Let’s go back in time to 1991, when Street Fighter II: The World Warrior had just launched. It was pretty much the first game of its kind, so nobody had any prior experience that would be of much use to them. There was nobody to tell them how to do the moves (unless you were lucky enough to have a cabinet with a movelist, and even that was only so much help), nobody to tell them how each character was “supposed” to play, which characters were easy for newbies, which characters were only for seasoned players, etc. Players went up to the machine, put in their quarter, assumed the controls (didn’t have to worry about what stick to use either, that decision was made for you, and they were for the most part incredibly crappy compared to what we have now) and tried their hardest to beat the other player.
There was no Training Mode. There were no forums. Barely anyone had the internet, and even if you were one of the lucky few, there was so much misinformation about the game flying around that separating the legit from the nonsense was just about impossible, since there was sure as hell no YouTube to prove that something worked. There were no match videos, not even from the next city over, let alone from the best players in Japan.
Yet, somehow, these are the players that laid the foundation for the theory of high level fighting game play that we take for granted today. They found mixups. They found footsies before anyone knew what footsies were. They found crossups back when they were called “neck kicks”, combos back when they were “two-in-ones”, and tick throws back when they were just plain old “cheaps”. Back when tick throws were such a dominating tactic that abusing them could get you kicked out the arcade at best, shanked at worst, they figured out that by doing a move with one-frame timing you could escape them. They figured out what makes every character work, and the optimal method of playing them. They even found obscure glitches like Guile’s Handcuffs and Magic Throw. And, again, they did this all without match videos, internet, or any form of received wisdom. How the hell did they do it?
BY PLAYING THE GAME!!!
By going up to the machine, experimenting, trying everything possible, discarding what didn’t work and abusing the holy hell out of anything that did. Finding counters, and counters to counters, and counters to counters to counters. By losing and watching how the guy behind you in the line deals with the same tactics, by trying to abuse whatever you lost to yourself and seeing how players better than you deal with it. There was no “Fighting Game Community” to run off to and ask to be instructed on how to get good. Hell, a lot of the time your OWN ARCADE couldn’t even be construed as a “community”; why would the guy who just beat you down want to tell you how to take his quarter next time? Anyone who became skilled in this environment did it by sheer force of determination, and, again, by playing the game.
Times have changed a lot, and it would be ignorant to act like the wealth of information available now is an overall negative for players looking to improve (though it certainly does have negative aspects). Still, this central maxim applies as much then as it did now: you get better at the game by playing the game. By experimenting, trying everything, discarding what doesn’t work, and abusing the holy hell out of everything that does. Finding counters, and counters to counters, and counters to counters to counters. By losing and watching how someone else - whether they’re in the room with you, in your lobby, or in a match video - deals with the same tactics, by trying to abuse whatever you lost to yourself and seeing how players better than you deal with it.
As a general rule, if Tomo, Mike and Jeff - all of whom became far, far better players at their game than you will likely ever be at yours, without any of the luxuries you have available to you - didn’t have to worry about it, you don’t have to worry about it either. You don’t need to be told which character to play. Pick your character, and if you can’t win, either figure out why and address the problems you’re having, or if those hurdles seem insurmountable, pick another character.
You don’t need to be told what to learn. Learn what you need to do to win. Both find out things for yourself and imitate effective techniques used by other players. In both cases, if something doesn’t work for you, either discard it or figure out why it isn’t working, then make it work.
Most of all, you don’t, and more importantly, can’t be told “how to get better”. Say it with me: YOU GET BETTER AT THE GAME BY PLAYING THE GAME. Stop worrying so much! I see so many people here who seem to be under the impression that they’re going to learn the game “wrong”, as if that were possible. The game offers a pretty clear metric for whether you’re doing things right or not; can you guess what it is?
If you don’t have the dedication necessary to stick out the rough patches, no amount of received wisdom in the world is going to make you a better player. I highly suggest everyone new to fighting games spends at least a couple of weeks playing the game without appealing to the internet for help. When you inevitably run up against the brick wall of some “undefeatable” tactic, whether you’re willing to struggle through the often-tedious process of trying every possible counter, losing dozens of times before you finally hit upon the solution that lets you win just one match, you will discover whether you possess the dedication necessary to truly be good at the game. If you’re incapable of doing this, you might as well give up now.
Of course, this all applies to teaching other people the game too. You can’t coddle someone into being good. Allow me to quote Seth Killian:
Most people simply don’t have the dedication required to be good, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so don’t try to force it into them. Doing a goofy training program composed of silly little exercises like “this time, I’ll attack you and you just block, so you learn how to block!” is going to accomplish nothing. As the kill-or-be-killed days of SF2 proved, a player with the drive to improve will improve regardless of how little help is available. The best way to teach someone is by pounding them into the dirt over and over and over again - the players who truly want to improve will keep at it, while those who only think they want to improve will eventually, like the little kid going up against Thomas Osaki, find a more productive way to spend their time.
I’m not saying you should shut yourself off from any outside help. But if you’re incapable of finding solutions for yourself, or at least making a serious effort (and I mean serious, not “try for a handful of matches and then give up”), you will never be good. Likewise, if any snippet of knowledge about some individual element of the game isn’t implemented into a holistic understanding, you’ll never be able to apply that knowledge as well as someone who happened upon it organically (by playing the game), and you’re going to find yourself SOL when someone who recognizes the gaps in your knowledge shows up. So post on the forums (but be aware that many people who sound smart often have no clue what they’re talking about) and watch match videos (though you’ll benefit way more from watching players around or slightly above your own level), but never take anything you learn from those sources too much to heart; a forum post or YouTube clip can almost never tell you the whole story. Remember: You get better at the game by playing the game.