Friday, July 28, 2017

Learning from losing

On a similar note to my recent article on tilting, I've been wanting to write a short article about the value of losing.
Well, that sucked. Anyone want to come up with a dangerously complex plan to save Han?
Losing in just about any kind of game is generally viewed in a negative light. To be fair, nobody shows up to a game hoping to lose - it just feels better to win. I'm not going to try to convince you that in bizarro world we should all be trying to lose, so don't worry about that.

Bizarro World sends its regards and will visit you in your nightmares, though.
Instead, I'd like to point out the virtue in losing. Specifically, even if one intends to win and tries to be as competitive as possible, you learn an awful lot more from your losses than your victories. In such a fashion, those who lose, provided they consciously make efforts to learn from their games, gain more knowledge about how to win more consistently (through avoiding mistakes) compared to those who win more often until at some point an equilibrium is reached.

Well that sure sounds good and everything, but how do you actually do that? I find it's easy to get thrown off your game when you lose and learn either nothing or learn the wrong lessons. I'll provide some examples, some of which were also mentioned in the tilting article:

Don't complain about dice...
People like to fixate on dice rolls. Good ones for their opponents, bad ones for them, the times things didn't go the way they wanted to because RNGesus was upset with them. I've seen people lose games and all they seem to have learned or taken away from the game is "the dice screwed me." That kind of response is throwing away an opportunity to get better at the game in the future through confronting your own mistakes in order to feel better about yourself right now because clearly you would've been unstoppable if it hadn't been for those pesky dice.
instead ask yourself why you were in a situation where dice could ruin your plans so badly.
Perhaps you were counting on a single attack to destroy an enemy squadron or ship and you flubbed your attack. Maybe you were counting on an enemy attack to roll average and it spiked high. Either way, the dice let you down. Many lessons can be learned here, depending on the situation. If enemy dice got you, then why? Did you not take a particular threat seriously enough (when it came to order of activation and/or maneuvering)?  If your own dice let you down, then why? Did you not have enough reroll or dice modification effects available to make your important dice rolls more reliable? Did you not have any supporting ships or squadrons around to put additional attacks into your target should your original attack have failed?

In short, what could you have done differently in the game? Could you build your fleet a little differently to make your fleet less susceptible to the wild swings of fate? Maybe your fleet could use a long-ranged sniper ship to help finish off weakened enemy ships? Don't fixate on the dice themselves, think about why the dice producing a result above or below average substantially affected your plans when competitive fleets are generally more resilient to the swings of fate.

Don't complain about things you consider broken...
Gamers love to obsess over things they consider to be too good. Often an early experience catches them by surprise and they just can't let it go and are convinced (insert whatever here) is just the worst. When they face it in the future and it stomps them, that will be the lesson they learn: (such and such) is still broken and horrible for the game and just the worst. That's why their opponent won, because they were a low-life awful person who hates Armada and insists on using (whatever) to win at all costs.
instead, consider what you could have done to limit their effectiveness in the future.
Good stuff is good. People use good stuff to win. So do you; it's just your definition of what is good versus too good may be different from others. Complaining about it doesn't make you any better in the future, though, and you'll note that coming away from the game fixated only on something being "broken" as an explanation for your loss is the same core problem as coming away from a game fixated on bad dice rolls - it makes you feel better right now after you lost (because there was some element of "unfairness" responsible for your loss) but the cost of you feeling better is that's all it does. You're still set up to get torn apart by the same kind of problem in the future, and if anything you may be even moreso likely to lose to it because you're creating a myth in your own mind that (whatever) is unfairly strong and you can't beat it.

Anyways, there are a lot of ways to deal with strong enemy ships/squadrons/upgrades. You'll need to consider why (whatever) was so effective against you, how it works, and what you can do about it in the future. You're not helpless, you just don't yet understand how to deal with an element of the game. Some consideration by yourself and/or discussion amongst your friends or online will often be sufficient to equip you with new tricks to try next time. If that kind of archetype is common in your meta and/or specifically causes your fleet build trouble, it's worth considering what type of fleet adjustments you can make to help you handle it.

So to summarize...
The most important way to benefit from your losses is to do everything you can to shut down your very human impulse to blame your loss on something that was unfair or out of your control in order to salve your disappointment at having lost. If you get nothing else from this article, I absolutely want to stress that losing can help you learn a lot, but your biggest impediment to learning from your losses is you.

So with that said, turning a critical eye to how your game went and considering where things went wrong and what you could have done differently is the key. It's a very simple principle, but the specifics will vary tremendously depending on the situation. I'd love to spell out "so you lost due to X, you should consider doing Y" bullet points, but the variables involved in any particular game are innumerable and therefore I'm hesitant to prescribe solutions without having a lot more contextual information. A problem could be solved through different deployment, different speed settings, different maneuvering, different upgrades, different fleet composition, different squadron usage; all kinds of ways! Once you've identified your mistake and have considered why it occurred and have come up with theories on how to handle that problem next time, you're equipped to test those theories in the future and continue to refine your approach until you find yourself growing increasingly successful.

Final thoughts
Losing can be stressful, but it's rare that I lose a game where I didn't learn something or come up with some idea to improve my play next time. Winning a game doesn't produce those moments as frequently or as strongly. Do your best to dissect your losses and turn your temporary setback into fuel for permanent improvement!