How to Get Better at Video Games

I know what you’re thinking – how could anyone actually put together a guide on getting better at video games? There are too many genres to cover, too many devices, too many strategies, too much to go over!

If you want to get better at video games, you must focus!

Well, I partially agree. That’s why I’ll be breaking things down piece by piece in many posts. The end result should be a dossier on improving your video game abilities, hopefully with input from the Average Gamer community.

In this first volume, I’m going to write from a 30,000-foot view of the subject. I’ll touch on some of the larger components of video games and the immediate actions that you can take to step up your game.

For future volumes, I’ll get granular about specific sections, providing more in-depth guides with game-specific examples. Everyone I’ve talked to has said they have more fun when they play better (read “win”). I think it’s a fair assumption that they represent the larger population of gamers pretty closely.

This guide assumes that you already have a game that you’re looking to improve. If you need help finding a game to play, I’m happy to provide suggestions based on what you’re interested in!

How to get better at video games!

Understand the “win conditions”

In most games, there’s a specific thing (or things) you need to do in order to be victorious. It’s common that the player has to achieve X within Y amount of time. Here are some of the common themes in this format:

  • Score the most points within 4 quarters
  • Get the highest number of kills within 15 minutes
  • Reach the finish line first

Other games, particularly RPGs, are more nuanced. You may be required to accomplish several missions that lead up to a final boss and/or task. Quests are typically laid out very clearly and are sometimes timed.

You can’t get better at video games without knowing how you can win!

Understand the rules

Once you understand your game’s win condition, you need to understand the rules of the game. For sports games, these are well established – fouling someone in the act of shooting results in a free throw, three strikes at bat means the batter is out, and stepping out of bounds ends the play. You get the idea.

With most other genres, the rules can be as straightforward or as complex as the developers’ creativity takes them. In Pong, you literally just bounce the ball back and forth. There are other games where the instruction manual is 226 pages!

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No matter the complexity, if you really want to improve at a game, you should fully comprehend each rule, corollary, and loophole for the given title. Combining this knowledge with the win condition will give you a firm foundation to build on as you progress in your skill level.

Get comfortable with the controls

Somewhere in the rule book, you should see the controls for the game. Oftentimes, this is available in-game as well in an ‘options’ or ‘settings’ menu.

Each button on your controller (or keyboard) will typically correspond to somewhere between zero and four actions. For unmapped – no action assigned to the button – buttons, you have some flexibility. You can remap an action to that icon in the settings menu if it feels more comfortable for you. For mapped buttons, memorize exactly what each button does.

Your comfort level with the buttons will grow as you play the game, but it’s important to know the layout before booting up the system. As you get better at the game, your muscle memory will take over so you don’t need to actively think about button presses.

NBA 2k19 Control Scheme
The default control scheme for NBA 2k19
Figure out the game mechanics

Game mechanics is a broad term and I’ll go much deeper on this topic in a separate topic. My interpretation is that game mechanics reflect how a player interacts with the in-game environment including movement and physics. This is a huge aspect of what makes a game appealing to a particular set of gamers.

Game mechanics govern what you’re able to do and how well you’re able to do it given mastery of the component. In shooting games, the primary game mechanic is aiming. For sports games, this includes passing, dribbling, and skill moves.

Generally, the more game mechanics there are, the more complex the game will be. You’ll need to spend more time to get good at the game but the difference between high-level and average players will be vast. 

A game with low game mechanics can still be challenging – see Flappy Bird – but have a reputation for being more simplistic.

Set up your game environment

If you’re lucky, you’ll have an area in your home dedicated to gaming. That means you can customize it the way you see fit.

Firstly, make sure the ergonomics of your setup allow for extended periods of sitting. If you have an adjustable chair, that’s your best bet for customization. Check out this guide for some pointers. If you are a PC gamer, these tips from Posturite will set you up for success.

It’s not required and can get pretty expensive, but gaming chairs may be worth the investment for you. For multi-hour gaming marathons, the added comfort is a huge benefit to your body. There’s a high level of adjustments to conform to your body type and will relieve pressure on your neck, back, and shoulders.

Lastly, think about your position relative to your screen. You want to sit as close to the center of the screen as possible. Also, you need to account for the distance from the screen depending on display size. 

For TVs, you’ll usually be a few feet away. With a computer screen, it’s obviously much closer

In either case, you’ll want to take regular breaks from staring at the screen to prevent eye fatigue.

My setup to get better at video games
My desk, circa May 2019
Complete training

Many games have a training mode available. At the base level, you’ll see a sandbox arena where you can practice pressing buttons to see the corresponding action. In the best-case scenario, the developers grace you with specific skill challenges that walk you through each aspect of the game. These are most common in sports games and are becoming popular in shooters as well.

Don’t skip out on the training!

It can be tempting to dive headfirst into the campaign to get your feet wet with real-time action. Unless you have experience with a prior version of the game, it’s easy to miss key features in the latest release. Even when you’ve played through prequels, there is a high likelihood that the current game will have additional game mechanics to master.

Practice the basics and you’ll be able to get better at video games much faster.

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Jump into the game

After you’ve practiced enough to feel comfortable with the controls and game mechanics, you’re ready to start the real thing. 

If there’s an offline and online mode, start with the offline mode. Online, you’ll find thousands of players who have more experience with the game and who will likely have an edge on you. In the offline safe haven, you can execute the things you’ve been practicing in a low-pressure environment.

In addition to playing against varying difficulty levels, you have the added benefit of being able to pause the game offline vs most online modes. This is beneficial when you want to take a break or review something that just happened on-screen (more on both of these later).

After a few hours of playing against the CPU, give it a go against a friend or online opponent! Friends will sometimes be more forgiving than the random folks online, but that really depends on your friend group. 

Many games also have an online matchmaking mechanic which pairs you with players in a similar skill bracket. This can help you ramp up to higher levels.

Review your performance

It may sound strange, but looking at replays of your gameplay is a fantastic way to learn what things went wrong. Like a football quarterback who studies film tape, you’ll be able to see things that you may have missed in the heat of the game action.

Most current-gen consoles have a way to record your gameplay (it’s not as robust, but doable, on the Switch) so use this to your advantage. On PC, there are several programs that you can download for easy screen capture. Here are some of the highest-rated ones that you can pick up for free:

In reviewing game footage, analyze the decisions you made and think about what you could have done differently to put yourself in a more advantageous position. 

You may notice that your positioning could have been better while approaching the enemy. There could have been a better time to use a specific ability. Log this information in your head so you can reference the info in the future.

It’s difficult to see every scenario possible in any video game, but you should run into the most common situations pretty frequently. Try to understand what gameplay tendencies you have that are holding you back. To take it a step further, write down what you notice and keep notes on your progress.

Once you have a solid understanding of where you have gaps in your play, it’s time for targeted learning.

Recording software to review your gameplay
I use Elgato Game Capture to record on PS4
Seek tips and tricks

These days, you can learn anything online. For visual learners, YouTube is your friend. You’ll find video tutorials that cover everything under the sun. Additionally, Reddit provides great supplemental data in their forums. 

Many games also have dedicated sites to help players improve. Do some quick Googling to see if your title falls into this category.

As a general rule, any video/article that has “## tips to improve at XYZ game” in the description and has a good amount of views will benefit new players. Pinterest is a great source to find this content as well.

Practice learned knowledge

Now that you’ve learned new things, it’s time to put that knowledge into practice. It can be tempting to try a bunch of things at once, but you’ll be better off focusing on one aspect of the game at a time.

With your primary focus in mind, choose a number to improve. Some common examples are accuracy and kill/death ratio. In certain cases, you’ll have a qualitative measurement like “was I able to complete this specific mission?”. If possible, try to break this down into smaller chunks.

Practice makes perfect – read ‘better’ – and you will want to get in as many repetitions as possible with the determined skill.

Ask friends for feedback

The people you play with the most will likely be able to point out some areas of improvement. Ask for general feedback on your performance then tell your friends to get specific based on what you’re hearing. If multiple people are giving the same criticism, that’s a good place to start.

Take their feedback seriously but don’t take things personally. If your skills increase, the overall skill level of the group goes up, and everyone benefits.

Another option is to let friends view your gameplay in real-time or send your recordings for analysis. Receiving feedback in real-time can be a great way to adjust your play on the fly.

At the same time, if someone is being toxic or unhelpful, don’t hesitate to seek advice from a different person. Your goal is to get better at the video game, not get destructive criticism.

Surround yourself with people who are better at the game than you

With the rise of Discord and sub-Reddits, it’s easy to find a community of gamers who are as excited about a game as you are. Your best bet for improving your skills is by playing with and against people who are more experienced than you are. People are generally willing to help once you’ve found the right group and you can ask pointed questions to crowdsource feedback. 

Streaming is also becoming more popular. Type the name of a video game into the Twitch search bar and the results will give you an abundance of gamers to learn from. The most popular ones typically have the most skill so click through a few of them to find a personality that you like.

These days, you can hire a video game trainer for as low as $5. If you are willing to spend some real cash, there are high-level players out there who are willing to coach you through several sessions. 

Lastly, you can do some research into joining a team that has arranged practices and scrimmages. This is mostly for people who have a good handle on the game, but it can be a great way to bring additional rigor to your training.

Stay calm

Many people will tell you that “it’s just a game”, but things can get plenty tense in the virtual world. When your environment gets really stressful, remind yourself that you shouldn’t get mad, you should get better.

Recall all the training that you’ve put in and how far you’ve come. Take a deep breath in between games, maybe hop into the solo mode for a bit, or try an easier level.

If you can stay calm while playing, you will inherently perform better. Some level of stress is good for increasing your awareness, but you’ll notice a drop-off in performance at a certain point.

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Take a break

When all else fails, step away from the game. Walk outside, eat some food, and catch up on the latest memes of the day. Anything to reset your mind from a rage state.

In fact, it’s better to rage quit than it is to stay in a game when you’re feeling frustrated. Try your best not to throw the controller or punch the screen, but go ahead and let out a scream, turn off the system, and walk away.

Your video game will still be there the next day, so get back into it after you’ve returned to a positive mental state.

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Celebrate small wins

There will be milestones along your journey which are cause for celebration. Take pride in how far you’ve come!

It’s clear that gamers value achievements based on how people clamor for in-game trophies and badges. Give yourself a real-world treat when you do something impressive. Junk food stimulates the brain’s reward system but maybe you can find a healthier alternative!

Tying it all together

You’re taking the right steps to get better at video games. At any step in the process, you can always return to a previous checkpoint. Anyone can get better at video games with the proper process and preparation.

Keep in mind that getting better at video games takes time. The more you practice, the better your game sense will develop. Additionally, you’ll have more chances to try new things that you learn along the way.

Finally, if you want to join a supportive community, check out our discord! We talk about all kinds of games and can help you out on your journey. Happy gaming!

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Do you have any tips and tricks for the community to get better at video games? Join the conversation in the comments section!

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