There’s never been a better time to be a gamer than the present, with literally millions of titles available at one’s fingertips in 2023. But when starting out on a new game, one can waste a lot of time going in circles and failing to pick up the fundamentals – and that is not only a waste of time, it’s not much fun either.
Fortunately, most games share some core foundational elements, and that means that it’s possible to extrapolate some general rules of how to begin learning a new game that will apply across the board, whether you’re playing a card game like poker, or a bombastic battle royale such as Fortnite.
The first step, for everybody and for every game, is to begin by playing. While you may not know how to play well at this stage – in fact, that is overwhelmingly likely to be the case – just trying out the game is a vital first step.
That’s because you need to begin learning what the game feels like to play. This is actually as true for board games as it is a video game, though the latter will of course feature more nuance.
Video games simulate physics in various ways, and each game and developer approaches this task differently due to a number of factors such as which game engine the title is built upon.
What this means in practice though, is that you need to learn what the feel of the game is like – when you jump, is the sensation slow and soft, or is it compressed and bouncy? If it’s a shooting game, do the weapons feel heavy, or are they light and twitchy?
This is particularly important if you’re transitioning between similar games – such as when you begin playing the sequel of a game you’re already familiar with. While many aspects will be the same, it’s important to learn the subtle differences.
Now that you have a sense for how the game plays, you can begin filling in the blanks in your knowledge. Not all games will have in-depth strategy to them, but all will have useful techniques or pieces of information that you should learn.
For example, while it’s technically not impossible to get by playing a game like poker with having a good understanding of the various poker terminology, knowing these will empower you to think about and discuss the game with greater fluency, aiding learning.
Likewise, someone playing a triple-A shooter will want to begin learning the layout of the various maps in-game. There’s more to this than simply running around and learning where the various choke-points are – you’ll want to begin developing an understanding of where the sightlines are, and where advantageous weapon drops will spawn.
This knowledge will separate you from mere novices, and give you a significant edge on players who don’t know how to move around without exposing themselves to enemy fire unduly.
Once you’ve got a feel for the game, and know your way around its various systems and rules, then begin the work of development. This will look different for every game, but the pattern will be familiar – begin playing and practising your gameplay, and keep an eye out for areas of improvement.
This could be noting that you often die on a specific map, or that specific chess openings cause more problems for you than others. Recording these things can often result in faster development, but this approach may not be a good fit for all gamers.
Either way, once you’ve identified areas to work on, you can then begin targeting these. As you continue to play, new questions will arise – born from your own gameplay, from watching better players, or as a result of spontaneous questioning. Keep these in mind, and diligently seek to address them in turn.
In truth, this final step never ends – even top level gamers and athletes continually improve and develop through active reflection.