Recently Marvel Vs Capcom 3 was released to the world, and a small local group of North Jersey gamers who had barely touched fighting games in the past embarked on their journey to learn the game inside and out. This experiment was conceived for selfish reasons. I, being the resident fighting game expert in said tiny group, wanted to prove that anyone can learn to be good at fighting games. My hope for the end of the experiment was that my friends would stop whining about how impossible fighters are to play, and I would end up with a couple more sparring partners.
That same inexperienced group went to their first fighting game tournament ever, and I realized that this childish attempt to say "I told you so" to my friends had become so much more. I was awarded the rare opportunity to see people grow up as gamers from newbie to pro. As I watched their skills evolved from sloppy button mashing to precise play, I realized there was a pattern that they all followed in their progress. After recording them all, I came up with these, the ten stages of fighting game greatness.
At this stage of development the fighting gamer has barely ever touched the game before. Not only does he not understand the basic systems of the game he is playing, but he doesn't necessarily want to understand. "I'll pick it up as I go," he will say, and off he goes to play some matches without even knowing what the basic buttons do. Moves and strategies might as well be another language to the masher. All he is concerned with is making shiny stuff happen on the screen, and he doesn't really care how. A Masher doesn't really expect to win the game. In fact, he doesn't even hold that much respect for the game. It's not really even a game for him; it's a shiny noisy toy that he becomes infatuated with quickly and bored with just as quickly.
Even in the most formless chaos, patterns will naturally start to arise. This is what happens when a masher starts to take notice of some of the cool stuff her character does and becomes a controlled masher. A controlled masher doesn't know what moves are called or what they do, but she has acquired a tiny bit of muscle memory that allows her to replicate a couple simple techniques. Perhaps she realizes that if she rubs the d-pad from down to forward repeatedly with her thumb and mashes on attack buttons a fireball might come out, or perhaps she realizes that she should move on to medium or heavy attacks once she's land three or four light attacks in a row. In the end, it's still mashing, but the controlled masher is developing the first important skills anyone needs to become great at fighting games: muscle memory and the ability to react to what is happening on screen.
At this stage of development, the fighting gamer realizes there is little more he can do by just playing matches and hoping for the best. Having gotten a feel for the game in his mashing stages along with a taste of victory once or twice, he realizes that there is a method to the madness and wants to figure that method out. This is when the gamer finally reads the frickin manual! He discovers, for example, that quarter circles followed by an attack button produce fireballs. He may not be the best at doing them, but now he knows what to attempt when he wants one. He also looks deeper into the basic systems of the game, and finally starts to realize all the depth he was missing. He has achieved what is needed to make the game an actual game, and not just a practice of chaos theory with life bars. He has achieved, in some small way, comprehension.
The spammer does exactly what it sounds like he does. He finds a simple strategy and uses it to death, much to the annoyance of all the other players around him. He will be looked down on as cheap, but he is actually learning an important fighting game skill: how to manage effort and return. There is a reason why you rarely see the crazy stuff you see in combo videos in the middle of a tournament. It takes an amazing amount of effort to do and doesn't give you much more return than a simpler bread and butter combo. Sure, you can squeeze a bit more damage out of it, but screw up and you'll be on the end of a seriously damaging punish. The spammer is doing the same thing. He knows what wins him the game, and he knows if the deviates from that strategy he will probably get punched in the face for it. Eventually, someone with a more complicated strategy will come along and shut him down, and then he will forced to be do something other than spam, but till then he is more than willing to ride one simple combo or one good projectile to the end of each and every match.
The experimenter is the exact opposite of the spammer. She goes out of her way to try to use every tool her character has over the course of a match, even if she really shouldn't. In a way, the experimenter is saying, "look at me, look at all the cool moves I can do." However, what the experimenter is really learning is reliable execution. Once she throws out enough dragon punches, they eventually become second nature. The experimenter also does her best to try many different characters in her matches trying to find the exact ones that she feels the most comfortable with. Eventually, the experimenter is left with a few characters she knows inside and out.