Fighting games taught me to love training mode (and Denny’s)

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Real OGs can hear this screenshot.

I meet a lot of people who have feelings about training mode. Some people resent it because it’s “boring” and they hate losing to people who spend time in training mode. Some people feel scared of spending too much time getting better at playing a video game. Some people feel guilty because they don’t spend enough time in training mode.

I get why people feel these things; I’ve felt them all too. But whenever I spend time in training mode I feel like I got a little better at the game, learned a little more, and came out with something new to try against the next person I play against. I do not love training mode for its own sake, but I’ve learned to love training mode because when I play games with people and talk with them about the game, I come out with questions that I can answer in training mode.

The more I talk to people, the more I realize that the missing part is often the “playing with people and talking with them” bit. They might be spending a lot of time grinding online ranked matches, but that time won’t feel as fun or as useful as it should be, because the rest of their fighting game diet is deficient. It’s kind of like working out without eating right.

All the OGs know: Going to tournaments doesn’t make you a better player. Getting Denny’s with the homies after the tournament is what makes you a better player. (It doesn’t have to be Denny’s. But please, no Chipotle. Chipotle is the Soylent of fast food and should not be eaten in the company of others.)

This might sound weird at first, but it makes sense. Fighting games are cognitive tests; reflecting on how the game works and how different people think about the game while they’re playing it is an important part of learning how to get better at these games (and just about anything else, really).

When you are using your brain to learn a fighting game, you’re going to be applying whatever Git Gud tools your brain has to figure out how to do it. If you’ve played a musical instrument or a sport, if you’ve practiced a martial art or learned a complicated skill, you’ll be more ready for the parts of fighting games that resemble the things you’ve already done before.

I find that musicians are more familiar with practicing inputs in training mode because it resembles learning an instrument; athletes often have better attitudes about winning and losing; poker players understand risk and reads; and so on. But I wouldn’t have realized this if I hadn’t talked about fighting games with other people who play fighting games and do all this other stuff. We’re borrowing each others’ problem-solving tools, basically.

So before you go to training mode, play with people and talk to them. Go to the tournament, then go to Denny’s. Play with the homies on voice chat instead of silent randos in ranked matchmaking. If you don’t have homies, go find some people willing to run long sets and talk to you, either at locals or Discord or lobby matches or whatever. The easiest way to get better is to get your ass beaten and ask them how they’re doing it. Don’t be shy about asking to go into training mode together to try things out; if they offer, be thankful for their patience.

If you don’t have locals, get your aforementioned homies to come through for a regular casuals night, and see if any other nearby players want to come through. If you can’t find anyone to play with nearby, try streaming some lobby matches. I do this four days a week and it’s like having a local scene in my living room.

Talk to people you play with. Then go to training mode. It’ll feel less like a chore and more like an opportunity for you to tune and tighten and refine and explore.

Training mode is like talking to the game itself. Sometimes you’ll have questions others can’t answer; training mode is how you answer it for yourself. A good training mode session should feel like you’re going for a walk because you have a lot of things on your mind, and you should come back from it feeling refreshed and ready for the next set.

(Also, I recommend putting some music on and sipping on a beer or some coffee or something. Make a time of it. If you got a special training mode ritual, let me know.)

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Thanks for reading!

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-patrick miller

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