A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

This is a continuation of my ‘On Passions & Practice’ post. If you haven’t read it, do that first (it’ll only take 2 minutes).

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about productivity and practice. What does it mean to put in the effort and get the reps on something? What separates the middle 50% from the top 5%? And the top 5% from the top 1%? How effective are the teachings of someone like Tim Ferris, or “rules” like 80/20? I’ve been looking for something to test my philosophy of learning on, and I think I’ve found the perfect thing. Ready for it?

Street Fighter.

No no, wait, hear me out: There are a few reasons why I think Street Fighter might be the perfect discipline for me to test out my ideas on learning.

While I was formulating the ideas in that post, I started to develop a criteria for a field to test my learning on. I wanted to figure out what would make the best experiment for me. I needed something that I wanted to learn, with a lot of material to learn from, that I can test my aptitude on easily. Soon, my ideas started to percolate into a list of best practices.

The criteria are:

  1. Something with a wealth of knowledge for me to learn from.
  2. Something I am interested in improving my abilities in.
  3. Something that has a clearly defined metric for progress and development.
  4. Something I can test my knowledge & skills on.
  5. Something with a lot of other learners to practice against.
  6. Something that has little obvious benefits. (Something frivolous)
  7. Something that rewards success.

Sound a little counterintuitive? Maybe. But this is an experiment after all. And Street Fighter matches all this criteria, rewards dedication, and also rewards play, as a video game. I’ve written before about how I’m especially susceptible to validation, and being a video game, Street Fighter is literally designed to validate you when you win.

I didn’t pick this out of a hat, mind you. I’ve been playing Street Fighter casually for years, after being entranced by watching a tournament. Seriously, look at this and tell me it’s not hype. I thought about going for Chess (too broad, less prior knowledge) or something like my Japanese language practice (How best to test yourself?), but I think Street Fighter may be the best middle ground.

The game is made to make you want to play it. It’s fun. And even more fun when you win, and the most fun when you’re good. Like few other games, Street Fighter is largely skill based. There’s a reason why the top players don’t get taken out by some random person mashing buttons.

There have been books written about competitive Street Fighter, a few of which I own. Even more than that are the websites full of info, the podcasts, the youtube videos. There’s more data out there than can be analyzed. A big part of this challenge will be filtering it out.

In addition, Street Fighter is easy to tell how my progress is going with the ranking system. The game will track my wins and losses, my rank changes, and time spent. All I have to do is put in the hours. And there’s people to play, in person and online, 24/7.

Finally, and most fundamentally, Street Fighter is frivolous. It won’t make me any money, it won’t help me travel or see the world, and if anything will have a negative impact on my social standing. (Of course, people make money, travel, make friends, and are popular because of their Street Fighter abilities, but I imagine that ratio is similar to the regular players as NBA stars to fans)

If I’m willing to put in the time and effort to learn something with little to no appreciable benefit on my real life, then I’m only the more likely to be able to execute the same towards something more productive.

Street Fighter is an evolving game. Patches are sent out at regular interval to help balance and regulate the game, which changes the “meta”. The meta is the name for the game of the game, the game beyond the game. The next major shakeup happens January 16th, next year, giving me just enough time to establish foundational knowledge before the specifics shift.

I don’t have many hard and fast rules for this experiment, but I’m going to try and practice this every day for the next thirty days, with at least two hours of competitive play a week. I’ll be tracking all this data, my routines, my work, and will write new posts at milestones or important phase changes.

Want to practice something with me too? Let me know what you pick in the comments below, or tweet at me @IanJBattaglia. See you on The Grid.