Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning Through Limitations

Recently I played a friend in Melee for a few hours, because he wanted to have a training session to improve his Sheik.  We had agreed to a bit of a challenge, where I would start by playing the lowest tier characters in the game, and he would play each one over and over again until he defeated it.  Since I've been playing awhile, I know many of the tricks and secrets of a lot of characters; if I don't know them, I can typically copy them from watching better players do them.  That doesn't apply to things that are particularly technical and require practice, but I do know many little gimmicks and surprises for most characters in SSBM.

And they're pretty necessary to win against Sheik, who is--more than any other character in Melee--the low-tier destroyer.  So against my friend, I was busting out many little tricks and weaseling in on Sheik's superior range and priority.  As the tricks came out in the open, however, he would--after a period of time--defeat the character, and I would go up one spot on the tier list.

What's interesting, more than anything else, is the fact that his playstyle began to shift in response.  He started playing a frustrating, shut-out game where (rather than guess and fight me in risky situations) he would try and play for things that were guaranteed.  If he wasn't at an absolute advantage, he backed off and re-positioned.  Now obviously this is bad news for me, but it's good news for him.  When playing against characters that had fewer tools, he focused on shutting those tools down and less on guesses.  This session, according to him, helped him dramatically when playing against his normal practice partners.

Even though one of the best ways to practice your game is just to play it, I think there's something to be said for drills and exercises that change your focus.  The course of your regular game will test a variety of skills, and it won't necessarily be in a predictable order.  You will have your old habits or techniques, and then you will execute them out of habit, and then remember, "oh, right, I'm supposed to be practicing this thing instead."  When you put limitations on the game, it places your focus in a more narrow scope, and sharpens things up.

You can do this by using limits to make it easier, or harder to win.  Or you can simply limit which elements of the game you are focusing on.  The above case was a training session that benefited my practice partner because I limited the game in an easier way.  By giving him less to focus on, he could pay attention to an important part of his skill development, and improve.

An example of this in the opposite direction is something I've been doing lately in League of Legends.  One of the most important aspects of the game is scoring the last hit on enemy minions; if you get the final hit that kills them, you earn gold.  Gold buys you items which strengthen you over the course of the game; successfully scoring the final hit consistently means you will become stronger much earlier.  You can just try and focus on this normally as you play, or you can make your own custom games and just practice solo.

But, in trying to become better at this, I felt like limiting myself as much as possible while I played.  I only picked characters that have extremely weak normal attacks, and refused to use my abilities or skills to score the final hits.  This helped me get used to scoring these last hits under the strictest situation; in a normal match, my ability to last hit actually becomes better because I let myself have access to more tools.

You can also try and just narrow the scope of your practice.  I finally reached Diamond in League of Legends in the 3vs3 mode; most people consider it a very unofficial and unhelpful way to play the game, but strangely enough, it made me much better at the standard 5v5 mode.  Why?  Because the 3v3 mode actually forces you to practice and emphasize situations that are just as important in 5v5.  And the game itself is much shorter in the 3v3 mode, which means you get to practice those important situations over and over again.  You practice the starting phase of the game, and the early skirmishes where the goal is not to group up and crash into each other as a full team, but you instead catch the opponent off guard and fight them while they're at a disadvantage and not expecting it.  Because the game tends to snowball--getting early kills and gold gives you more power for the next fight--practicing the early part of the game over and over again turned out to be very beneficial.  My 5v5 play--particularly the very beginning, where I was weakest--improved drastically.

This isn't a particularly new idea; the concept of drills and irregular practice situations is definitely common in other sports and competitions.  But in the world of gaming, where many of us are stuck on our own to improve, I think it's worth it to stretch your imagination.  Having a thousand options can be just as bad for creativity as having none.  Limiting yourself in different ways forces you to learn and really consider what you're capable of.  It makes you try and understand what success actually requires by changing your assumptions.  And even when your drills and weird ideas don't work out, that can tell you something as well. Whether your drill actually improves you, it can tell you what you actually need to be focusing on.  If practicing one thing doesn't make you better at your game, then you can tell it's not as important as you thought, or that it can't be executed in isolation and you need to focus on something else.  Each time you learn a bit more about what your game really requires, and that guides your future training.

Either limit things to make it easier, to make your game harder and effectively train with weights on, or to create a new version of the game that draws your attention elsewhere.

I hope that's interesting.  I'll see you on Friday!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Wobbles, you're such a great and silly man. Please commentate at some bigger upcoming tournaments in AZ.