about quite frequently--when describing players--are "aggressive" and "defensive." Like most nebulous words, nobody really bothers to define them, so discussing them is a tricky proposition.
Competition means struggling over resources, whether you are talking about real life or games. So I will offer a definition that distinguishes between the two words in terms of resources: aggression means taking action that seeks to eliminate resources from the opponent, and defense means taking action that seeks to prevent loss of a resource. This definition proves extremely useful for understanding how to play a game well, and what it actually means to try and aggress or defend.
First, you need to define games in terms of the resources you can use, attack, and defend. Obvious ones are things like your health bar, or active units and buildings, or ammo. But there are other resources, like space that you can use to safely move, or time to make your decisions in. Even those available decisions count as a resource.
So part of this means that even if you are not directly attacking your opponent, you can attack his resources in a way that hinders his ability to win. Therefore, even when you don't plan to hit him or remove an obvious resource (like health), you can be trying to take away a less obvious one. Likewise, when you are in a position where you must protect resources, you can use attacks that must be guarded against to prevent the opponent from taking any resources of yours, and in this way attack defensively.
How do you apply these concepts in an actual game?
First, understand the only way resources can be taken is if you give them away, use superior offense against defense, or exhibit superior defense that leaves the opponent exposed to counterattack. You may choose to sacrifice space to retain health, and so give the opponent control over the space you've forsaken. You may end up trying to block high when the opponent out-guesses you and attacks low. You may be trying to move at the same time your opponent wants to attack, and so you end up not blocking a hit.
Understand that resource importance is relative. Sacrificing space--to avoid an attack--is typically less important than taking a hit, or losing a unit, or whatever. And also understand that you can trade resources by switching between defense and offense. Give up space, allow the opponent to extend into it, then damage him when he isn't prepared. If he's in stun, or has to retreat, or he's dead, you can reclaim the space you gave him.
Superior defense can lead to claiming resources after an aggressive move has failed. Using successful evasion or blocking can lead to counterhits when you find holes in the opponent's aggression. And any time your aggression--or defense--has a hole in it, by actively pursuing that you are taking a risk that the opponent will crack through and claim or eliminate resources. Non-risky aggression can be just as useful in protecting yourself as defense even when you don't care that much about taking resources at all.
Look at how you play in a given game. If you're a defensive player, which resources are you protecting? Are you focusing too much on keeping one resource safe that you abandon another, and give the opponent more to work with? Do you focus too much on defense to the point that you fail to claim resources when they are available to you? If you're aggressive, do you know how to switch to defense at unexpected times so you can bait the opponent? Does your offense have too many holes in it, and can you switch to safer aggression to reduce the risk of losing resources when you attack?
I hope this makes you think a little differently about the way you play your given game. Thanks for reading.