If you want to improve, ignore the life bars


Written by Novril, proofed by Specs


You may or may not have read about this somewhere else before, but it’s such a crucial concept that it’s worth emphasizing and reading about again.

A big part of the fighting game learning curve, and why it can seem so daunting, is that as a new player, a lot of the logical assumptions you’ll make about improving will end up hindering you, rather than helping you.

It’s a natural mistake to make, and not something you could have prevented, but now that you’re aware what’s really going on, you should make a conscious effort to go down the right path while playing non-tournament matches.

The basic win condition in most fighting games is simple: whoever’s life bar empties first loses. Straightforward enough. (There are other win conditions depending on the game, like time out and ring out, but let’s focus on the life bars for now.)

This creates the logical conclusion that life bars indicate your performance in the game. If you are losing life, it’s because you are doing something wrong. If you are not, and the enemy is, you must be doing something right.

This is the phase where people make the inevitable mistake. There are actually 2 bars. The life bar, and an invisible, separate, improvement bar. Yeah it’s invisible, but I promise you it’s there, and you should get used to its presence.

The improvement bar is actually not related to the life bar! It operates under different rules and conditions. You can say that the life bar is your short term goal, and the improvement bar is your long term goal. The long term goal is much more important than the short term goal, so it should be perfectly fine to sacrifice life from the life bar in order to fill the improvement bar. Not much different than how Zangief takes risks, and sacrifices life bar, in order to get closer, which is his long term goal in the round.

So what does that actually mean? Let’s say the opponent jumps at you at a weird situation. You were not prepared, you are not in your comfortable position. You can protect your precious life bar and just block. Or you can risk your life bar and try something. Maybe this anti-air at this specific timing will work? It didn’t work, you lost some of the life bar. But on the other hand you learned something. You learned that the move you chose to do, at the specific timing you chose to do didn’t work, and next time in that exact situation, you’ll try a different timing, or a different move. You sacrificed life bar in order to raise your improvement bar, and that’s what matters, because the improvement bar is what will make you a better player.

Maybe you found some crazy gimmick that keeps working on players the first time you expose them to it. You may be damaging their life bars, but this feedback is misleading as it’s not real progress for you as a player, because you are not trying anything new, not using your time in the game to explore further, so your improvement bar stays still.

This is why, when you are looking to improve, you should ignore the life bars. Focus on situations, learn about them, try different possible solutions, keep practicing said solutions under real time moments, and add all of these experiences into your invisible improvement bar.