Write It Down – How Pen and Paper Can Improve Your Game

When it comes to fighting games one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten was to keep a record of what I have learned. Write about how you played, how you should play and anything else you can think of relating to your game. Even now, I will admit that the whole reason I’m writing about this is that I sort of forgot about this good habit and stopped writing. Earlier this week, I started getting back into writing about my game with some new tools. So to benefit you and me from the lessons I have learned, I’m reinforcing my knowledge by writing it down here for everyone to read.

Why You Should Keep Notes About Fighting Games 
Keeping notes on your game helps you remember things that are giving you trouble or cool news things you have seen or done in a match – especially between sessions. Writing your mistakes or successes helps re-enforce them in your mind. The chances of you repeating the stuff that doesn’t work becomes less of a factor when you commit them to writing.

If you’re not sold on using writing as a tool to remember or learn things better, read this LifeHacker article that covers the subject pretty well. The article is basically saying that when you write things down, it helps create a link in your mind between the thought of an action (writing “block more” for instance) and actually doing that action (blocking more). Training your brain to react to things or behave in a certain way is of course a good way to get better at that thing, so why not give yourself a leg up!

What You Should Be Writing 
To start out, when you are trying to get better, what kind of things should you be thinking about? Outside of learning a game system, the most important things you want to learn about are the things you have the most trouble with. That means you need to think before you play – setup a game plan. Think while you’re playing – adapting to situations and mind games.  Think after you have played – analysis and future adjustments. A good resource I found helpful on the subject of thinking about playing was an article originally by Buktooth as part of the Shoryuken Pro Strategy Series from a couple years ago.

At first, this kind of thinking might not come naturally to a player. I know I have trouble thinking about a few of these things. Then if you are having trouble conceptualizing purely mentally, try to move your focus out of your mind and into writing.

Here’s a list of things that I like to write about (in order of importance):

  • Bad habits
  • Why I lost
  • Stuff that works
  • Tips from other players
  • Patterns or tendencies of other players
  • Something cool or situational that I’ve discovered
  • Match-up data
  • Combos

The most helpful thing I have ever started writing was my bad habits I have noticed while playing. Make sure to be mindful of your own patterns as well. Do you always throw two fast fireballs and then one slow one? Write it down and stop doing it. If you are noticing it, chances are it’s already being used against you. How often do you think about something that you do that makes you lose just to start doing it again the very next time you played? I am pretty horrible at this myself and I really find that when I put it to writing, the lesson stays with me a lot longer than otherwise.

Other things to write down that I found are most helpful are on things that worked in a match and things that beat me in a match. This is something that can’t always be written down right away – if you’re at a tournament for instance – but it’s pretty easy to do when you’re grinding at home against online opponents. Writing down things that worked are not always as helpful as the things that made you lose but it might give you some insight into thinking about reading other players’ patterns or even just giving yourself a pat on the back for finding a way to stay solid. It can be a nice break from constantly thinking about how you’ve been messing up.

Your notes can serve many purposes and be as detailed or as sparse as you’d like. For instance, in my notes for Jinpachi, instead of writing out all the combos available to him, I keep a could combo starters, a couple enders and a couple of his better launchers along with a link to a Tekken Zaibatsu thread on Jinpachi combos. That way I keep a quick reference to just about any resource I need. An example of a much less detailed but arguably more important file I keep is my list of bad habits. I keep my notes on this short and to the point: “Block more” “Move out of pressure – don’t fight out of pressure”

When You Should Write 
In simplest terms, you should always be writing. Think about what new notes to add, or which existing notes you can review. After all, you are using your notes to help you think about your play and if you’re not thinking, why are you playing in the first place!

Sometimes you’re in a place where you can’t write or you don’t want to be a weirdo bringing a notebook around to your friends place for “serious business”. Writing about your play is an exercise and as long as you’re at least thinking “I should write that down” is at least better than not thinking about writing it at all. If you’re really desperate, write yourself a note on your phone or find something to write on in your wallet.

Where To Write It All 
Note taking tier-list:

  • Text files (C)
  • Paper notebook (B)
  • Note-taking software (S+)

This has been a trial-and-error process for me. I have gone through a few ways of keeping notes and I found the one that works for me. Experiment and do not be afraid to switch things up. You can even write about your notes in your notebook if you really want to get meta about your game.

I used to write in a notebook. I found this to be fast and convenient. But I didn’t like having to drag it everywhere and I could never remember to take it with me in the first place. It also bothered me that I could not easily reorganize or index information.

Another thing I tried was using a text file. You can do multiple things in this case and almost any way of writing things on a computer will have its strengths and weaknesses. You can use a plain-text file like I have, a Word document or even a spreadsheet if you’d like. The formatting is up to you and any information can be found almost immediately. Using a file also lets you be loose with what kinds of notes you keep since it allows for recording URLs to forum posts or images of hit-boxes for quick reference. One major flaw in keeping a file is that it’s not always accessible like other methods, especially if you store your files on a desktop. You can easily fix this by using cloud-based storage like Dropbox.

This week I’ve started using note-taking software like Evernote to help organize my work and home stuff. Then, a couple days ago I realized that it could also be perfect for tracking my progress in fighting games. Now I have notebooks for each game I play, I can use tags for notes to find info quickly or organize related notes together. The best part is that because Evernote has cloud storage, I can access my files anytime thanks to the app for my smartphone or any computer I use regularly. Of course, if you don’t have a smartphone or want to pay for a dataplan, this might not be totally the best option. Another, non-mobile phone related solution is to use your own email account to send yourself notes or messages about things you want to improve on or what you’ve learned.

The Most Important Lesson
Read what you wrote! You’re spending all this time putting to paper all the ways you’re getting bodied, why not at least put it to use. Read about your habits before starting an online sessions, read before you go to a tournament or even before a tournament match if you want. Be mindful of the things you thought were important enough to write. Like I said earlier, I haven’t been keeping notes about my game for close to a year now, but jumping back into it is making me motivated to improve. Sometimes it helps to write things down to help you remember where you can improve.

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