Breaking the flow: Evolving as a player

Every so often someone comes along and tells everyone that losing is the best way to learn, and most people agree with them. Now personally I think it’s a statement lacking nuance, and instead of losing we should be focused on gaining and traumatically losing a flow state. I tried to keep this a short as possible to avoid much ranting…


Flow is a match between skill and challenge.

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state. First of all one must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. Secondly the task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. Finally one must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.

In Warmachine the first condition is simply playing the game, as both goals and progress are easily defined. The second condition is clear and immediate feedback which also comes naturally to the game, because if you mess up your dudes will die and you lose. The second condition is why the ‘losing is the best way to learn‘ statement keeps popping up, because there’s no more obvious and immediate feedback than losing the game instantly because you mess up.

This makes sense, and losing obviously teaches you something, but I will also argue that losing a close game teaches you more because of the third condition: One must have confidence that he or she is capable of doing the task at hand, or there can be no flow state and therefore very little learning.

The revised statement

It’s not as sleek as it could be, but I find this statement to be more accurate when it comes to describing the best way to learn in Warmachine: Having your expectations broken in a traumatic way is the best way to learn. This also means that you need to believe in your ability to win in order to actually have it broken, which leads me to believe that intentionally playing poor lists in order to learn is a major mistake as well. This then leads me to the Lamoron three step guide to really learning something about Warmachine.

  • Play against opponents you feel are more or less on the same level as you are.

Facing highly skilled players won’t teach you much unless you’re almost as skilled as they are. You won’t understand their strategies, you won’t see why you lost, and you will assume a loss when you go in, thus denying you the flow state and landing you in sort of ‘accepted panic’ state instead.

  • Don’t intentionally create bad lists in order to learn.

You should never go in with a list you know is less than optimal if the desired effect is to learn and grow as a competitive player, as your brain will simply write the loss off as the predicted outcome. If you feel comfortable experimenting then go ahead, but only if you somehow believe that the list can win competitive games.

  • Play more games that matter.

Neuroscience teaches us that the brain has trouble telling the difference between large and small rewards/punishments. This means that if the loser is somehow punished the brain will treat the loss as something serious, and devote more resources to avoid that outcome next time. If you can’t play tournament games, at least make the loser clear away the table after the game.


These statements are generalized and fairly accurate for the vast majority of the worlds population, but as we all know the vast majority does not equal everyone and you might be different (although you most likely aren’t). If you have found a way of learning that differs significantly from the traumatic destruction of a flow state, then by all means use it and ignore what everyone else is telling you :D



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3 Responses »

  1. I agree with the majority of your argument; I think there’s an important caveat to the 2nd condition though. If my dudes die and I lose, I can naturally assume that I’ve messed up somehow – this is the feedback you mention. The part I often see people miss is understanding the why and how of the messing up.

    If it’s just a matter of me thinking “my guys died, I lost, I should do better next time”, I won’t grow much as a player. If I think about why I lost at a more tactical level, or better yet, I and my opponent talking through the game after the fact, I’m much more likely to be successful when that situation shows up again.

    Bad example: his bile thralls purged on my guys and killed them all. Bile thralls are a nightmare (generally followed by “Cryx is OP”).

    Good example: his bile thralls purged on my guys and killed them all. They can move 5 and purge 6, so their threat is 11. Madelyn let them walk an extra 3, so I need to pay attention if she’s in the list. Their stats are terrible so it would be effective to shoot them before they get to me.

  2. I’ve seen a similar chart a long time ago and can’t agree more about applying it to Wargames & Learning/Growing in them. It’s a very deep topic applicationswise.

    The one thing with playing more games that matter is: Can I afford that? Does the growth of my brain(‘s capabilities regarding Warmachine) justify the travel time, tournament fee and whatelse, especially when I’m strapped on cash/time?

    In this regard, I appreciate the suggestion of “loser tidies up”.

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