The joys of “button mashing”

Slate has just published my latest gaming column, which folds in two mini-reviews: The time-travel game TimeSplitters, and the fighting game Tekken 5, pictured above. My thoughts on Tekken 5 are mostly a defense of the “button mashing”: When you play a game by frantically and semirandomly mangling the controller, while praying for the best. Button mashing is generally scorned by hard-core gamers, but I argue that it’s actually a valid learning technique:

When you’re a masher, you approach the game humbly, accepting your absolute inability to control your character. By flailing away with no pretensions that you know what you’re doing, you’ll eventually pull off a few killer combos by accident. Then you’ll forget them and figure out a couple of new ones. By the time you’ve played for 12 hours in a row, a few will have stuck. Soon, you can reliably pull them off again and again without being entirely sure how the hell you’re doing it.

That’s precisely what happened to me. After being flummoxed by Tekken 5 initially, I swallowed my pride and surrendered to the flow of mashing. Once I accidentally mastered some marvelous attacks, I learned to calm down and become dispassionate in battle — to step outside of myself, observe what I was doing, and learn and execute even bigger and better combos. It’s a terrific lesson for life: Begin with fake Zen, and you’ll wind up with real Zen.

You can read the rest of the piece here — and feel free to comment in The Fray, Slate’s discussion forum!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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