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Joystiq presents

Why art thou n00b? [update 1]

It's delicious One cannot live in the gaming world without encountering the ever-present dichotomy of "pro vs. n00b." Gamers claim superiority over others for their skill and ability, thus forming ridiculous "caste" systems in established communities across the globe. But what is skill, in gaming? What makes a gamer "good," able to achieve high-scores, able to frag their opponents with ease? Many gamers will simply state "reflexes" or more colloquially, "mad skillz yo LOL," but we'd like to take this opportunity and explore what truly makes a player exceptional ... and what the DS is doing to change that.

Numerous factors impact a player's performance, and the requisite skills can vary greatly by genre. In the early days of gaming, ruled by classics as Pac-Man and Galaga, pattern recognition (and, yes, a bit of reflex action) gave the champs their deserved place atop the high scores list. In games that become increasingly fast, giving the human mind less and less time to evaluate and decide upon a course of action, the ability to unconsciously react based on previous experience becomes paramount.

As gaming advanced, so did the complexities found therein. Soon, high-level abstract thinking was required in games like Zelda and the classic SCUMM titles (Maniac Mansion, Sam n' Max), and in these particular cases, intelligence and problem solving became directly linked to the player's ability to succeed. These games, however, are rarely played competitively; the need to be "good," especially in this era of easily available online walkthroughs, is minimal.

The majority of modern competitive gaming, however, is commonly known as "twitch" gaming (we will ignore real-time strategy for the moment, a fascinating blend of twitch and higher-level concepts, as this genre is rarely found outside of the PC realm). These games include fighting (Soul Calibur, Street Fighter), FPS (Quake, Halo, Call of Duty), racing (Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing), sports (Madden, NBA Live) and many other fast-paced, high-octane titles. Pattern recognition and reflexes are, of course, still primary factors, as are an in-depth knowledge of game mechanics and mastery of a given control scheme. It's still quite fascinating, however, to explore what physical traits have an effect on performance.

Many players will insist that being good at gaming has nothing to do with their physical condition; we wholeheartedly disagree. Take a look at video gaming guru Fatal1ty, who runs approximately 4km a day and stays in excellent physical condition. This helps his stamina, endurance, and mental focus during extended periods of play. Even in short bursts, one's ability to translate mental commands into the muscular commands is paramount. Many gamers take this for granted as well (and then get angry when their clueless parents can't find the "shoot" button), but muscle memory, hand-eye coordination, and steadiness play a very large part in twitch gaming. One may know exactly how they want to headshot that n00b across the room, but if their thumb can't line up the cursor, it's pointless.

These skills have, by and large, been fairly static for over a decade. Input methods have not changed ... (dramatic pause) until now. Yes, the radical new input method of a touch screen is altering the pro/n00b hierarchy with reckless abandon. Or is it?

To be fair, probably not even half of DS games use the touch-screen or microphone in a manner that requires a high degree of skill. A quintessential example we'd like to examine is Metroid Prime: Hunters, a classic, fast-paced FPS with controls that quite literally had never been implemented before. Few would compare the sensitivity and accuracy to those of the PC, yet they provided, at the very least, a workable alternative to a dual-analog control scheme. People who claim to be good at the game are usually players experienced with FPS, and yet, they had no more time with the title than even the newest DS owners. So what retained skills, even in a completely different control environment, allowed these players to retain their higher rankings?

In the specific instance of an FPS, certain strategies and tactics seem to be common to the genre as a whole. Making unpredictable movements in combat, proper strafing techniques, and being able to spot camping or sniping locations will immediately separate a seasoned player from a rookie. Moreso, however, there simply seems to be a certain "flow" within a genre that, barring any radical departures from the norm, is understood with experience. This feeling is difficult to classify, but surely longtime gamers understand the notion. This underlying feel for a game is elusive, and most likely stems from a myriad of mental abilities. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the most important aspect of quickly adapting to and mastering a new game like Hunters, even if the specific method of input has entirely changed. Despite the touch screen, Hunters does indeed play like a classic FPS, and so in general, the better players will be ones who have been at the top for years.

The DS has also introduced specific types of games that have control methods entirely without forebear, such as Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Elite Beat Agents. These two particular titles are almost solely based off of adept use of the stylus and touch screen, completely disregarding button input in any form. Quick decision-making skills are important in TC and a reasonable ability to keep a beat is paramount in EBA, but a very large part of success is based on the ability of the hand to rapidly and precisely hit areas on the screen. In Elite Beat Agents, when the notes reduce to half of their original size, are there any among us who can say they've never missed a note simply due to ... well ... missing? Trauma Center also features instances of botching rapidly sewn stitches and inaccuracies with the medical laser, not because the player didn't know exactly what he or she needed to do, but because their hand, quite literally, didn't do it. This is an occurrence that rarely (if ever) occurs with buttons, and only marginally with an analog stick. It boils down to this: if the stylus and touch screen do not create a physical barrier to the game, wherein errors and mistakes are purely tactile in nature, then they will have no effect on the general skill of a gamer. What the DS is doing is offering a new spin on these same skills, giving gamers more opportunities to practice and improve. Moreover, these alternatives are expanding the horizons of gaming in general, allowing non-gamers to enter the fold in a new, non-intimidating way. It may feel easier to them, but these people are learning the very same skills we learned in our first titles, and will grow in a similar fashion.

The DS, and the Wii as well, are offering radically different methods of playing games, and yet despite the old-people-can-rock-at-this-too press releases, a hardened gamer will most likely bowl the hell out of grandma. For gamers wishing to improve their general overall skills, we recommend playing a wide variety of titles, and emphasize those that retain simple controls while requiring the brain to process large amounts of information very quickly: Ikaruga and other 2-D shmups, Beatmania and other dance/rhythm titles, and so forth. These titles are often described as getting gamers in "the zone," in which conscious processing is barely active during a constant and unrelenting stream of data.

Modern video games are still impossibly difficult for the majority of America. Those n00bs. What separates you from the rest? You are gamers, dear friends: whatever it is, hang on to it.

[A special thanks to Brent Moffit, Ryan Mohney, Rucha Nana, Leah Jackson, Zachary Wishnov, and many other gamers willing to relate their experiences and insights.]

[Update 1: Image credited to Geek Swag. Sorry about that.]

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Reader Comments (Page 1 of 1)


4-16-2007 @ 3:08PM

Beren said...

Interesting. I'd like to see more reports like this with a mix of gaming info and.. what? medicine? psycology? well, keep them coming. :D


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4-16-2007 @ 3:19PM

pwnn00bs1337lol said...

lol that picture rocks - dude's eyes are even red. i'd pwn him like a teh n00bsauce.


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4-16-2007 @ 3:47PM

Nini said...

I think the problem that video games had/have is that pressing buttons looks too boring. My sister has several friends who say that pressing buttons for hours is the stupidest thing ever. I show them the Wii and DS and they're actually caught offguard with them. To me, it seems the problem with games was that you look like a mindless drone while playing a game for hours on end.

What separates a gamer from noob? I dunno. I can say some of my mom's friends are noobz, but then, after a few minutes, they can kick my sorry ass at Tetris. I guess it depends on the genre. I tend to find that 'n00bz' are better at puzzle games ]: Just an observation.

It's interesting, most of the gamers I know are physically active and pretty well in shape. :]


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4-16-2007 @ 7:34PM

Wilerson said...

It's interesting, most of the gamers I know are physically active and pretty well in shape. :]

Well, the best Street Fighter player I know is very fat, so that's not a rule.


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4-16-2007 @ 9:59PM

Nini said...

Never said it was. Just pointing out that MOST gamers I know are physically fit. Not all of them, there is the occasional fat one.


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4-17-2007 @ 8:48AM

litereddonut said...

I think you slightly misrepresent the twitch competive gaming and also don't look at the aspect of team play. A lot of FPS shooter games require teamwork, being aware of your teams placement and position and how this affects the enemy team. Also communication is key and is much more important than the twitch reaction time and strafing moves. What makes someone a noob in certain circles is the utter reliance on only "skill." The best players will tell you that skill at the game is important but will only get you so far; the best players work as a team.


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Geek Swag7

4-18-2007 @ 1:34AM

Geek Swag said...

Next time you decide to use a picture from my site, I'd appreciate credit. Top image is taken from:


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Jason Wishnov8

4-18-2007 @ 1:56AM

Jason Wishnov said...

Sorry about that, GS. Post updated. It was such a funny pic ^^


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