I’m at EVO right now. I’m writing in my hotel room, before I go out to see what Las Vegas has to offer to a curious explorer. I’m panicking because my laptop clock hasn’t updated and so it has me two hours ahead of reality, counting down the minutes before I shut down so I can make it to my bright and early 8 am Guilty Gear bracket tomorrow. I am probably not going to do well in Guilty Gear tomorrow. It’s a game that I like playing, but I didn’t put as much practice into as I did Street Fighter V and as we’ve previously discussed my dearth of a local scene in southeast Oklahoma meant that I was at the mercy of the online play and it was hard for me to get things going. It’s a game that’s so different from Street Fighter, my best game and the one I practiced more than any other for this EVO. The movement options and the way the game flows shift at a rapid pace and sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up. Sometimes I feel like I should just put it down and go back to what I know, because I may not be a top Street Fighter competitor, but I’d won more than zero games in it at that point. And so because I’m a fighting game genius and make good decisions, three days ago I dropped Leo, the only character I’ve ever played in Guilty Gear and decided to learn Sin (and yes it’s more than a little ironic that the pastor gravitates to a character called Sin). Maybe it’s because that’s who Dogura plays. Maybe because I’m remembering Jay Snyder’s word of advice: “Anyone who has an extra meter is cheap and you should play them.” But nonetheless I decided that I would give myself 3 days before my first live Guilty Gear tournament to learn a whole new character.
I’ve talked about my training mode experiences before. There I was talking about how I found joy in the work of getting better little by little, how I knew that even if I wasn’t going to ever be the best person in the world I could see myself getting better just by spending time in that familiar grid. But what I realized as I tried to learn Sin is that I don’t even know how to use training mode that well. My first thing I do when I learn a new character in any game is type in “[character] combos” or “[character] bnbs” or “[character] tutorial” to Google and just click whatever comes back to me. Then I spend a lot of time watching those videos, reading those articles and combo sequences, and trying to memorize and replicate them. Even my GOOD training mode habits are copied from James Chen’s video on how to use training mode. And I realized somewhere along the line that I wasn’t sure if I was actually learning anything. Because I could do all these sequences that were complicated for my skill level but as soon as I took them out into the wild I realized I was still just as overwhelmed as I had been before. And I would go on Twitter just to follow the events leading up to EVO and I would see people who were creating new things, inventing new things, those people who understood what they were looking for when they sat down with something new. And I found myself having to wait for them to do the discovering for me because I didn’t know how to start.
It’s an interesting thing realizing that you don’t know how to learn, that you only know how to copy and paste what’s come before. I mean, sure I could tweak, or know what kind of stuff doesn’t fit my style but it was seriously hard to admit that I wasn’t a creator, that on day one of a new thing I would be useless because no one could show me where to go. I’m a person who never really had to learn stuff in school. It came to me naturally and that would get me through just fine. I was learning new information, sure, but I don’t know if I learned to do it for myself. I don’t know if we do a good job of teaching people how to learn. We give them stuff to copy and paste back on a test but that sense of discovery might be lost, or it least it was on me.
I wonder if the church falls into similar traps. I wonder if people are aware of that tendency to copy and paste what someone else discovered, tweaking and discarding as they see fit. I see myself as a good preacher and teacher but am I giving people tools to figure stuff out and discover? These are the things that I started thinking about while I was flailing, trying to get Sin to work for me. How do we learn to learn?
When I stopped having to read things for classes and started reading things because I wanted to, I found myself going on chains. Something that popped up in one book that lead me to find a book on another subject and then I would start talking to friends about everything that I was reading and I found myself understanding things more. Maybe there’s a collaborative effort to learning, that is to say that it can’t be done in a vacuum. I can smash against the computer dummy all day but I won’t know how it all works unless I go play a real person. Likewise, I don’t think theology works in a vacuum either. I can see myself as that great preacher and teacher but if no one is willing to talk about the things I bring before them I don’t know if I learn or articulate my thoughts as well as I do banging on my keyboard trying to find the right words late into the night. We need each other. We need to ask each other questions, we need to find out why things feel a certain way and that only happens when we take what we’ve thought about alone into conversation with other people.
I remember back in college and grad school I would study with friends who were in in wildly different disciplines from me. We did it just to have that human presence across the table, even if we didn’t say much to each other. But every now and then one of us would have a breakthrough and start spouting off big points and exclaiming the pieces that had just fallen into place. And most of the time the other person would respond with something from their own discipline to say “I can say big words about stuff you don’t understand too.” But sometimes we would hear a version of the phrase, “Tell me more about that,” and we’d be off to the races. I lived for those moments because we got to build on a burst of an idea together. And I see that as a fundamental part of how I understand things now.
So I’m excited to be at EVO 2016. I’m here with thousands of other people and while I may not end up being in the top 8 at the end of the weekend, I’m with thousands of people who (whether they know it or not) are giving me opportunities to learn and grow. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to interact with people from all over the world brought together by these games, this community, and we can all leave better for it. And maybe I’ll figure out what it means to learn along the way.