Home Editorial Practice makes perfect, but is winning worth it?


If you train hard enough, you might one day beat Daigo Umehara at Street Fighter.*

“No matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone better,” goes the common expression. But in the gaming world, the sentence is presumed to end with an unspoken “and he’s usually 12 years old, Korean, or both.”

As a site centered (if sometimes superficially) on strategy and tactics, it would be ridiculous to claim winning doesn’t matter. Games inherently pit players against one another to demonstrate dominance, whether it’s via high score leaderboards or direct feedback from post-fight fatalities. It’s only natural that gamers rank themselves against one another in a competitive and sometimes hostile spirit.

But just as with any competitive endeavor, such as football, chess, or sexual relations, victory is often determined not only by sheer will, but also by practice. Several spotlighted guests of this blog have highlighted the value of repetition and rote learning. All of these regimens lead to more assured victory. The only question is: why bother?

Can one really lose to losers?

Play any competitive game online for long enough and, against all odds, someone will eventually insult you for being too good. Pull off a 40-hit combo with 1-frame links? Time a perfect drop on enemy resource harvesters right when they had you cornered? Win an all-in hand to double up and take the lead?

“Pssh, at least I’m not a fucking nerd playing this game all day,” your extra-salty opponent will mutter. “What kinda nerd is this good at a stupid fucking game?”

Sure, the sentiment is understandable insofar that we’d all like to imagine nobody actually sits at home perpetually practicing level 7b of Super Monkeyball 3 with the sole intent to destroy us the one time we decide to throw the disc in the system. But for more popular games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 or Starcraft 2, what could your foe possibly expect would happen when he or she started playing ranked matches online? Surely the thought must have crossed his/her mind that it’s at least possible an opponent could be more experienced or flat-out more skilled than he or she is… right?

Additionally, these games were designed from the very beginning with a level of depth that necessitates practice and perfection. Why put hard-to-use moves or expensive but impressive units into a game if developers don’t expect players will eventually use them to secure victory? Unfortunately, sore losers are a way of life whether they’re being beaten at a video game, a competitive sport, or sexual relations.

Practice makes pleasant

Of course, no matter how much you practice, odds are you aren’t going to become the world’s greatest Starcraft champion or Tekken master or Call of Duty expert any time soon. Unless you’re an adolescent with unlimited free time and neural regions not completely hard-wired by now, it’s not likely you will be able to catch up with people who have already spent their entire adult lives perfecting p-links, mile-long pistol headshots, and foreplay.** Someone like Daigo Umehara (Street Fighter), The Little One (Starcraft), or Nina Hartley (sex) has already logged tens of thousands of hours of practice while you were busy attending to trivialities like school or work. To that end, what’s the point of learning any competitive game if you’ll never be the best?

In the grand scheme of things, there is no point. But the same could be said of any activity that didn’t directly contribute to societal or philosophical progress. And since all free time can’t be spent making the world a better place, it seems a reasonable end goal of competitive play would be the same as that of normal play: to have fun.

For many people, myself included, winning is gratifying largely due to the learning process involved. What did my opponent do, and how did I predict or counter it? What did I do well, and how could I improve? At what precise moment was victory assured? By reflecting on questions like these, it is only natural that many players will want to practice to improve their game and unlock new potential. It’s the same motivation a grown adult has for spending years learning how to make an ovular pig’s hide spin at just the right frequency while gliding through the air: self-delusion the pursuit of real-life leveling up.

Yet there are still limits. Sure, I could win 2% more often if I learned this ridiculously difficult combo, but is giving up 10% more of my free time worth it? In most cases, no. If you don’t find practicing every day to be enjoyable, or if the end result of increased wins don’t seem like they’re worth the effort, they probably aren’t. Just don’t blame me when your significant other finds your coital combo performance lacking.

*And if you train hard enough, you might beat the Beatles in all time record sales, too.
**Whatever that is.

4 replies to this post
  1. I think of it this way.

    Sometimes winning is incidental to having fun. For example, if I go 4-30 playing Black Ops, I really don’t care too much, because I am hipfiring an Extended Mags M60 — I AM RAMBO. And no amount of death will make me care about my score. Sure, maybe this will annoy the ‘pro’ gamers on my team, but these days I have difficulty caring. I mean, come on, we’re not in gamebattles here.

    Besides, I’m a scrub at heart. I tend to think in terms of being ‘sportsmanlike’ when the average pro will dismiss this as following rules the game knows nothing of, but I honestly don’t care. For me, the simple joy of playing the game in an entertaining way is all I need — if I do good, great! If I do badly, I don’t care. I will admit that I will get annoyed if I see another player being ‘unsportsmanlike,’ but I avoid being vocal about it — after all, I care a lot less if they’re on my team!

    This turned into a bit of a ramble, but the crux of it is this: for me, at least, being good at the game by some objective standard is completely irrelevant. I do like to do well, but it’s nothing to be worried about if I do badly. I try to play in a way that’s fair to the other players in terms of balance, as I don’t like to be killed with unbalanced weapons and don’t really enjoy doing that to other people. The point is to enjoy the essence of the gameplay, and winning doesn’t really come into it for me.

  2. Wow this is really loser speak. Did you know about Fuudo who came out of no where and beat Daigo. So if it wasn’t anymore people like you who say its not good to Play to Win then MAYBE HE WOULDN’T BE THE BEST CAUSE WE WOULD ALL BE BE TRYING

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