On its face this seems like a silly and easily dismissible notion, but neuroscience has established that visualizing the processes of learned skills can improve\reinforce neural pathways in much the same manner actually performing the action does. One can strengthen the brain's connections used to perform a task by thinking about doing the task. The more these neural pathways are reinforced, the easier and more efficiently it becomes for our brains to process them. This phenomenon is a contributor to concept of 'muscle memory.' We have all experienced performing a task which has become rote to the point it seems we do not have to consciously think about doing it. That is the product of well-establish neural pathways.

A question I am left with is whether a martial-arts fighting game/simulator has the ability to reinforce neural pathways in a similar manner to memory-based visualization.

Does playing a fighting game help reinforce learned concepts like spatial reasoning and tempo/priority?

Does controlling a proxy character on a display internalize actions taken enough for our brains to reinforce similar establish neural pathways (i.e. does my character's roundhouse kick make my brain think about performing a roundhouse kick in a similar manner to physically performing the action myself)?

What are the thresholds/tolerances for such an internalization, if any? Does a 3rd person proxy character work as well as immersive virtual reality?

I understand this is a complex issue, and perhaps beyond the scope of Stack Exchange. However, if video games can function in such a reinforcing manner, they may become an invaluable tool helping martial artist strengthen their training.

  • Do you really think of a round house kick or just: Square + Square + Triangle? Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:28
  • That's certainly part of the question. At a certain level of play, one isn't thinking about the action of performing the controller inputs. That leaves one free to consider positioning and strategy. How much does our neuroplasticity, mirroring, and sympathetic response connect us to our proxy on the display? How does that sympathetic connection equate internally?
    – Zen_Hydra
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:34
  • While I have not seen it used for training, I have had people explain zoning using fighting games, the idea that every technique has a viable minimum and maximum distance, and that part of controlling a fight is controlling that distance so that you can deliver your own techniques while preventing your opponent from deploying theirs. It's something that a lot of people get intuitively in the games, but recognizing it formally allows a much better understanding of the concept. Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 12:42

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, videogames aren't in a place where they can do much for you at this time - future technology, VR, etc. might solve all of these problems, but it likely won't be very soon.

Most videogames use buttons and joysticks - so you're not getting a solid muscle memory built up from that. The ones that use gloves/remote VR controls, etc. often have a lag, don't have realistic impact, and tightly limit your movement as far as footwork options.

The way in which you see or visualize the movements is rarely 1st person, and rarely in that, are they well done or with realistic timing. A key point of design in videogames is giving people telegraphed attacks so you can have a chance to react fairly. Even motion capture loses things like muscle twitch or eye shift that might be the "tell" you'd use against a real opponent.

You are probably better off closely studying video of great practitioners doing their art to learn the movement you want, and to read the tells that go with specific movements.

  • Very good answer. I would only want to point out in addition that even if the gaming technology was ready for this type of training (no lag, full range of motion, realistic speeds and all the rest), there's still the matter of actually being able to perform those techniques. While under stress of being in a real conflict. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 6:53

There are multiple parts to training.

  1. Mental/Psychological/Emotional ability to handle and work through situations and maneuvers.
  2. Strength/Agility/Endurance ability to handle and work through situations and maneuvers.

Video games only allow a mental and sometimes psychological/emotional ability. This is also limited to just the reasoning center and not the full person.

Practice and training is required as the body must build strength/agility/endurance to the physical intensity of martial arts. Also, muscle memory is needed as the brain hard wires repetitive muscle movements to ease the strain on the overall brain thought processing in performing physical actions. Think of typing on a keyboard, when you start you have to look at all the letters and writing takes forever, but as your body remembers the finger positions and it becomes more an instinct then you just think the words and the fingers make it happen without really thinking about it anymore. This is called muscle memory.

To become good in a martial art you need solid muscle memory development so you just think on movements/techniques and your body just does them correctly. You don't have to stop and think, spinning back kick needs to pivot on left foot, align hips and strike with right heel while spinning and maintaining the balance and positioning to push force outward at the exact moment and placement for maximum impact. You need to just say, spinning back kick followed by jumping roundhouse or sweep and your body knows what you mean.

Therefore, you can get "ideas" from video games which are sometimes fun to try, but you can't actually become better at martial arts from a video game. You need to get into your body in order to develop a martial arts discipline.

I always wanted to do the electric shock move that Blanka did from street fighter, but all the focus in the world doesn't make it actually happen. I would need to attempt with my body and discover "humans don't channel electricity without taking damage and can't generate it on their own". This is a very obvious example, but the point being that video games look cool and just because it's cool looking doesn't make it realistic. Try it out and see if it's total crap or actually achievable, but either way you still have to train on it yourself in your body and reality to gain it as an ability for you.

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