If you're a fighting game player, chances are you're mostly self-taught, an autodidact of sorts. Sure, if you take the game seriously at all, you probably pick up tools, tricks, combos and gimmicks from your friends, or online, or simply absorb them through experience with the game – but I'm willing to bet that the way in which you implement those tools into your arsenal is largely unstructured and self-implemented.
There might be a few of you who take lessons from the wonderful teachers out there like Air
, but chances are you don't - and if you are among those few who take lessons, remember: a teacher can can only do their best to point you in the right direction, but they can't take you there. As Zen Buddhists say, "the finger that points at the moon is not the moon
Compare the situation in the fighting game scene, even at its top levels, among professional players, with the elite in various competitive sports. As I said, fighting game players, even those who are part of teams, are largely self-taught and self-trained. Compare that to say, Olympic gymnastics or the UFC, where an athlete will have an extensive set of coaches and trainers dedicated to maximizing their potential in various areas. It's a safe bet that governments and sponsors aren't going to pour the amount of money into competitive Street Fighter that they are willing to contribute to Olympic gymnastics, and it's also unlikely that high-level King of Fighters play is ever going to compete with the UFC for the lucrative pay-per-view market, which makes copying this state of affairs essentially impossible.
That leaves those of us who take fighting games seriously with the daunting task of doing what we can to improve as efficiently as possible with the time that we have, whcih requires smart scheduling as we juggle gameplaying time with the routine of our lives. Of course, the old wisdom about spending a significant part of that time playing against good players is absolutely true, and that should of course be our primary focus. That being said, training specific skills is important too – and even if you're hardcore, and you spend time every day in training mode practicing important techniques like bread-and-butter combos, safe jumps, hit confirms and such, you've probably given significantly more thought to what you're practicing than when you practice it.
Why is that? That question of WHEN is ultimately a question of maximizing one's efficiency. Skills in fighting games are like any other kind of knowledge – they take time to acquire and take practice to implement in a practical fashion – a learning curve.
Perhaps just as importantly, they take time to maintain, too, or else you'll lose them – a forgetting curve.
I'm guessing that most of you have heard of learning curves. Take a quick look around here on SRK and other fighting game forums, and you'll find lots of statements like "Character X has a really steep learning curve" or "I bought game Y but it took me a while to figure out how to play, the learning curve was really high"
But how many of you have paid any attention to forgetting curves? The forgetting curve is something discovered by a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus
back in the 1880s – basically, it just means that there's a predictable rate at which we forget information. Ebbinghaus was also the first to describe learning curves – a widely used concept, as I've mentioned, but his discovery of the forgetting curve seems to be largely forgotten.
Ebbinghaus also discovered that along with this predictable rate at which we forget information,
there's a process through which we can efficiently move that information to our long-term, easily recalled memory, where it comes out with barely a thought.
How? By reminding ourselves of the information at a set time – specifically, when we're nearly about to forget it. If we remind ourselves too early, it can be good practice but it may be time that could be spent more efficiently just playing or learning something else, not to mention doing the things we need to do in our daily lives outside of playing games. On the other hand, if we remind ourselves too late, no good either – it's like learning all over again, which is inefficient. The trick is to remind ourselves, just before we forget, and space those reminders out over longer and longer periods until the information is comfortably embedded in our long term recall.
For about a hundred years after Ebbinghaus discovered the forgetting curve, the concept was thought to be a scientific curiosity at best. After all, just how are we supposed to calculate when we're going to forget something? If we spent our time just doing that, we'd have very little time to learn anything new, or review it for that matter. It's just far beyond the capacity of most to spend time continuously doing that for each item we learn. But it's NOT beyond the capacity of computers to do it for us.
Enter the Spaced Repetition System. (SRS)
The SRS is a computer program that's like a flashcard system, but smarter. Instead of just shuffling the deck and reviewing the cards in a random way, each card is given a schedule, based upon when you've seen it last, how many times you've seen it, how difficult it was for you to get it right, and so on. When 'answering' each card, you assign a difficulty level to it, based on how easy or hard you found it to get right, and the program adjusts the schedule accordingly. If you found it particularly easy, a little extra time might be added until you see the item again – particularly hard and you'll get that card again a little quicker. Didn't get it right at all or feel uncomfortable with the item? Tell the program, and the schedule for that card will be reset to the beginning and you'll have a chance to review it more often as if you just learned it. It really works – I've personally used it to memorize thousands of kanji (Japanese characters) but this is no great feat of memory. In fact, my memory and concentration are terrible. I mean, really, really terrible – I have chronic fatigue and unfortunately the 'brain fog' that frequently comes along with it.
The SRS program needs to be used daily in order to maximize its effectiveness, and it gets better with more use – the more you use it, the better it gets at scheduling your reviews so you see things you find more difficult more often and things you find less difficult less often.
Now how could this be used for fighting games? That's up to you, but I propose the following approach: Perform the combo, counter, reversal, or whatever the item on the card is, 10 times in a row, on both the left side and right side, and base your response in the program on how easy or hard you found it to accomplish that task. Pretty straightforward!
There are a number of SRS programs out there: Anki
, and Supermemo
are likely the most popular. I recommend Anki, personally – it's flexible, highly customizable, and powerful.
If you have a regular fighting game training routine, there are some skills that would likely be much more well suited to regular, even daily practice than they would be to scheduling with a spaced repetition system. Generic, non-character specific bread and butter combos, difficult links and such may be among them, in order to keep the muscle memory as sharp as possible.
But there are other situations that are much more situational or specific that we simply don't have the time to practice on a regular basis, and as such, they generally get practiced once in a while at best, with no real rhyme or reason behind when we do so, and no systematic approach to implementing them into our game. I know I've personally found myself in the situation of thinking "I wish I had countered X with Y" after a loss – but I didn't, because at the time, I FORGOT.
Suppose you need to figure out counters to some Blanka gimmicks that annoy you, or you have a great combo that only works on Dhalsim, or want to practice a new way to knock out Dark Phoenix during her transformation, or whatever. It's these sorts of matchup and metagame-based situations that are PERFECT to input into SRS, so you get regular, scheduled training in them in the most efficient way possible, which helps you to maximize the amount of time you spend on other things.
Another good, no-mess way to use the SRS to level up that could be of particular use to beginners trying to learn how to play would be to schedule cards around various challenge mode trials. While some of these combos might not be optimized compared to the bread-and-butter combos regularly seen in tournaments, they're certainly not useless and offer a great potential entry point to those first incorporating SRS into their fighting game routine.
The uses are nearly limitless. Want to schedule your footsies practice in training mode against a particular character's best poke? Make a card for it, set the dummy in training mode to play back that poke over and over, and practice. Have a nice option select that works on wakeup? Make a card for it.
Even if you wanted to schedule your practice for a particular character matchup OUTSIDE of training mode, in a live fight, you could make a card for that too, providing you know a player or two who use that character well and they agree to play a few sets whenever that particular card comes up – you can score the card based upon how comfortable you feel with the matchup. Again, the potential is nearly limitless even by yourself, and it only increases as SRS users network with each other to schedule games and exchange information. That sort of efficiency in scheduling could help the whole competitive community level up.
There's also the wonderful possibility of the FGC making decks and sharing them with each other, a very real possibility considering that Anki and other SRS programs allow users to not only create decks but share them with other users of the program. This could help not only with the forgetting curve issue, but the learning curve as well, as character and matchup knowledge becomes increasingly systematized and refined, potentially providing a more efficient jumping-on-point for new players who are serious about getting better.
If you want to practice multiple games, practicing with SRS may help you to juggle your training time more efficiently between them, as the scheduling will adjust according to how easy/hard you find the techniques on the flashcards to perform, meaning that if you're struggling with the cards you've made for one game more than another, you're going to see those cards more often, which helps you level up in the game where you're more lacking.
There are some drawbacks with the spaced repetition approach. For one, it requires a fair bit of daily dedication to maximize its effectiveness – if you miss your daily reviews, it messes up the optimization of your review schedule.
Also, certain fighting games last a long, long time competitively, but not every game can have the longevity of ST or MvC2, or even that of the SF4 series. Others come and go very quickly, while the SRS approach is designed to drill the information in our heads long-term. Before that long term comes, the game might be dead competitively.
But despite these objections, I strongly believe that spaced repetition creates the potential for a a vastly improved, scientific approach to training in fighting games.