Training, execution, and mindfulness

I have a hard time being present.

It sounds simple enough: focusing and engaging with the moment in front of you. My biggest distraction there is thinking about what’s down the road, and the consequences of wrong choices. This is pretty much the foundation of my anxiety and a lot of my mental health issues.

I’ve become more aware of how much this matters now that I’ve been feeling more stable. When I’m gaming, though, this overthinking rears its ugly head again.

I’ve decided to get back into Street Fighter V as a way to challenge myself again. I’ve also left behind the character I started with, Ryu, to move onto someone I was once scared of facing: Akuma.

Akuma represents something that is almost my antithesis. He is a glass cannon, having the lowest health in the game and the highest damage. Get momentum, create pressure, kill them before they kill you.

In the past, I’ve played characters with as many safety nets as possible. To rely on my skill alone means facing the scary reality that my reflexes and decision-making skills are not what they should be.

With Akuma, I’m finding the way the character plays is really fun. His actions feel really smooth in my hands; I like the way he chains together his combos and how he has different optimization to squeeze as much damage out of every opportunity.

But if I want to play him, I need to be present.

In my stream the other night I realized my current wall is the most basic of Akuma’s links: MK ► LK Tatsumaki Zankukyaku. That LK Tatsu is the gate to a lot of Akuma’s damage options, and right now, I’m struggling to make it come out. That first MK (it looks like a standing knee) is happening, but despite doing what feels right in Training Mode, I’m getting nothing.

So, back to Training Mode I go. I fiddle. I grind.

I realize something.

Just walking up to the dummy and doing the link is easy. I was able to replicate the errors I was making when I attempted to imitate moving back and forth, trying to choose my moment to go in. This is where the being present thing comes in: I feel like I’m so surprised that I connected in the first place, my brain panics, and I’m not able to keep my hands going. The moment is lost, and my momentum with it.

And man, does it suck.

The same thing happens in Dota; I tunnel vision on a prospective target in a core role and forget to use my items or ignore obvious threats around me. I’ll panic when I’m in danger as a support and not choose appropriate targets. Suddenly, looking at the fight from a bigger picture seems impossible, and my positioning, execution and clarity all fly out the window. My focus becomes singular: kill, survive, run.

I… don’t like this, for obvious reasons. It makes me realize that I’m uncomfortable in these situations because I’m thinking about possibilities and what could happen after. My actions lead to others, and those actions could be bad. It could make me or my team lose the game. It could waste my time playing the game. It could get me yelled at. It could be a reminder of how much I suck.

I think that last bit, while silly, is a bit hard to confront, mostly because games are something that are supposed to be helping me with my depression, not making it worse. Losses remind my brain of its insecurities: you’re not good, you’ll never be good, you’re wasting your time with this horrible feeling when you could just stop.

The discomfort that comes with grinding out the experience needed to not panic is something is the only way that changes. It’s reframing the negative into something else, but it can feel that it’s a mountain to climb with little reward at the top. Sure, I’ll pass this, but I’ll run into another wall and the negative feeling will reset.

I’m trying to ignore all that. It’s about convincing myself that whether this is  is a good use of my effort doesn’t matter right now. It’s trying to not second-guess whether I’m really having fun, or whether I really want to do this, or for the right reasons. It’s learning that I suck, but realizing that it’s a great opportunity to improve and grow. It’s learning that frustration can be natural, but drive us to bettering ourselves.

Above, I’ve set the dummy in Training Mode to Random Guard, which means that I can learn to react to whether it’s blocking or not, and continue the combo. It’s frustrating. I feel silly in catching that I’m executing based on a notion of “oh yeah, it can’t be blocking this time, it blocked X amount of times in the past.”

I’m often wrong. And in acting off a pattern or a guess, I’m not present. I’m not reacting.

[edit: I’m being told that the window for hit confirming stMK ► lkTatsu alone is… pretty impossible due to the game’s input lag and how small the window is to react. So I need to tweak this drill, obviously, but the rest of the article kind of makes sense still. (Thanks Dacid!)]

Being present in this situation means emptying your mind of nothing else but the situation at hand. It means seeing that damage flash or the hit sound and knowing nothing else but “do this now.”

Obviously there’s more going on in a match, but I’m suddenly aware of how much I’m thinking “Oh man, if he blocks this, I’m going to get punished, and I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose ranking points, the viewers on my stream will leave because I suck, I’m going to give up at this and be discouraged, and it’ll be more evidence that you couldn’t stick out the rough patches. You don’t really like this that much. You should do something else.”

I mean… that’s overwhelming. I’d like to let all that stuff go. Being able to just focus on the now in front of me seems like a much better alternative.

Hopefully, when I do — because I bet if I stick with this, this problem will seem fucking trivial in a month — I’ll be able to embrace the joy of learning, and actually have more fun.

That joy feels like a myth at times. It’s hard. But I’m still trying.

Small steps.

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