For this month’s blog post rather than looking back, I wanted to use this as a chance to look forward. As a PhD student, I am eager to get my perspectives out into the academic community through my work and engagement with others within my field. To do this, my supervisory team and I have begun to make plans for what will be my first publication. This acts as a milestone for the project as a whole and helps direct the rest of the project going forward.
One of my personal concerns with my research are the questions “Has someone done this already?” and “Have I missed a paper where they discuss this?”. Esports psychology and the application of skill acquisition & performance within competitive gaming is very much a new field, with an ever-growing number of outputs. For me, it is difficult to imagine that other researchers have not discussed or answered the ideas I am developing. The fear that the works that I plan to put out has already been undertaken by someone else has been hard to shake off. Being realistic, every researcher has a different perspective on the questions within a field. This means that the approach one takes to answering said questions will differ. Some researchers are well read in other fields, applying their expertise in new contexts. Others come from a background in games and/or esports, synthesising their experiences with rigorous academic investigations. Remembering this, the question of missing a paper that explores my planned topic exactly seems unlikely. These concerns are most likely a consequence of Impostor Syndrome.
I will be upfront. I do not like the term Impostor Syndrome as it sounds like it is synonymous with medical disorders, as it is more accurate to describe it as a state of mind. Semantics aside, the concept of Impostor Syndrome is something I can very much relate to. Being a young academic in a field with established researchers it is hard to feel that your voice has any weight. It builds up this feeling that until you feel like you have the authority to talk about a matter, it is easier to remain silent. I know that feeling unqualified is not justified, but it one that does not seem to go away regardless of what knowledge I gain.
To combat this feeling, I have found that it is good to acknowledge how I have grown. This is my fifth year in higher education, an infant in the eyes of many. Yet, in that time I have developed based on what I knew when I started my undergraduate studies and where I am now. Whilst it is good to remind yourself that there is always more to learn, it is also important to recognise your successes and taking pride in your work. Having publications may give weight to what I am saying, but at the end of the day I must be the one that starts speaking.
One of my earliest anticipations for the PhD was that there was going to be a lot of reading. While there is a large amount, it is not as much as I thought there would be. I always had this belief that doctoral students become an encyclopaedia in their area of study. Now undertaking this process myself, it is clear that is not the case. There is this innate desire when approaching a new topic to read as much as you can. To build up this reservoir of information, from which to create theories or test existing ones. Taking that approach risks getting buried in reading, not understanding the question you want to answer and vice versa.
It is far more reasonable to frame your reading in the context of building a network or web of knowledge. Each source you read is a node of information, but it is up to you to connect them together to construct the network. When reading, asking yourself where it fits within your network helps place research within wider contexts, helping identify gaps in literature. The quality of your research is far more important than the quantity. Which brings up a key consideration; how do you organise your research?
For me, this realisation came when reflecting at my method of managing references. I used the Mendeley Reference Manager software as it was something I was familiar with. The benefits of being able to import a PDF and make annotations, highlight, and write notes was useful. Yet, I found that I could not visualise connections between different pieces of literature. This was especially prevalent when reading studies that touch upon many themes. I kept building this large collection of literature and struggled to organise it in a way that made sense to me. That was when a fellow PhD student nearing the end of their studies brought up using NVivo as a way of organising literature.
NVivo was something I was familiar with as I utilised it for my undergraduate degree. My dissertation involved analysing around three hours of interviews, so I needed something that allowed me to pick apart the themes. I used little of the software features outside of highlighting and attaching themes to text. Because of this, I never considered using it as a reference manager. Also, NVivo was not built for the way I intended to use it, as it focuses on qualitative & mixed method data analysis. All that aside, being able to make themes and attach quotes from literature to them, establishing relationships between themes, create mind maps and memos, explore which files connect to each other in the larger network meant that I could organise literature how I saw fit. No longer would I fear the dreaded “Where was that one quote? That would be perfect here!” moment.
What works for one person will not work for another. For some, a granular and logic-based approach like NVivo is exactly what they need. Others may prefer using Zotero, EndNote or Mendeley, which allows grouping literature into collections and has features like web integrations or making citing references easier. I still have a backup Zotero library that contains all my references for easy bibliographies or sources that do not work in NVivo. The main takeaway from this is that whichever you choose, what is important is organising it in a way that allows the most efficient construction and change of your mental network. Knowing where things fit in your network makes constructing new knowledge far easier.
Esports has dramatically changed over its relatively short existence, from local tournaments & LAN parties to sold-out stadiums & international events. In that time, the way people have watched it has also evolved. When esports was reaching its renaissance back around the late 2000s or early 2010s much of the technology behind streaming was still in its infancy. At the time esport broadcasts relied on Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) which originated around 2001-3; from 2009 onwards, services like Twitch.tv and own3d began to make live internet broadcasting more accessible to a growing audience . Since then, there have been substantial improvements to streaming tools available to the public, such as custom overlay builders like Streamlabs or broadcasting software such as OBS. What was once only possible with professional tools within the broadcasting industry became usable by anyone with a small amount of knowledge, opening the proverbial floodgates on what streams could do technically.
A personal, and rather niche, example of such evolution in action would be in the community-led esport of Team Fortress 2. Early broadcasts of competitive TF2 play was presented primarily using the in-game visual assets & spectator function, but as time progressed more sophisticated tools were developed. These include custom in-game assets, external controllable stream overlays and broader modifications to the game that give the broadcaster more spectator functionality. Most of these tools were created by community members or used advancements in streaming technology at the time. This gave amateur esport producers the ability to setup and run professional-looking broadcasts from the comfort of their own home.
A lot of modern high-production esport streams contain information that is not normally presented on in-game head-up displays (HUDs). However, a question that is not discussed frequently is whether such streams are showing information that is relevant or if it is unnecessary and potentially confusing for new viewers. Taking a standard sports broadcast for example, it is observable that they tend to avoid showing a significant amount of information on screen at once, preferring to leave more in-depth analyses to the commentators. Data such as individual athlete statistics or team formations tends to be shown intermittently during quieter periods of a match such as half-time. On the other hand, video games contain more information which is crucial to understanding the current state of the match, such as a player’s health or what equipment they have. An absence of such details would be a detriment to the viewers overall experience. The inverse is also an issue; having too much information could alienate the viewers more unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game. Different organisations within a range of games have taken diverse approaches to the challenge of controlling visual information.
To anyone unfamiliar with Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), what can you pick apart from this image? Those who have experience with games, you may be able to determine that Team Liquid have more players alive, yet Faze Clan is winning the overall game and that this player is in a rather precarious situation. You may also recognise that there are 30 seconds left and possibly that it is currently the 18th round, from which you can draw the conclusion that Team Liquid is likely going to win the round to make it 9-9. However, you may have little idea on who has economic advantage or why this player is using a handgun against people with assault rifles. Given enough time with this image, the average person could conceivably begin to unpick the greater contexts surrounding the game. But in a live match it would be difficult to unravel what is happening without more experience with the game. The broadcasters behind this stream, BLAST Premier, have acknowledged the problem and addressed it somewhat with the Firepower bar near the scores at the top. This gives a brief insight into who is winning or expected to win the current round based on a variety of different factors. Simply placing this information on screen allows people of differing experience with CS:GO to get a sufficient understanding of the match. Those with a lot of knowledge about the game can recognise that Faze Clan are saving their money for a later round by not purchasing expensive equipment; people less familiar with CS:GO have a good idea of who is going to win this round, but not necessarily why.
Let us try again with another game, Overwatch that is significantly faster-paced than CS:GO and features a range of abilities and traits. Asking someone new to the game what was going on in this image would be harder to tell what is going on than the previous screenshot. For example, it can be determined that Seoul Dynasty is one point up, but Shanghai Dragons have 35%. What does that mean? Educated guesses could correctly determine it as one round to zero and first to 100% wins a round, but that is not immediately apparent. Secondly you could determine that the circle percentage in the middle is important since all players have one. To a fresh face, there is little information to convey what is happening at a higher level from a spectator’s perspective and that what is presented could provide more questions than answers. For more experienced individuals, such details would make sense and the lack of visual clutter from HUD elements. The result is that the moment-to-moment gameplay takes more of the viewers attention as compared to CS:GO, where viewers benefit from examining various elements on screen.
However, one stream is not better than the other. In Overwatch much of the contextual information is presented in the gameplay, not the HUD. Viewers tend to focus on the occurring plays and developing narrative of the match. On the other hand, CS:GO is a slower game that benefits from a more methodical viewing experience where part of being a spectator is drawing your own conclusions and anticipations. To facilitate that, broadcasters present viewers with more information to draw on. Presenting too much information in a faster paced game risks the viewer not taking in the right knowledge and confusing them. On the other hand, insufficient or unnecessary information in slower games could cause casual viewers to become disinterested or lost. When designing spectator views in games or external broadcast overlays, designers need to consider what audience they are orienting this towards and what information is necessary for them to have the best experience.
One important question when designing spectator experiences is where the audience should be looking and when. Taking away attention from a pivotal moment in a match is incredibly disruptive and frustrating to a viewer; leaving player statistics or other sporadically useful information until quieter moments would keep the audience engaged until more exciting parts. Adopting principles like the Gestalt Laws of visual perception to structure information in a way that directs where the audience is looking. For example, having a part of the HUD or overlay that groups together information that is only relevant at the beginning of rounds guides viewers to look there at that time. Controlling where the audience is looking through implicit cues give them the illusion that they are making the decision to look at specific information in certain instances where in reality it is the designer implicitly saying “Hey, look over here now!”.
The previous Overwatch broadcast has a great example of this. During a quiet part of the match, the broadcast shows a banner informing viewers that they may want to consider engaging with the stream though twitter, giving them quick access via a QR code. This places a seed in the viewers mind to check social media in between rounds, increasing viewer engagement and encouraging people not currently watching to get involved.
Some advice I received a while ago was that a big part of esport broadcasting is telling a story, and a good observer doesn’t always just spectate the player getting kills but tries to show the perspective that provides a viewer with the best possible experience. By designing organised & appropriate visual information in combination with commentating talent, more people can engage with esports without the need to know all the details of the game. Esports is one part of the digital entertainment future, so making it accessible to as many people as possible is incredibly important.
 Scholz, T. M. (2012, December). New broadcasting ways in IPTV–The case of the Starcraft broadcasting scene. In World media economics & management conference.
Here in the UK as of writing this post, children have returned to face-to-face teaching. I have spoken with people who work with Early Years (3-4 yrs) and Key Stage 1 (5-7 yrs), and they explained how many are months behind at a crucial point in their education. It is incontrovertible at this point to say that remote teaching has had a large impact on student learning. Within Higher Education, many have shown a remarkable adaptability at both a student perspective, but also from an educator’s as well. For people that show the ability to direct their own learning, we may see more blended teaching methods in the future. However, there are parts of the face-to-face experience that are not replaceable with a virtual variant.
As students return, it has given me a chance to reflect on the past year of remote learning and my personal experience. When teaching first went remote, I was about halfway through my Master’s thesis. That gave me the experience of postgraduate study in both a normal environment and a virtual one. It was rather an abrupt change to my studies and not having the option to be on campus did disrupt my usual workflow. Losing access to certain literature and face-to-face meetings was the largest impact of the lockdown. Upon submission of my thesis, there was little celebration compared to my undergraduate degree, and soon after I was starting my PhD.
Many current postgraduates will tell you that a PhD can be a lonely endeavour, and lockdown has only made that worse. I miss the serendipitous conversations with my peers, discovering new approaches to your work. Everything is now through emails and Zoom calls, which lacks that ‘water-cooler’ conversation that makes you feel a part of the university community. In terms of work ethic, conducting study from home has been a significant challenge. I pointed this out in previous posts, but I have difficulty with motivation and managing my time. During my time as an undergraduate, I would go into campus to be around others who are working, as it helped motivate myself to work as well. Not having that means the place I work and the place that I relax is one and the same. That being said, remote working is not all bad. The main benefit is that it is a comfortable place where if things get stressful, I can break away from what I am doing and go do something else. I have had moments where an idea has popped into my head when playing a game, I briefly stop playing and then make a quick note or find some reading around it for later. That ability to choose when I work has been liberating, helping me try out different techniques in reading & writing.
For many, remote learning is a blessing and for others it is a curse. For me, I see it as both and that a personal balance between the two is the ideal. The campus environment encourages deep thought, is a motivator for work in of itself and has accessible short social conversations. On the other hand, the home environment is one of comfort and exploration, where I can not only think about my work but also about myself. I look forward to being back on campus, but for now I want to best use the remote environment to prepare myself for when that time hopefully arrives.
It seems that 2021 is going to be as chaotic as 2020, at least for a while. Aside from that, I have been making personal progress, albeit slower that I would have liked. Whilst I am still a night owl, my sleep schedule has been consistent, and I am more open and willing to work at later times when the house is a bit livelier. Also, the past few weeks have been far more productive. For the first time in a while, I am satisfied with the reading I was able to do whilst still retaining the concepts and linking it with previous knowledge. I’ve found that it helps me when I relate my reading to existing knowledge or even my extracurricular activities. José Zagal touches upon it in their book Ludoliteracy: defining, understanding, and supporting games education about how to leverage a student’s personal knowledge & experience of games to establish links between them and the concepts of game studies. To an extent, this is something that I am doing with my own reading but linking both my game experiences and other literature. Doing this puts the literature in a wider context and helps fits the information within a ‘network of knowledge’. My research relates to my hobbies which does help, so I am going to continue this approach for the future.
One thing that is taking me a while to adjust to is how there is not much work to show now. Having come from taught courses I am accustomed to having assessments due around now. My supervisory team have suggested to attempt a presentation, giving me a deliverable for the beginning of March. I am sure I will eat these words when I am buried in pages of writing, but I always like having more to do. But I know that this is a common feeling and that I should instead focus on the quality of the work, not the quantity. Speaking of the quality of work, I may be getting carried away with the reading. Because the field of skill acquisition is new for me, I wanted to get a broad insight to make informed decisions. Yet, in doing so I have started to look for reading that is deviating from the key questions I am trying to answer at this point. Some of these pieces of reading may be for later in the project, or even afterwards. Whilst it is good to have an idea of what literature is out there, it is more important that what work is being done is focused on the topics at hand. Being more aware of this should make me more cautious with what research is relevant.
Happy New Year! I hope that the holiday season has been a nice break away from what has been a less than ideal year. For me, the fortnight away was a great opportunity to come back to my work with a fresh, motivated mind. As such, there are not a lot of new topics to discuss.
I have been working on strategies to address some of the issues discussed in my previous entries. This involves separating my work and social life, since nowadays this all happens online. The idea of a time to stop working which I talked about in the last post has helped keep me from burning myself out. But I often get distracted without a rigid schedule, which is where the Pomodoro technique comes in.
A brief outline is 25 minutes of work followed by a five-minute break to check social media, grab a coffee, and so on. Repeat this four times and then take a longer break of 10-30 minutes, which becomes one Pomodoro cycle. Having periods of work and rest prevents distractions, helping me be more productive without burning out. In the past, I have only used this method with an impending deadline, usually assignments. So, it has been a challenge to follow this technique in a less intense environment that has a lot more distractions. To remedy this takes good old practice and repetition to make this a habit. There are many articles that discuss how to form healthy habits, such as having incentives or being consistent.
Having picked up the guitar for the first time during lockdown, I found I was most consistent with practice when I told myself “Okay, let’s go do my guitar practice today”. I want to try and make my work as routine as possible and having something that has worked for me in the past should make that easier.
As for the actual work undertaken last month, progress has been steady. There is now a key focus on where the literature is going, and which research is relevant for the work I aim to output. A consideration for me over the past month is exactly who or where the outputs of this project is oriented towards. I have a strong idea on those who would get the most out of such outputs, but I have considered who else would benefit. Understanding this helps give the project direction, which in turn narrows down the specific question(s) that the project aims to answer.
Looking forward, I want to merge the research and the project’s aims to ensure that the outputs are relevant and bring new knowledge to the field of esports research. Also, I want to further my outreach and participation in the researcher community. I still am worried that I am not qualified enough to have my say in discussions, which is due to impostor syndrome and inexperience. One way to address that is to get involved in topics I am interested in to test the waters & limits of my knowledge now. There is no time like the present.
Following the first month of the project, I wanted to ensure that I maintain the momentum of doing consistent work at home. An extra concern that I did not address last month relates to both the autonomous nature of the PhD and working remote is sleep.
If there was one thing that has always been a problem of mine, it would be the quality and consistency of my sleep pattern. There is this understanding that students tend to struggle to get a healthy amount of sleep. For me, I found it easier to schedule my sleep on days with a fixed timetable & the need to go to campus. Yet, I found it hard to make a significant effort in my non-scheduled hours or on days where there was no teaching. This only got worse as teaching became sparser in later years and during my Masters, leading to me sleeping at unreasonable hours.
During October, I had a sleep pattern that I would consider acceptable and healthy. Eight hours, at a similar time every day with the only issue being that it was later than average, being from 1-2 am to 9-11 am. Amending this wouldn’t be a large issue as solving this would be to adjust the time in which I fall asleep over time. But as of late, I found myself staying up later and, thus, getting up in the afternoon on most days. If I still work the usual amount of time this would not be an issue, but I do not tend to work past a certain time in the evening. As a result, if I am waking up later but still stopping work at a similar time, I am getting less time in the day to work on anything.
Having outlined the problem, the task now is to determine how to address the causes and issues encountered. The first cause of the irregular sleep pattern is the time I close my computer and head to bed. In short, there comes a point in my free time where I convince myself to turn in for the night and usually this by feeling or instinct. My plan is to try to move this from a feeling to a fixed time where I have an explicit point to wrap up everything I’m doing before then. I hope that what this does is removes the temptation to fall into the ‘one more…’ trap, avoiding the awkward chat with the early risers.
Next is what I do in bed before sleeping, which now is browse social media and videos on my phone. Many sleep experts point out that using your phone in bed is not great due to blue light which can keep you up longer. I do have books that I can read instead, but I’m worried that I will fall back into the old routine. I would love to hear of any late-night routines others do to help themselves fall asleep quicker.
Outside of my sleep-related issues and the impact that has had on my progress, I am not too disappointed with what I have done this month. The first few weeks were actually quite productive despite little explicit evidence to show for it. I have been attending workshop sessions on critical reading/writing & constructing the literature review, both important topics for this stage of the project. I want to take what I’ve learned in those sessions to plan out my approach for the initial wave of research I am undertaking. If I can address the personal barriers that are preventing me from working at my best, I have confidence that I will find a method of working that suits me.
So this is a collation of my thoughts on the first month of the PhD. I want to write a short post every month about the project’s progress but also my own personal development. The course that I teach on have been getting students to make a diary to help them think about themselves. I found this to be an nice idea and useful in logging the large number of thoughts I will have during the next few years.
So far, there has been a lot of thinking about the future and how to work in the current global environment. What I’ve found hardest to get used to is the autonomous nature of the project. Even during the Masters, there was some scheduled teaching, but now it is completely on me to lead this. This may have been less of a shock if I was working in an environment like I was before. I was able to commute onto campus, but now I am working remote and a fair distance away from the city.
Working remote has its benefits. I can set my own hours and get to work in the comfort of my own home. Yet, the lack of structure means the beast that is procrastination rears its ugly head. Not having rigidity to my schedule makes it easy to push things back and then feel guilty about not doing it. I am going to try putting game-like elements in my work, or even a self-designed mental game. I should look into a ‘star’ system like I had at school where students with good behaviour get a star. If I reward myself with a new game for a certain amount of work, that may give me ample incentive to organise. I’m not too sure on how to do it, but some method of management is important. Especially at a time where I do not have a separate work/life environment.
The aim of this month was to lay the foundations of the thesis and begin the literature review. Being new to the topic of sports psychology, I got help from the supervisors who gave me some reading to start with. This proved to be useful and has begun to build my knowledge in that field, which will be key for the project aims. The next action will be to focus the literature on the topics of interest, but I have to figure out what they are first. Also, I need to be look at what skills I will need this first year and what taught sessions I should attend.
The literature found so far surrounds both Games Psychology and Sports Psychology. I noticed that there was a lot of overlap in what they discuss, but used different terms. So it may be useful to look into creating some visual links to begin to settle on what terms are most appropriate. But, I want to avoid reinventing the wheel or misinterpreting the original definitions that it draws upon.
There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment, both for myself and for the project, especially with what else is happening in the world right now. But these questions are a natural part of the process. Looking forward, I want to begin to provide some structure and organization to what I am doing and how I do it. If I can start there, then things should begin to fall into place. The long road begins.
If you have ever looked into the concepts of level design or even game design in general, you may be aware of the Legend of Zelda dungeon structure. For those who do not, let me provide you a quick overview. Traditional dungeons within the Zelda series typically are centered around obtaining a new tool, traversing a dungeon using the newly introduced mechanics that it provides. These dungeons are structured in a way that there are a series of puzzles that requires the player to utilise, and learn, the functionality and applications of their new tool. As the dungeon progresses, the player will need to demonstrate an understanding of how to use this tool alongside other mechanics. A good example of this is in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Within the Temple of Ice the player receives the Grappling Hook which allows the player to reach far off objects, pulling them towards them or vice versa. A unique interaction is the ability to create a rope bridge between two posts which they can walk across. To test the players ability to use multiple items together, there is a puzzle which requires them to create a rope bridge, walk to the center, and use two separate tools to reach the next area.
At the end of a dungeon, the player is faced with some sort of ‘test’ in the form of the boss, which usually requires using the new tool in some way to win. This structure of obtaining new knowledge, building upon that in a range of scenarios, and then testing the player is not exclusively to the Zelda series. Think of how many games you’ve played where the rules and mechanics are taught to you usually via a tutorial, then having to use that knowledge in progressively harder scenarios, ultimately leading to a test in a final level and/or boss. The feeling of accomplishment when players complete a game or level following this process keeps them engaged throughout the game and potentially across multiple games.
Kingdom Hearts is a series close to my heart, pun intended. Being fairly young when the game originally came out in 2002, I was mostly interested in playing alongside the Disney characters in a range of worlds and not much else beyond that. However, when playing Kingdom Hearts II a few years later I was more engaged with the main characters and story but fell off the series due to not being able to follow what was going on. This was because a large amount of the story was told in-between these two titles in a range of spinoffs. With the ongoing pandemic, I found an opportunity to finally get back into the series, completing most of the core games except Chain of Memories. Those that know will understand.
Many, many hours and games later I found myself at the end of Kingdom Hearts III. Eager for more, I downloaded the DLC known as Re:Mind. Outside of adding a few more story elements to the game, the core gameplay revolves around a range of what I will refer to as ‘Superbosses’. Superbosses are usually an optional enemy and are generally significantly harder than the bosses found within the main game. Superbosses can be found in a range of titles such as Final Fantasy XII with Yiazmat, a boss who can take multiple hours to beat with over 58 million hit points; and the Borderlands series with its numerous raid bosses. The existence of the superboss is primarily to act as the ultimate test to only the most committed players and should be as hard as the game could possibly get. Kingdom Hearts’ superbosses are no exception to this rule and are notoriously difficult, requiring not only great dexterity and skill, but extensive game knowledge and memory skills. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind ups the ante with not one, not two, but fourteen superbosses!
I played the game in Standard Mode and found that I didn’t really struggle with the core game bosses, being able to muscle my way through most battles with novel use of dodging/blocking and mashing the attack & magic skills. This strategy does not work for these new bosses. They attack almost consistently, only lowering their guard for a few seconds at a time and if you are not familiar with the inputs for blocking, dodging & aerial recovery you are not in for a good time. It usually took me around two hours until I could beat just one, and techniques you learn in one battle may not be transferable to other bosses. It was during these fights that I noticed I was approaching these battles far differently from the rest of the game.
The Re:Mind Superboss Learning Structure
By the time the player reaches the point where they can take on these superbosses, they should demonstrate an understanding of the core rules and mechanics of combat. Actions are primarily controlled by a menu in the bottom left of the screen, but since navigating these menus mid-fight can be difficult there is an option to create shortcuts which can be accessed by holding L1 & pressing the button of the intended action. For a personal example, I had the Cure spell shortcut to L1 + Square throughout the entire series in order to be able to heal myself almost thoughtlessly. General combat involves moving around the environment, attacking with X and avoiding damage through blocking or dodging, both of which are controlled by Square but depends on whether or not the character is moving. An ideal player will be able to avoid damage using both methods whilst at the same time attacking the enemy when possible. For the most part, the superbosses’ gameflow follows this principle but with a significant emphasis on avoiding damage and finding opportunities to stagger the opponent. Without guides or tutorials, this is largely trial and error. For example, there are a few of the superbosses where it is possible to stagger them during an attack sequence by using Airstepping, a mechanic primarily used for navigating levels. So I was using the knowledge obtained from the core game and, in one way or another, deconstructing them for each fight. Some fights were far more mobile, requiring flexibility between varying techniques whereas others were looking for specific mastery of one tactic.
Besombes (2018) describes two key skills that competitive fighting players utilise during gameplay; being the automatic repetition of varied combinations of controller inputs, which was described as ‘execution’; and the second involving the decoding of the opponents intentions from the gameplay occurring on screen, referred to as ‘mindgame’. These definitions can be applied to Kingdom Hearts 3, although it should be noted that the opponent in this context is a non-player character where the original study was focused on competitive fighting games between players. During my various attempts at a single superboss, I would undergo two distinct phases of play. The first was to slowly adjust my playstyle until I could reasonably manage each individual attack, and the second would be to refine and perfect the sequences of input till I could win. This first phase of play seems to be oriented towards ‘mindgame’, as many of the attacks that a superboss performs is telegraphed through animation or audio cues. So recognising the upcoming attack and ensuring that I knew the sequence needed to avoid or otherwise mitigate was my focus. In short, I would not be focused on winning but instead on reading the opponent’s actions and determining a strategy. Once I was able to avoid most or all of the bosses attacks, my mentality switched from focusing on ‘mindgame’ to ‘execution’. Now that I was aware of what inputs were needed and what telegraphs a specific attack, the main focus was ensuring that I could pull off the specific sequence correctly. Whilst both execution and mindgame were utilised throughout the superboss, there was a distinct shift between one mindset and the other.
A new stage of learning in games?
As mentioned before, there are a large range of games that follow a structure of teaching players and giving them progressively harder scenarios in which to apply their knowledge, culminating in a test in the form of a boss or final level. It is expected that most players within the game’s target audience should be able to complete the game following this method of Learn, Apply, & Test. But the superbosses in Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind don’t really fit cleanly into that structure, and by extension superbosses or optional bosses in other games do not either. These superbosses are intended as an advanced test of skill and knowledge for competent players, and so it can be argued that such challenges are simply an extension of the Test stage. However I don’t think that is the case. When players encounter or challenge a superboss, the learning that a player undergoes is not really comparable to the sort of learning that they were undertaking in the main game. They do share a similar structure of receiving new information and adapting their previously established knowledge to incorporate it as detailed by works by Perron (2006) and Heaton (2006). However, the learning obtained during a superboss is a refinement of game knowledge rather than the establishment and subsequent accretion seen within the main game. Therefore, I believe that it would be reasonable to consider the superboss, or any optional challenge that is equivalent, as within a subsection of the Test stage or even its own individual stage which I will refer to as ‘Mastery’.
Mastery is a stage in which no new knowledge is provided or constructed by the game. Instead, the player will construct new strategies using the mechanics provided to them in the most effective way, potentially with a need for mechanical dexterity. New mechanics can be introduced in this stage, if for instance the superboss has a unique aspect to consider. For example within Re:Mind one of the bosses has an ability in which a timer is placed on top of the player’s character which decreases over time and with any damage sustained; if it hits 0 the player is defeated even if their health hasn’t depleted. This sort of mechanic is not introducing anything new, but rather is forcing the player to adopt a new strategy using previously defined tools. During the ‘Mastery’ stage, players would be expected to experiment and refine their skills and knowledge, providing a new source of learning. Upon completing a superboss, the player would be considered an expert or at least proficient at the game.
In short, the numerous superbosses within Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind, all of which are incredibly intense and difficult, demonstrated an alternative method of learning through consistent refinement of skills from analysing the enemy’s intentions through visual and audio cues to rhythmic inputs that can be performed almost unconsciously. During my time attempting these superbosses, I not only became more confident at fighting them but became more aware of how to apply any newly found knowledge in other parts of the game, especially when playing on harder difficulties. In addition, it helped me uncover a new personal mentality when taking on a difficult challenge in games, by deconstructing what is needed and consciously reviewing and adapting my gameplay. Regardless of whether or not ‘Mastery’ can be considered a new stage of learning, I do think that it is worth considering how games can provide tests for only the most diligent or skilled players.
References: Besombes, N. (2018). Exécution et mindgame dans les jeux vidéo de combat : les deux facettes de la vidéomotricité dans l’e-sport. Movement & Sport Sciences – Science & Motricité. Heaton, T. (2006). A Circular Model of Gameplay. Retrieved from https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130978/a_circular_model_of_gameplay.php Perron, B. (2006). The Heuristic Circle of Gameplay: the Case of Survival Horror. Gaming Realities: A challenge for digital culture. pp. 62-71.