*this is going to be a relatively long post. I originally wrote it with my Facebook friends in mind so to those familiar with StarCraft, some things might seem ridiculously basic. Honestly, it's more about my own personal growth than the game itself, and I figured I'd post it here just in case someone might find it interesting*
"All Life's Lessons Can Be Learned By Playing StarCraft".
This was the name of a joke Facebook Group that I had joined randomly just for fun a long time ago, back when Facebook still had groups and not just pages. At the time, it really was just a joke, and in many ways, it still is, but sometimes the fiction becomes the truth, or you learn new things from familiar stories.
So today, I'm going to talk about a few simple life lessons that I learned while playing StarCraft. Now of course, this is not to imply that it was only through StarCraft that I learned these things, or that there aren't multiple ways to do so. Of course, I encourage everyone to learn how to play, haha. If we're willing, we can learn from almost *anything* in life, you just have to be willing and ready to understand.
First off, a little bit of background info for those that may not be very familiar with what I'm talking about - StarCraft is a real-time strategy video game played on the computer with a keyboard and mouse. It was released more than ten years ago, and in many ways is quite outdated - it certainly isn't anywhere as near as popular as it once was, and a relatively niche community remains playing and following it as played competitively primarily in Korea. The game is extremely deep - many things going on at once that demand your attention; a good player must be constantly aware, multitasking, knowing when and where to spend his/her time and energy. Position the army for battle? Develop infrastructure, strengthen defenses, go on a guerilla strike on the enemy's supply lines?
The extreme basics of the game are fairly easy. Collect resources, use those resources to produce armies, and use those to defeat your opponent. Of course, how to do so is the hard part, and the skill level disparity and difficulty "ceiling" is so high that a casual player can easily defeat one that has little experience with the RTS genre, a mediocre player will defeat the casual player easily, an average player such as myself can defeat a mediocre player 9 matches out of 10, and so on.
For a while, I was semi-serious about truly getting good at the game (relatively speaking), not really for any important reason other than the fact that I enjoyed it, and wanted to challenge myself, to see how far I could go. Unlike a sport like basketball where the limits imposed by physical size and natural talent become a readily apparent roadblock quickly (just go to the CCRB and you'll easily find people stronger and faster than you are by far), there are relatively few physical reasons for why you cannot play StarCraft well. Perhaps if you're missing one of your hands or your fingers cannot react well, or something like that... but theoretically, anyone has the potential to play relatively well. Anyway, around a year ago I decided to give it a shot, within my own personal context, of course, meaning that school and meetings would still trump practice time if push came to shove, though I'll have to admit that I screwed up my sleep schedule and eating patterns a bit, unfortunately. I price I hope was worthwhile, but honestly it probably wasn't.
I used to only play with my brother and a few real life friends, but whenever I went to the online ladder to find opponents, I would always lose, in quite humiliating fashion. I wondered why I couldn't get good - I was beating my friends quite easily using all sorts of "clever" strategies whenever I wanted to, but I just couldn't win against other people. It wasn't until I went on a winter semester study abroad program in Japan that I truly learned how to *start* learning. A geography lesson! The best StarCraft players in the world are Korean. The pro scene is backed up by a relatively large amateur scene, with many kids practicing their hearts out just to get a chance to prove themselves (more on this in another post), and the general culture is such that almost everyone (I recognize this is an exaggeration, but compared to in other countries, it feels this way) plays or at least knows of the game. The general quality of players in Korea is just a step above those in other places. And since I was living in Japan, pretty much sharing a time zone with Korea, I ended up playing more Korean players than I ever did before, and I lost... a lot. That was the first time in which I actually maintained a losing record over the course of the season (a 43% win percentage), and I learned *immensely* from it. After coming back to the States I pretty much advanced two iCCup levels.
Before that, I frequented many StarCraft sites and would visit strategy threads, hoping for tips and tricks, for insight on how to become a smarter and better player, and there was often a lot of great advice there, but it never really sunk in, perhaps because StarCraft is just that kind of game where you can't just theorize, but you have to *do*. I'll provide an example: in the "Protoss" vs "Zerg" matchup, all Protoss players are taught to quickly get a stargate and warp in a flying unit, using that flying unit to examine the Zerg base and see what kind of units the Zerg player is building, allowing the Protoss to react accordingly. There are may things that you can find out with that scouting airplane, such as if the Zerg is accumulating an air army or ground army, when he is planning to attack based upon the number of workers he has and the number of production facilities he has created, and so forth. Of course, there are times when you as the Protoss may get greedy and will think, "I'll first shoot down one of his Overlords... and I'll still have enough time to fly over to his base and see what he's doing."
And of course, occasionally that worked for me, generally against bad players. Most of the time though, I would then promptly lose, perhaps because the Zerg was massing air units and I hadn't prepared adequate defenses, or that he had chosen to go for one strong frontal attack and I had chosen to take a risk and go for a dangerous plan that might pay off later in he game. After losing all those games, I gradually learned the wisdom of sending that first flying unit to the Zerg base, and carefully observing what he had done. Just as the forum veterans had taught me.
And that's lesson number one: learn from others wiser than you. Of course, this is an extremely simple example but I'm not an eloquent writer so this is what you get. As children, we're taught *many* different things; "do this", "don't do that". Sometimes you get a concrete reason for it, sometimes you get something along the lines of, "because I said so." And in most countries we have a choice as to whether or not to follow those instructions, or advice, as it generally turns into as you mature and your elders start to explain things to you differently. Anyway, when you're young, you might do as your parents say, follow your teacher's instructions, recite good sunday school answers. But most people start to rebel after a certain point. You want to find out with your own eyes, your own hands."Always bring an umbrella"? Psshh, what are the odds. "Plan for uncertainty when travelling?" Meh, I won't be that unlucky. "Always be prepared for a DT rush". Cheese? On iCCup?
I can't remember exactly when it was that I truly realized how many people understood something better than I did. StarCraft made this VERY obvious to me. Of course if you think about it, you can learn this lesson almost anywhere - perhaps while you're learning the violin while growing up, or you're failing at free throws, or how you just can't figure out what the professor means by "3 standard deviations". But StarCraft *really* showed me how I was a total noob. Now this may seem a little bit patronizing to some of my friends with whom I've played before, because I almost always destroyed them, rarely ever losing a single game when playing serious one on ones. And in a sense, I'm not a bad StarCraft player in the universal sense. If you can maintain a solid D+ ranking on the global StarCraft iCCup ladder, you're among the top 15th percentile of players in the whole world, by my estimates. If you can climb to C-, you're among the top 10th percentile. So in that sense, I recognize that I'm decent, and that most of my friends will never have a chance against me unless they put in a lot more time and effort into the game.
But through playing others significantly stronger than me, I realized how much I didn't know. In a sense, when I first started, I was so inexperienced that I didn't know what I didn't know yet. It is only when you realize how insignificant you are (in a sense) that your heart is willing and able to learn with enthusiasm. It is typically the physically sick that realize they need a doctor, the spiritually broken that know they need God. Of course, most of us will get there eventually one way or the there, but oftentimes it is unfortunately too late. So many don't start to adjust their living habits, to start eating healthier foods, to worry about chemical additives and hormones in our meat, until they actually get sick from it, or develop cancer, or something sad like that. Not so much a pity that they got cancer, but rather a pity that it took cancer to get them to open their eyes to how the way they'd been living their lives was slowly destroying them.
And once I had been thoroughly humbled, I was ready to learn. Now when I was in high school, my attitude was, "doubt everything". Be skeptical. In many ways, this has served me well, and has left me willing and ready to learn about things for myself, to maintain a healthy curiosity for the world, to find out how and why things are the way they are, and so forth. I heavily encourage healthy skepticism. However, there is always the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater when you feel that nothing can be trusted. When you're humble, you realize that you yourself don't have all the answers (at least not yet - maybe you never will), and you're more willing to listen to others. Now, discernment is an extremely important skill to cultivate, because you're going to get some good advice from others, but also a lot of piss poor advice as well. "Trusting" people blindly is not, in fact, trust at all. Rather, you're actually unwilling to take the time and energy to get to know them, understand them, and figure out what kind of relationship is best for the both of you. To truly trust someone is to have evaluated their heart thoroughly, to take a leap of faith (which may simply be a hop depending on how well you've read them), and know that they have your back, and you have theirs. If it turns out you were wrong... well, you have to keep working on it then, because clearly you weren't able to figure out who was trustworthy yet.
Now of course, I am not saying that one should be suspicious of everyone. There are various mental shortcuts that are for the most part, dependable, that you should most definitely take advantage of - for example, if you're in a healthy church, you can generally heed the advice you receive there, even if you don't understand it yet. Again, to clarify, that doesn't mean that you should not take the time to actually grow in understanding, just that you shouldn't necessarily wait until you fully understand something to first believe or follow it, for the time being. For example, when I was child, I was taught from countless sources to be grateful to my parents. Now there was a time when I would kind of think, "Well yeah, they gave birth to me and being alive is pretty cool... but that's pretty much it, right?" I took many things for granted. My education, my clothing, my housing, everything. Hell, it wasn't until I moved out and started having to cook for myself consistently every day in college that I finally realized how much work it actually had been for my Mom to cook for my brother and I, almost every single day as we were growing up. So now, with hindsight, I understand what it is to be grateful to my parents, and why, and this is a lesson that will stick with me forever because I learned it the hard way, and so it's a good lesson learned in that sense.
Yet wouldn't it have been even better if I had been able to listen, and be thankful for them even *before* I was mentally cornered? It's like the person that doesn't stop driving recklessly until one day he gets into a terrible car crash. If you're able to grasp when someone is trying to teach something good to you, then follow it as early as you can. If it turns out to be incorrect, then you still can discard it from your personal values, and move on - that's growth.
But back to StarCraft. The second lesson I learned was that there really aren't shortcuts in life. At least, not when it comes to true growth. Through participating in the Collegiate StarCraft League last year, playing on the University of Michigan's team against other schools, I was able to meet quite a few decent players at Michigan that I could play with and discuss strategies with on a fairly regular basis, which is a huge improvement over playing random strangers on the internet. Demographically, think this is almost the ideal age to find StarCraft veterans. The game was released in 1998, so about 10 years ago, when people roughly my age were 11-13 years old. Seems like an ideal time to get into a cool game. People younger than that might have been drawn to other games, like Supreme Commander, or Call of Duty, people older than that might still only play Pac Man or Tetris. At any rate, the point is I met a bunch of guys at Michigan that could kick my ass easily, and were willing and able to explain to me how they did it, and what I was doing wrong.
Of course, there was practice. I'd play countless games with Tianyi over and over again on the same map, practicing the same build (FE vs 5pool), until I got the timing right, knowing how to defend in that situation. Hot_Bid would play the most annoying turtle Zerg style ever and I'd suicide zealots into sunken/spore/lurk lines over and over again until I realized that it was pointless and I'd have to find another way to beat him. Matt would rage over Protoss imba and I'd know to do that strategy again on that map because apparently it was super effective. I'd stick a post-it note next to my computer monitor reminding me when to build what for maximum effectiveness and work on it until I didn't need to look at the numbers anymore, but *knew* when the time was right. I learned many things through hour of practice, but other things from being taught.
I remember one night at the end of last semester, a few buddies of mine from AIV were playing Brood War in the Fishbowl (a huge computer lab on campus), and we met some casual Korean players, and so everyone started playing one on ones for fun. It was probably 10pm or so (we ended up going until 3AM, I think). We'd win some, lose some... I won most of mine, since most of the players there were all casuals, Korean or not. There was this one kid though, Joohyun/Tim, who destroyed me ZvP. I thought, "figures, ZvP is imba, Tianyi beats me all the time too." (In hindsight, this was a pretty natural conclusion - the kid was #1 liquibet one season, and you can't win that unless you know your StarCraft.)
Then he did it PvP. Now, losing a Protoss vs Protoss is quite possibly the most frustrating for me, because in a mirror matchup, you can't blame anything on imbalance - your opponent has access to exactly the same units and tech possibilities as you do, so if you lose, it all comes down to skill. And so I asked him how it was that he could always pressure me, knowing when to attack or retreat, and so forth. He gave me various tips but one that stuck out in my mind was, "control of that wide bridge outside of your natural on Fighting Spirit is absolutely crucial". It's very true, but I'm not going to explain why here.
Point is though, I don't see that as a "shortcut" - at least, not for me. In a sense, all the learning we do could be categorized as a shortcut, to the point where the term is meaningless - you probably would have figured out addition eventually, but you learned a LOT faster than you might have because your 1st grade teacher taught you how to do it. I probably would have figured out the importance of controlling various areas and strategic points on a StarCraft map myself eventually, but I was able to take Tim's advice, and it was good. But overall, this little tip didn't make me a good player. I still had to develop the handspeed required to be able to execute strategies, had to memorize what certain buildings meant when my scout flew over my enemy's base, still had to learn how many seconds it would take for my enemy's Zerglings to reach my front door through just playing many games, and losing most of them. You learn from your own experience. Of course, when you're a noob player, many things you learn can help improve your game drastically so they *feel* like shortcuts, but once you reach a certain level, you realize that this is it - you have to put together the pieces for yourself. If you don't put in a lot of hard work and effort into the basics, you'll never get good. You'll never be a truly good basketball player until you can dribble without looking at the ball.
Ultimately, I wasn't able to reach my original goal of achieving a C+ ranking on iCCup before graduating, and there are many reasons for that, but it really isn't that big of a deal. The important thing is that I grew from this experience, came to understand what it was that I was lacking, that there was a whole world ahead of me that I was just slowly coming into. Lessons I learned from playing StarCraft that I could carry on to other aspects of life.
So the "too long, didn't read" version of this post is something like:
1) Be humble, willing to learn from others, and develop the ability to discern what sort of advice you should follow, and what to discard, and whom from
2) At a certain point, there aren't any shortcuts. What you get out of something is largely what you put into it.
... dang, I'm long winded.
AIV_Funnytoss and sGs.Funnytoss on iCCup
TheEpicLolz Canada. September 19 2010 13:06. Posts 72
K dude. Uhm. I read the too long ,didn't read version of your post, and I think 'm gonna save this one for tomorrow cuz it's midnight here and my eyes (even though I'm a gamer) are tired. From the looks of it, it seems like a quality post so I'll check it out tomorrow. :D
Creek United States. September 19 2010 13:21. Posts 177
Nice post, interesting perspective. I have to agree, the more you learn the more you realize how much there is to learn. As Isaac Newton said "I seem to myself like a child playing on the sea-shore, and picking up here and there a curious shell or a pretty pebble, while the boundless ocean of Truth lies undiscovered before me."
and also GO GREEN!
The number of years it takes for the Internet to move past anything is way, way over 9000.
Exteray United States. September 19 2010 14:28. Posts 1094
Enjoyed reading this immensely. Maybe its because I've thought about the exact same thing; that to try your very best to get good at something strongly encourages personal growth.
Very well put though, so props. my list 1. practice must be given purpose and intention in order to be effective 2. wanting to be good to impress others inevitably creates a mindset less prone to success 3. the stupidity of rash decisions bred from anger 4. how hard it is to always focus on the task at hand
Girl Blog Credentials: Comfortable talking to some women. Tried the sex once
Funnytoss Taiwan. September 20 2010 10:53. Posts 1346
@jonnyp: Go Green indeed, that last play was absolutely ridiculous.
@Exteray: I can't remember when I started getting afraid to lose, but it really was a huge mental roadblock to improvement. I guess we really do go through stages - as a really young child you kind of believe everything, and take things for granted pretty easily, then you start feeling invincible and don't want to challenge that illusion, and then you get a more realistic grasp of who you are what you're capable of... well, I guess not everyone may make it to this last stage.
@meteorskunk: I would agree strongly than practice is at its best when with purpose and intention. That said, I think whether or not I would evaluate something as "effective" or not depends on my goals. For example, if I go running every morning, my goal need not be to train for a marathon and work towards that goal to be effective or "useful". Perhaps in the midst of simply getting up early every morning and running, I develop strong self discipline which carries over nicely into many other realms, though my running in of itself didn't have a clear goal in mind.
I definitely resonate with your other points. Thanks for the feedback all!