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Dealing with moments of panic in gaming: the first wall

Dealing with moments of panic in gaming: the first wall

I think the thing that frustrates me most about learning video games are the panic moments where you know what you should have done, but lack the mental clarity to put them into practice. In a high-pressure situation, I sometimes can’t connect the dots to what I’m seeing and what I need to do to successfully react to the situation.

This sucks, mostly because that process — observing and reacting — is pretty key to playing most games at a high level. You need to be able to slow down the moment to a series of choices and be able to predict your opponents’ choice, as well; tunnel visioning usually leads to disaster, especially in multiplayer games.

This is what I find the first major “wall” to be when it comes to improving a game. Learning the rules can be simple, and how those rules play out in a real match is the next step, and where you can start describing yourself as participating. However, the hurdle after that — the one that starts complicating things — is going beyond acting in order to act with purpose. It stops becoming about hitting your buttons in favor of hitting them in a certain way.

A lot of what keeps me from doing that comes from thinking about and expanding on the possibilities of my actions. The big one — the one that’s the worst — is considering what happens if I fail to do the necessary action. If something happens too fast for you to react to, it can generally be hand-waved away, or analyzed later to reduce the factors that let it happen; it’s the moments where you know you have all the tools to succeed, but you just don’t, that are the most frustrating.

In Street Fighter, this happens when I land something that I am supposed to be able to convert into more damage. I don’t sometimes because the thought doesn’t cross my mind that I should do it. This also extends to poking with normals; I am so scared (especially when facing certain characters) that a momentary unsafe action will lead to my opponent opening me up and the round being lost.

In Dota, this hesitance happens with split pushing or carrying; I get nervous about the possibility of being the most evident (and easily criticized) reason for a loss. When it comes to macro decisions and others that aren’t immediately apparent, your team is less likely to call them out than the person who pushed too far or tried something unsafe.

The games aren’t unfair for having this happen, nor is it my opponents’ fault for taking advantage of the situation. All I can really do is practice the situations to a point where the choices become easier to execute and the decisions become quicker. Practicing combos means that I can execute them on muscle memory, and seeing how and why I was caught out in Dota means noticing similar situations later.

All part of the process.

Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch.