What Games Teach – Training

I’m not going to bore you with any of my Monster Hunter Tri Escapades today. Mainly because there is a Barroth out there that makes me go to a dark place every time I even think about it. Last time I remember I was poisoning bugs so I could make a sleek looking suit out of them, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Instead I want to start another series because it worked so well in the past (NOT!). This time I want to talk about a couple of small observations on what games teach. The thing is that nowadays we are so very much obsessed at making “serious games” – games that teach stuff. I feel that in this process we often end up abandoning the things that makes games great in the first place. And even without making the extra effort games actually teach a lot. They do so at a very low, sub-conscious level. Of course these may not be actually good things. Some of them are even dangerous stereotypes. But that’s OK, I don’t want to be too judgmental here. I merely wanted to point out some observations.

So one area where games seem to have parallels to real-life is training, especially physical training. It is a well established meme in games that your character actually gets stronger as you progress trough the game. This may be most prominent in RPGs where you literally get experience points as you fight monsters. But even in a game like Metroid or Doom you get more bad-ass as you progress, even if it is trough items. This idea culminates in the concept of “grinding” where players endure repetitive tasks because they may turn out to be beneficial in the long run. Sounds very much like physical training, right?

You see, not quite. As I have written, I have restarted doing some physical exercise myself recently. I actually already did it for a while way back when I went to high school. I was always quite interested in the logistics of it especially because they are so different to games.

I noticed that the biggest difference between grinding and real training is time.

In games you are rarely forced to wait or postpone something. Games are very good at allowing you to instantly pursue every goal, no matter what. So if you grind, you grind intensively and at a time until you are finished. Training on the other hand is about spacing out training intervals over a longer period. You want to train today but you also want to train the day after. And in oder for training to be effective you need to continue training twice every week as long as possible, ideally forever. Training is not a single event and not even a time span like grind is. It is periodic and continuous.

The other thing is that when grinding, the more you put in, the more you get out. If you want to be a super-bad-ass, you just need to grind some more and there you go. Training doesn’t work this way. You body has limits, especially as you start out. It needs rest to regenerate and grow. So training too much will yield negative results at some point.

But it is not all that horrible. Games are very good at teaching how to pursue goals and how to deal with difficulty and failure along the way. The guys from Experience Points Podcast once did a very insightful discussion about how games often put you though those very frustrating experiences. They observed that they have become quite frustration-resistant nowadays. It may have to do with the fact that especially the difficult old-school games all taught the same idea – that failure is simply part of the process. In a way, this is what is also the heart of the grind philosophy. It is the concept that enduring unpleasant experiences may be necessary if you want to achieve greatness. In some cases it is even about finding solace within those unpleasant experiences.

So games do show a very fallacious idea of how training works on the one hand. On the other hand they prepare psychologically very well for the challenges of doing training.

I assume that most of you did some kind of sport in your life at some point. I’m curious, what are your observations?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “What Games Teach – Training”

  1. veronika

    i really liked this post – i think it’s a worthwhile perspective on games and teaching: using what’s there and evaluating it rather than judging it from an external perspective. from a teacher’s point of view, i really liked the idea about learning to tolerate frustration while pursuing a goal and that losing is part of the process of becoming successful.

  2. Kylie

    Grinding doesn’t just train the character in the arbitrary sense of raising experience etc. It also trains the player, specifically their muscle memory in performing certain actions. Regarding modern MMOs and RPGs the grind can be useful, especially when dealing with the complicated strings of moves you’re likely to find in an MMO – attack, special move A, heal, wait for the timer on special move A to reset, use an area attack if another enemy is in range, etc. You train yourself by doing these same move sets again and again while grinding, then if you are attacked by surprised, or by an unfamiliar enemy, or if things go south during a group raid, you can fall back on these tactics with the calmness and precision that only hours of grinding could have given you.

    Back in the early days of fighting games there was a lot of real life training that had to happen – getting down the motions for fireballs, the timing for charge moves, etc. Just like with real life physical training there were diminishing returns on this, and you could quickly get burned out or sore fingers/muscles and have to come back later to rehearse the moves again. Of course that was a relative anomaly until peripheral based games like DDR and Guitar Hero/Rock Band came out.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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