Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's not how you win or lose...

But winning is way more fun than losing!

Sorry for the delay, as always. I have a valid excuse this time, though. My birthday was yesterday! So, that being the case, I went out and had a good time with some old friends. I feel old, I'm 28 now.

I was hanging out at my house one day and a friend of mine was playing some game (I think it was R6: Vegas 2, might have been CoD: WoW though, I wasn't watching). It had been a long time since I had been greeted with so many shouted obscenities over a video game. More importantly, I hadn't heard it in person since I was a teenager. Every time I heard him shout, it was the same kind of exclamation that I use when I hurt myself tripping over something, or when some serious life circumstance screws me over. And here this guy is, shouting curse words at the game like it's his girlfriend and it cheated on him or something.

I don't think this is something uncommon because when playing anything online you tend to see it. I have quite a few lovely private messages in my XBL menu because people could not beat Seth's jumping fierce and got hit by it over and over. Most of them have to do with the size of my penis or other parts of my reproductive organs.

So today I'm going to talk about how to control your emotions.

I am a pretty emotional person. Although you can't really tell in these cold, lifeless walls of text, I am not a person very rooted in hard logic. As a kid, I had a lot of rage and I took it out on other kids. I was a really violent 3rd grader. As far as relationships go, I tend to devote myself very fully to my romantic partner, and their respect is very tied to my emotional state. I've had a lot of practice turning myself from being a really angry, emotionally unstable kid to being a well-balanced adult (okay, maybe 'well-balanced is the wrong word...)

Usually this kind of emotional outburst has to do with some deeper underlying personal problem. I think that a lot of people are slow to admit that they have problems, but chances are if you are one of those people who have large emotional outbursts, there is a problem. If you take that as an insult, don't. If we have some kind of personality flaw, we can fix it. A problem is just waiting for a solution so we can improve and grow.

In this case, the problem is likely the belief that we are better at something than we actually are. There have been some pretty big scientific studies on this. The studies basically show that the higher your skill level is, the more likely you are to be able to recognize skilled play. The unfortunate thing is that the lower your skill is, the less able you are to recognize skilled play. This basic concept applies to pretty much everything, from math to humor to video games.

The idea is that a person with who fails will often not understand the reasons behind their failure and will feel cheated. When you feel cheated in some way, you get upset or angry.

A good example of this is in Ninja Gaiden (the original NES game) when the game starts making flying birds that hit you as you are jumping with no warning, or foes that attack you instantly as you are landing on a platform. Both of these enemies knock the player into a bottomless pit, forcing you to start over. If you don't know how to deal with the birds you will almost certainly feel cheated. An expert player would probably just chalk up getting hit by one as a personal failure, and keep trying.

In this particular case, I would say that the game designer should not create unforgiving situations like the birds that hit you into bottomless pits.

However, many players are put into more normal situations present in most games, and when they fail those, they get upset or angry. Most video games present some sort of challenge to the player, and when that challenge isn't met, you're expected to fail and try again. Alternatively, competitive games are won based on player merit (some luck is involved, but player skill is usually the main factor) and the losing player should not feel as though the other player is cheating them by winning.

In general, the first step is to take responsibility for failures. A certain friend of mine spent thousands of minutes over his cellphone plan, then got the bill which was very large. He complained at the phone company, and then at cellphones in general! I explained to him that he had no one to blame but himself - that he should have purchased a better plan, or used fewer minutes. This is obvious! The phone company is not responsible for his actions - they allow him the use of their service, and they offer usage plans to accomodate different amounts of calling time. Now he is on an unlimited plan, which is probably a smart play for him.

In the same way, if you are failing at something, look within, because the problem is usually yourself and not anything or anyone else. This is not a reason to get depressed or upset with yourself because you failed. It's an opening for improvement! If you lose to an aggressive dark templar rush in StarCraft, you learn to build detection early, or scout better, or wall off ramps to your base with supply depots so you know the attack is coming. If your opponent defeated you in a fighter with a very strong wake-up game that you couldn't defend against, you should work on improving your skills at getting up from the ground safely or perhaps work on keeping from getting knocked down in the first place.

But let's broaden things up a little and say you lost at something you could have won at. There are a few possibilities:

1) You actually aren't as good as you think you are. Occasionally I lose in a serious tournament to a player I think I should have beaten. I will say that probably at least half of those times my opponent might have been at my skill level or better, but I could not tell in the chaos of the match. This happens a lot in Soul Calibur, since there isn't a lot to separate good players and bad players, barring some combos that you don't actually need to learn. Even then, you may know some pretty nasty combos, but have poor actual gameplay skills.

In this case you should look deeper at why you lost. A lot of my previous posts talk about the deep hidden meaning in competition, and previously unspoken mysteries about timing. There are many mental things you will need to discover, and while reading about things can help, practice is very important too. If it's possible, practice with the person who beat you.

2) You made a lot of mistakes. I played in a SF4 tournament at Sakura-con, which was pretty fun except I got wiped out in the first round to a Ryu player who was clearly worse than me. Most of my friends and all the 'real' SF4 players affirmed the truth as well, that I played better but ended up losing. The big reason this happened was due to mistakes. This is where practice really shines. Practice helps refine your skills and makes them more consistent. Sometimes in crunch time you'll choke up and make mistakes, but if you practice your heart out you'll perform tons better even if you choke.

Sometimes practicing is boring (didn't I write an article somewhere about discipline?) but it's what turns you from a good player into an excellent one.

Okay, getting challenges out of the way, I started on a point earlier that I want to revisit, and that is that blaming other things for your problems is bad. This is not something that you can just stop doing, even though I explained earlier how wrong it was. You have to actually take the steps and say, "I am going to stop blaming everything else." Once you do that, then you have to actually stop. You won't stop right away of course, but the goal is to catch yourself doing it, and say "That was bad, I was wrong." Eventually you will find yourself doing it less and less, until you stop entirely.

Controlling your emotions in those situations is a similar point too. Although you can look at the root causes of blame and pride, this is a small thing a prideful person can do to balance themselves a little. Don't get upset at things, don't stress yourself out like that so much. If you feel the rage coming on, remember to stop yourself. Or if it's depression, likewise think that failure is just a step on the road to becoming a better person. You'll get mad or depressed still, but it'll happen less and less. If you can improve yourself in other ways, you'll also find yourself becoming better at controlling your anger.

This topic was really scatterbrained because I wrote it in spurts over about a ten hour period. Sorry!

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