Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update: Still alive!

Hey friends; been absent from the blogging for awhile.

First, the life update. New semester started, been playing a lot of guitar, and trying to figure out where I’m going to apply for work once I’ve finished my degree program (and since people always ask, the degree plan is Cognitive Science, with a concentration in Neuroscience and Machine Learning). I’m taking 18 credit hours this semester so I’m a little busy, but I’ll have the Bachelor’s done this semester (!!) if everything goes well.

But I know you’re here for stuff about video games and probably Smash, so I’ll talk about that instead.

**

Playing Falco is mostly going pretty well. It’s forced me to study a lot of stuff about the game that I hadn’t looked at in-depth before. I can do a lot of cool stuff, I get a bit ahead of myself and do dumb things that definitely won’t work (but would be so cool if they did) and it’s just good to have fun with the game in that way again.

Besides in-game details though, I have had to start looking at a lot of things in my day-to-day that influence my play. There’s also a particular demon that has been continuing to torment me lately, and trying to eliminate it has… well, mostly just made me angrier about it. These are the main groups that I’m looking at:

--Diet
--Sleep/Energy
--Stimulants
--Anxiety/Anger/Mood
--Practice/Research
--Tremors/Lockup

There’s a lot of overlap in these groups--they all interact, and don’t always play nicely--but that’s the way I feel like breaking it down. Let’s just take it piece by piece.

Diet:

I did not really pay much attention to my diet as an influencing factor until recently. I used to try and only eat several hours before playing, and not eat during tournaments because I felt it made me sluggish and slow. Now, I’m finding the opposite to be true. When I am hungry, I get irritable, impulsive, and start thinking slowly, so I’ve tried to keep some form of nutrient flow going during tournament. I’m not really sure what the best kinds of food to eat will be--sometimes just having Gatorade/Powerade during tourney helps, sometimes just drinking lots of water, sometimes trail mix, sometimes one big meal before playing keeps me going for hours--but at the very least I find I need to have something in my stomach before I play, or I play a lot worse, and I get really pissy when things go wrong. I think the official scientific term is “hangry.”

Sleep/Energy:

One thing I’m struggling with is that my main source of practice during the week is at our weekly, Monday Night Melee, which starts at 8 PM. I’m usually up around 8 to 9 AM, and it comes at the end of ~5 hours of difficult classes (class on Monday is 2:30 to 6:45, though I have a bit of time for lunch so it’s not a straight block). By the end of the weekly, if I’m not eliminated early, I’m typically exhausted, since it typically ends around midnight and my highest placing with Falco lately has been 4th. This is a hassle, and I don’t have time for a nap, but it’s the kind of thing I will have to deal with if/when I enter at nationals again, so I’ll just have to treat it as a constant for now. Apart from that I just try to get high-quality sleep and it typically lasts me all day, so that’s fine.

Stimulants:

If you have ever tuned into my stream, and you’ve ever asked me a question, you probably have firsthand experience with my ADD. I am super easily distracted even in the middle of a sentence, and usually I have to stop everything to give my attention to the question, or else I can’t finish my thoughts. I’ve had a hell of a time dealing with it, and I have an Adderall prescription for school.

Downside: Adderall destroys my ability to play Smash. I know some people use it as a performance enhancer, but for me, it just aggravates my tremors to the point that I can’t handle the controller. I can use the concentration to handle my emotional state more effectively, but my hands don’t really seem to care how hard I concentrate, they just don’t play ball. I take it in the morning, so thankfully it mostly fades by the time my weekly starts, and since I don’t really need it when I travel, I just don’t take it. That typically reduces my tremor back to base level, though since my base-level tremor is pretty shaky, it’s not exactly a cure-all. Still, it’s preferable to the alternative.

The biggest downside to the Adderall, however, is that since it tends to reduce appetite, I forget to eat. When the stimulant leaves my system and I realize that I’m hungry, I’m usually ravenous and also exhausted and burnt out. So I’ve had to make myself eat small things regularly, even when I don’t want to, and that helps. Mondays can be a pain, because I mostly won’t eat during the day, then I can forget to eat before my weekly, and then I have to cram food in my gullet, and then I want to take a nap. So… it takes some planning that was never an issue when I didn’t take Adderall.

Also regarding stimulants: some time ago I found that even when I’m not particularly nervous or amped up, caffeine interferes with my fine motor skills and just throws me off a tiny bit, so I stopped drinking that during tournaments as well. If I want to perk up, I try to make sure when I consume anything caffeinated, I do it at least two hours before I play, and that works out pretty well. Otherwise I just try to let the game be my stimulant and keep away from coffee, soda and energy drinks. This does alright, as long as I’m well fed and watered.

Anxiety/Anger/Mood:

Number one reaction I get from people when they learn I have emotional issues: “wow, you’re really chill normally! I wouldn’t have thought you’d be such a rager!”

Well, if I could only pick one benefit from sticking with Smash for so long, it’s that Melee tilts me so hard that almost every other emotional struggle in life feels like a joke. I can’t even describe how frustrated, nervous, angry, etc. I sometimes get when playing, and I’m supposed to be Mister Words.

Somebody elbowed me in the face when standing up in a crowded lecture hall, and I just blinked and said “eh, it’s okay, these things happen.” I got a test back that I thought I aced, and it turned out I got a 78: “well, it happens, this stuff is hard, at least it happened now instead of the final.” Girl canceled a date last second that I’d been excited for all week: “Gee, that sucks, oh well more time for guitar.” Have to give a presentation in class? “Sorry, if you think this is nerve-wracking you should try playing for thousands of dollars on stream some time.” I feel these distant little pulses of annoyance, like the universe is trying to heckle me but the worst thing it can do is call me is a poo-face and it’s just so pathetic that it’s funnier than anything else. Squelching an angry response to those things is small. I am beyond such trivial considerations. I am transcendent.

Hit the wrong button in a children’s party game? I am the Lord, and wrathful and vengeful is my name. I want to smash my hands with a hammer so they can’t offend me anymore with their flawed existences. There’s more to it than just making mistakes though, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but nothing has a direct line to my emotional centers--whether it’s getting nervous, raging, or being depressed over my own inability--like Smash does. My emotional response is so out of whack that it would feel cartoonish if it weren’t so tumultuous.

Being well-rested and well-fed helps me control this a lot more. Many of my cognitive strategies for handling them do a pretty good job. They do such a phenomenal job in every other part of my life that I don’t even want to blame them for letting me down. Again, I don’t know how to describe it. When I get frustrated, or nervous, or whatever, the emotion just surges through my brain so intensely that I have to stop everything I’m doing to manage it, and usually that means I just have to eat a loss at the moment and move on.

Practice/Research:

In trying to play better, I’ve had to devote more time to intelligent practice and research on what to practice, since my conventional understanding of the game is getting outdated. I’ve needed to flowchart certain situations so that I can avoid using any brainpower on them, and pay attention to other details instead, so I can pick different flowcharts when I want to mix people up. Falco requires a lot of snappy inputs and reactions in certain situations, and right now I’m at a point where I can only be aware and intelligent for so many of those situations, and in the other ones, I’m pretty flawed and exploitable. This is one of the downsides of playing a character that people have so much experience against, and it’s just part of the process of learning him. Thankfully there’s lots of material for me to study and research in this regard, so he’s improving at a pretty decent rate! Overall I’m pretty happy with how my practice and research are paying off, so this area is actually just a net positive.

There was a point where I thought I just wasn’t practicing enough, and that it was the source of my miseries; lately though, I’ve found certain things are just integrating themselves, like better aerial timings. Certain complex errors are correcting themselves more frequently, and most of it comes from reflecting on them, drilling them, paying attention to them when I play, and not being lazy about them. Overall, this area is a big plus, and it’s been fun and rewarding to experience progress here. I also feel very glad that I’m getting progress at all, since I have to devote so much time to school that I don’t get to practice as much as I probably should.

Tremors/Lockup:

Okay, here’s where everything has really sucked lately, and I’m still struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. Some progress has been made, but in other places I’m still stumped. The progress here has mainly come from trying to fix my motor errors, noticing that I have several sources of potential errors, and realizing that lumping them all together is a mistake when trying to solve them. So let’s try to tease them apart.

First, I’m trying to distinguish complex errors from simple errors, as well as large from small. Complex errors happen during sequences of chunked movements--an example would be hitting a fast, low d-air on shield into shine grab, then a rapid up-throw to increase the odds of bad DI. There are a lot of movements that require specific timing, it strings them all together, and it’s all done in reaction to seeing “hey, he’s vulnerable here and I can get him stuck in shield.” Even if all components are at 99 percent success rate individually, linking them together is the big challenge of this game, and it’s reasonable to make mistakes here. It’s just part of the learning curve. Simple errors, however, come from trying to input a single chunked movement, and screwing it up. Something like trying to f-tilt, and accidentally dash attacking.

The other big distinction here is a large error from a small error. I mean it in terms of the motion or the timing, rather than the consequence. Little errors can lead to big consequences; i.e., I try to do a shine from a dash, but I am a little slow in rolling the joystick and get a forward+b off the stage. Big consequence, but it’s such a small difference in timing or joystick positioning that it’s like, “well, yeah, this is a fast and difficult motion.” A large error, however, means something like “hey, I wanted to forward-tilt, but I up-aired because I smashed the joystick in the wrong direction from a standstill, and I hit the A button super late.” It’s not like you missed your putt by a foot, it’s like you abruptly turned around and putted in the wrong direction.

Briefly going back to my rage issues… the best way for me to think about it is like a rage meter. It builds up from my mistakes, but goes down over time. When I devote attention to it, I can force it to go down faster, with things like deep breathing and positive self-talk. In order from least frustrating to most frustrating, it goes:

--Small, complex errors
--Large, complex errors
--Small, simple errors
--Large, simple errors

Small-complex means something like “whoops I was off by a frame on a single input in this long string of techniques.” Those don’t really tilt me that much. If my rage meter was out of 100, this is like a +5. I have to make lots of those small errors in a row. Large-complex means something like “I did three fast and difficult techniques in a row, and on the last one my brain got really confused and hit the opposite direction it was supposed to.” That’s more like a +8.

Small-simple is going to be something like accidentally doing an up-angled f-tilt versus up-tilting. It’s a minor directional difference, but it’s a simple motion. I find failing at a simple task to be really aggravating, even when the mistake is small, like being few degrees off with a joystick motion. I think it’s mostly the feeling that it should be easy that triggers this feeling. Call it a +10.

But large-simple? Like having my hands spasm and miss the c-stick entirely? Like trying to wavedash away, but accidentally air-dodging straight up? Have your tranq darts ready, I lose my mind over that. +25, easy. When this stuff adds up and hits me in quick succession, I want to murder something. Myself, usually.

If I start adding up a lot of small-complex errors though, I can notice and start to simplify my game a bit. “Hey, I’m just a tiny bit off right now, let’s slow it down and ease into it.” Even if they’re large, the same thing tends to happen; it’s probably something I wasn’t as practiced at, or I lost focus part of the way through the string and thought about doing something else, and that interfered with my execution. Again, I’ll slow it down, I’ll focus a bit more, I’ll take a deep breath. It’s so manageable. Most of the time when I’m playing Falco, this is my general error source, and I don’t even mind that much. Everybody messes this stuff up.

But the simple errors feel so daunting, because they’re so fundamental to your play. A complex action is just a string of simpler, chunked actions. If I can’t reduce my behavior down to hitting the dang buttons properly, then what do I have left? These mistakes feel almost physically painful, and I can’t get away from them because in order to play, I need to at least do something simple, and sometimes I just can’t and I don’t really know why. Especially because I know that I have the raw coordination; watch me practice and I can pull off some wild stuff. In game? Nobody knows what we’re gonna get.

Now, back to the actual heading of this section, sometimes it’s my hand tremors. They suck, I can’t get away from them, and they’re pretty hard to deal with when it comes to fine joystick movement, especially since I’m right-hand dominant. I have tricks for dealing with it though, and a lot of it comes down to managing my mood, my diet, my energy, etc. Those are the things that have formed the bulk of my progress over the past ten or so years in this respect. When I’m angry, my motions can get bigger, clunkier, and more wild, so the tremors can get amplified. When I’m nervous, the shakes magnify, and it’s usually curtains until I can get it under control. I was particularly tilted after one set where I didn’t feel nervous--heartbeat was normal, breathing was fine, large shakes weren’t present--but my motor skills still sucked! That was my set with Westballz in Sweden, and that’s where I found that caffeine interferes my execution. That’s a finding that has remained pretty consistent. It’s all about keeping my tremors down to their baseline, where they are manageable.

But as I narrow certain stuff down and find that certain things work and other stuff doesn’t, there’s one issue that keeps coming up that I don’t understand. My hands will sometimes just lock-up, regardless of how warmed up I am, how nervous I am, how caffeinated, tired, whatever I am. They don’t seem to have this problem in any area of my life but Smash--example, I can comfortably type ~130 words per minute with few mistakes. They don’t generally lock up when I’m playing music, barring situations with fatigue or things I’m unpracticed with. But in Melee, when they lock up, the most basic interactions with my controller fail me. I can’t dash. I can’t do tilts. I can’t wavedash. If I try to turn, I’ll run the wrong direction. If I try to dash the other direction, I’ll turn or crouch or jump with the joystick, anything but the right input. I’ll miss buttons, my index finger will hover over the L or R trigger, then suddenly slap down and double tap it. It will happen in the most mundane scenarios, and I don’t get it.

Last night was pretty aggravating for this reason. I got to winner’s semis, playing reasonably well. I had just played a set against one of our local ICs, and made a small comeback on game 1 even though I was feeling that anxiety that you get when you get wobbled three times from relatively minor errors; my heartrate was jumping and I was feeling a bit jittery, but I managed to get things under control and won the set. After that, I had just played ~30 minutes of friendlies against a Fox I’m pretty evenly matched against while waiting, and by the end of the games I was actually winning by a solid margin and hitting some really nice, difficult strings.

I got into the game, and suddenly I could not do ANYTHING. I could not get my fingers to block when I saw a raptor boost coming, even when I called it in advance. After getting hit by it several times, then just wrenching my hand into the shield to make it work, I couldn’t get my muscles to recover in time to punish. I took stock of my heartrate, the tension in my hands, etc, and things were fine. I was still fairly calm and relaxed, even though I felt like I’d played abysmally; heck, I was less nervous than I’d been against our ICs player. I took a few deep breaths anyhow, waited a bit before going into game 2, and it turned out even worse, so I quit out before I could finish getting three-stocked.

Hands felt fine. The matchup didn’t confuse me. I didn’t feel myself getting more nervous than normal, or even start getting actually angry until part of the way through game two. No caffeine in my system. I’d been playing fine for the past hour, then suddenly it was gone. Afterwards (around fifteen minutes, after I’d calmed down) I sat down to play a different Fox in friendlies who had beaten me twice before the weekly, when warming up. I actually three-stocked him a few times. Skill = back.

For that set, for about eight concentrated minutes, my hands just refused to cooperate with me, and after the set, they were back in action like nothing happened. I played my next tournament set against a Jigglypuff, had a few mistakes but mostly played really well, then played against another one of our Fox players, and… well, the lock-up started happening again, but not as bad, in retrospect. The errors were a little more on the small-complex side, but I was in a sufficiently bad mood that it still tilted the hell out of me.

This inability to perform basic maneuvers has been bothering me for a long time, but I’ve mostly been able to trace it to my tremors, especially being amplified by anxiety and stress. I do a much better job of handling that, but when I feel it happen anyway, knowing the source makes me much less irritated. I know that I could have taken more deep breaths, or written my thoughts out to calm myself down, or worked out the tension a bit in warmup. There’s an answer to that. When I couldn’t figure it out again, it turned out it was caffeine and stimulants. I could have a cup of coffee and watch myself go from good to decent to horrifyingly inconsistent over a time-course of thirty minutes. Some of my other mistakes, particularly in the small-complex realm, or even the large-complex, mostly come from not drilling enough, losing focus, or just getting surprised and taking action in a rushed way. I’ve become deeply acquainted with all of that over the years.

But this is just something irritating and new entirely. I’m gonna think and write more about it soon.

**

So that’s where I’m at now, particularly regarding my Smash progress. Another question that people have asked me lately is whether I’m going to any majors soon, and the answer is Too Hot to Handle in October, then Tipped Off 11 in November. The other big one is “are you quitting ICs entirely?” and the answer is “probably not in the long run, but for now, yes.”

Catch you guys later. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thirty

I turned thirty yesterday. It feels weird to say.

It doesn't feel weird to be thirty, though. I woke up and just kept doing the same stuff I typically do. There are times where life falls into "before" and "after." If you don't count licenses and legal ages for stuff, birthdays aren't among those times. You pretty much just keep going, and you're back to normal the moment you forget the number.

Part of the reason I'm not so weirded out though is because I already got over the "wow I'm old" feeling. Once you lose in a competitive video game that you've been playing for ten years to somebody ten years younger than you, that's enough to get you feeling a little old. But I've been struggling with that feeling for a long while (and, I'm sure, people older than me are snickering at me a bit right now).

I didn't finish my first Bachelor's degree, since I didn't know what I would do as an English major and I was also struggling with depression and anxiety. I worked on fixing that problem over time, but I've relied on my family and friends to support me while I pick myself back up. Soon I'm going to have a degree, but I still get embarrassed thinking about being behind the curve, and I feel crummy for wasting both time and resources getting to this point.

I've got friends who are married, friends with kids, friends with degrees and PHDs and actual grown-up jobs. I've got friends who struggled economically growing up (whereas I didn't) who seem farther along towards their goals and life plans than me, including people younger than me. Having the word "thirty" imprinted on my brain adds a little extra weight to all of that.

A lot of this blog has focused on those problems with depression and anxiety, so I don't want to retread and rehash them here. I'm happy to say that I've made a lot of progress in my particular problem areas. A lot of the time, it felt like I wasn't going anywhere, or things were getting worse because was growing older without seeming to progress at all.

But at some point, even though part of me is really determined to feel bad about myself for not being where I'd like, I need to stop and think about things that are going well for me, things I've figured out and integrated into my life. I may have a terrible day, a terrible event, or a terrible thought, but I have to remember progress I've made; only then can it actually boost my emotional state.

It also helps for me to remember that dealing with problems and setbacks often gives you skills and knowledge that other people don't have. If you own a crappy car that you have to keep fixing, you may end up learning a lot about fixing cars. Even if your car breaks again, you can have confidence that you'll be able to figure out what to do. I've pulled myself out of depressive states before. I've overcome my nerves. I don't always successfully manage my frustration and anger, but I'm a lot better at it now than I used to be. Not only that, but the confidence and knowledge helps reduce the effect of future depression and anxieties.

Trying to work on myself constantly and confront the things I do wrong or poorly is daunting. There are some days where I agonize over whether I've stalled in my progress or whether I'm backsliding. Sometimes I am not sure if I'm going to reach my goals, or if things will be better than they are today. But at the end of the day, it all comes from a desire to keep pushing forward. I'm stubborn, and if that's what keeps me going, then I guess I'll take it.

I have no clue what the next thirty years will actually entail for me. Here's hoping the first thirty prepared me for them. Take care everybody.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Stickers

No blog post for months and this is not what I expected to write about. However, I saw something today that legitimately stole every ounce of free thought and attention I have, and I hope that by writing about it, I will get some of it back.

So sometimes people have stickers on their car. Bumper stickers, political stuff, goofy jokes, art, symbols, the stick figure things representing your family and pets, stuff like that. Today I was driving and saw somebody with one of those stickers on their car, and at first I didn't pay it much attention. Something about it, however, stuck out (haha?) and I after a few minutes, it was all I could think about.

The sticker said "I <3 2 Quilt." The heart was drawn in patchwork. And the kicker is, this was the only sticker on this person's car.

Please understand why this is a big deal to me. Most people, once they've put one sticker on their car, they'll put another. They will have one sticker that says "honk if you love guns, fire if you own one!" (I live in Texas), maybe one that says "Proud Mom Of An Honors Student!" and another with their favorite political candidate, and so on. Maybe their high-school and the year they graduated and the sport they played. Maybe their college. Maybe the high-school or college for their kid, instead. Stuff like that.

If somebody has only one sticker, that tells me they either thought "hey I should be the kind of person that puts stickers on their car to be expressive" and then forgot almost instantly. Or it tells me that they really love one thing.

(Some people have a lot of stickers; this might lead you to think that this person really loves a lot of things, but the truth is they only love one thing, and it's probably stickers)

This person? I don't think that they are in that first category. The sticker was too lovingly applied. It sat firmly in the place where families and alma maters normally go, perfectly square with the left rear windshield, placed with the geometric precision of somebody who deals in fabric squares on the daily. The sticker said "I <3 2 Quilt." I believe them.

This person seems like somebody who decided to put things on their car to express what they cared about, applied the quilting sticker, and then stood back perfectly satisfied while in the background a family member looked on, feeling neglected.

The more I thought about it, the more *unreal* this seemed to me. I'm not really the expressive type! I don't have any stickers on my car except for outdated campus parking passes. If I was going to put one on my car, I would either say "this needs to be PERFECT" and then never do it, or I would just go overboard and end up with twenty (the same logic applies with tattoos, which is why I will probably never get one). Yet somewhere, there exists a person who, with perfect purity of the soul, let out a single expressive ray of passion from the patchwork confines that guard their heart. They had one thing to say, and it was about quilting. I wish I could be that honest.

When new acquaintances learn that I spent twelve years of my life playing a video game competitively, I have a tendency to look to the side, embarrassed. I don't have Smash paraphernalia on my car or any of my belongings (excluding some clothing, which I usually only wear to tournaments). I don't wear t-shirts of my favorite bands. I get self-conscious if I wear too many articles of clothing made by the same company. There aren't a lot of things I'm unabashed about liking. One is Dr. Pepper and the other is penguins.

And it's weird to be that guarded, the more I think about it, especially nowadays where it's so easy to find people like you. It's one of the lessons that I (wrongly) learned from growing up. For some reason I always end up liking things that are fringe or strange, and other kids would make fun of me for it. I didn't want people thinking I was weird, so I developed a habit of keeping my interests, passions, and thoughts close to the vest...but I should know better by now! I know that most people are at least a little weird, and if somebody thinks I'm dumb for an arbitrary reason, then I probably didn't want much to do with them anyhow. Yet still, I’m just not that expressive, except in the company of a few close friends.

Imagine my jealousy, seeing that sticker. Somebody out there really likes quilting and doesn't care if you know it. What a hero.


Thought I'd get that off my chest. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I Didn't Know What This Post Was About Until Halfway Through

Hey friends. It's been awhile.

I said it before, but it's been weird trying to play Melee well again. I had a bleh performance at Genesis 3, but right afterwards had a big peak, getting fourth at Battle of the Five Gods, one of the most stacked tournaments in the game's history. After that, success and I set our relationship status to "It's Complicated" and I started getting much lower results, the kind I haven't seen in about five years.

It was funny, but a lot of people did not mentally register me as "good player" until Evo 2013. I was on very few predicted top 10 lists, even though I top 10'ed almost every major I went to for quite awhile. My lowest placing was Apex 2013 at 17th place, losing to Armada and VWins (a highly underrated Peach player from Canada, who got 9th). I was actually really successful for a long time and nobody noticed.

Evo 2013 happened, and people noticed! Then I stopped playing and people speculated that I was secretly the next god of smash and if only I hadn't stopped and et cetera. Let's be fair though, "2nd at the biggest tournament of all time" and "a bunch of top 10s when most of your matches aren't recorded" are quite a few steps apart on the recognition Richter scale. But it is kind of funny, nonetheless.

Now that I'm consistently playing again, a lot of people have gotten better. A lot of people have learned the matchup against my character--and since many regions have a wobbling-heavy Ice Climber now, opponents are becoming less afraid of the nuclear grab game. Certain weaknesses in the way I play the game and think about it have come to light. I had a huge dip in placing earlier in the year, though funnily enough, I'm starting to bring it back a bit. Under top 50 at Genesis 3, then just outside top 32 at CEO, followed by top 25 at EVO, then top 13 at Shine... it's actually coming back a bit. That's cool.

(Ironically, since I haven't posted an Evo2013 level performance and everything else is pretty weak compared to my BOT5G 4th place finish, I've read comments lately from people who believe that I am washed up or falling behind, when closer inspection suggests I'm actually returning to pre-vo status. I think it has to do with comparing me to my peaks, as well as some of the losses to lower-ranked players)

It seems as though things are coming back, a bit at a time. Mostly, however, I keep learning more and more about my mind. Sometimes I don't learn more. I just relearn things that I thought I knew, and forgot about.

Here are some things I'm learning lately.

Lesson one: it was way easier for me to feel calm and focused when I felt no expectations on my performance. The fact that I had few (if any) fans, the fact that most people expected me to lose and thought I was bad... that was actually quite a load off my mind. Adding fans (using that word still makes me feel weird) and expectations has made it a lot harder on me, and it keeps drawing my thoughts away from the actual game. That's something I still have to work on.

This is because--lesson two--I have a debilitating fear of not being good enough. I also have a very vague definition of what it actually means to be "good enough." This allows me to redefine it on the fly so that I always feel bad about myself. I knew I had perfectionist tendencies, and I knew (yet keep forgetting) just how much an impact my expectations have on me. But I keep re-discovering new depths to this fear of inadequacy, and just how deeply it has infiltrated the way I think and function.

That fear inhibits me, but also motivates me. On average, it keeps me from trying new things, particularly if other people are watching. It's bad enough if I am not successful at something, but God help me if other people know it and can remind me via Twitter. In some cases, it motivates me to grind at things until I am much better than your average person (which means I don't have a fear of inadequacy, but a fear of being merely adequate, which is pretty prideful).

The big downside? I stop caring once I meet the threshold. For instance, I played a lot of Overwatch when it released, because a little part of me hated that I never became very good at FPS games. I grinded and studied better players and obsessed on improving, and managed to hit rank 72 in the season one competitive ladder. That was pretty high, especially for somebody who always sucked at the genre (and no, I didn't just play Reinhardt and Lucio). I also felt very good about the improvements I made to my aim, as well as my ability to focus on aim and getting frags while maintaining situational awareness. After a lot of practice and study, I could finally feel good about my performance in an FPS. I met my goal! I wasn't awful anymore.

I haven't touched Overwatch since.

The sad flowchart goes like this: I like a game and play it because I like it. Then I start to feel the need to prove myself and get good at the game, because deep down, not being good is wrong, somehow.

I obsess on the game. I get better. I don't enjoy the process, because learning and improving is filled with failure. The thing about getting good is that you aren't good now. Improvement involves practice, which involves confronting the thing you're bad at. Competition involves losing, which means somebody forcing you to deal with your imperfection. None of that is pleasant to somebody like me, who feels so much stress.

Because I have this deep fear of inadequacy, that process is painful. I can't ignore it, however, because leaving the process undone is equally painful. Either I fail and lose so much that I can't handle playing and practicing anymore, or I finally grind it out and succeed.

When I'm done? I have forgotten the initial enjoyment of the game. The game now has an incredibly strong association with stress and unhappiness. I meet my goal, I become satisfied, and then I don't want to play anymore, because I forgot what fun was.

The sad thing is that's where Smash has sat with me for a long while. Right now I struggle to enjoy myself while playing the game, because I have cared too much about being good at it. It is very hard to have fun, because my immediate reaction is to view the game and my opponent as enemies trying to make me feel bad about myself. 

Winning doesn't feel good, per se. It feels like a large angry dog is in my living room and barking at me, and I finally got it to leave. It's a relief, but not a joy.

On the other hand, losing just feels like being bitten.

Let's not be too depressing though. I have recently had multiple personal victories when it comes to my emotional state, and more lessons learned.

I mentioned in my last post that I was trying to think of the match as a teaching and learning experience. Unfortunately, that proved to be more of a band-aid than a real solution. I have had to get more and more at my root motivations.

Recently I lost to Zealous5000 at Shine, up in Boston. During the set I could not for the life of me figure out why I was losing or making certain errors. By the end of the set, this had not changed.

Historically, being unable to figure things out tilts me harder than anything. One of my ego-triggers is my intelligence. Feeling stupid and incompetent makes me flush, it makes me tense up, it gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. It also prevents me from thinking clearly and logically, which doesn't help me fix things.

However, going into the tournament, I had committed myself to paying more attention to my emotional and physical state during matches. I spent a lot of time meditating on my anger and depression flags, the thoughts that spiral me downward, and the physical responses that tell me what's happening in my head (sometimes before my conscious thoughts do). So as that set went on, I was able to stay focused on defusing those things before they built up. I lost, but there was no edge to it. It may seem odd, but I felt prouder of myself after losing that set than I have after many of my higher profile wins. It was nice to be able to shake his hand, stand up, and not want to break something.

Another big reason that I did not feel so bad was because part of me was happy for my opponent. He had a lot of his friends behind him getting very excited for his potential win as the set reached the end. When he beat me, he seemed pretty happy about it. I was able to think of that as a good thing, something that didn't actually hurt me, make me a worse person, or make me dumb. In a one-on-one game, one person wins. It's a sad state of affairs if you can only be happy when the other person loses. It is also the height of hubris and pride to say "you should be happy for me when I win, because I am supposed to be the victor, but if I lose, then I will be angry about it." (It should also be said that if somebody and all their friends become very happy about beating you, they probably have a high opinion of you, so at the very least, you probably shouldn't feel insulted)

Dictionary.com defines "compassion" as the desire to alleviate another person's suffering, but I think it makes more sense to rephrase it as "the desire to see somebody happy," whether or not they are suffering right now. Being happy for the other person's win is a way of expressing that. It is also, in a lot of ways, the inversion of fear.

This leads us to lesson 3: fear makes you self-centered. Compassion removes self-centeredness.

There are a some players who seem able to lose and shake their opponent's hand with a big smile on their face. Some people seem capable of being honestly happy after losing. I am rarely able to manage that when I try my hardest, and I think it's as simple as this; my fear of being inadequate makes me self-centered. I worry about my performance, my skill, and what those things say about me. It makes me feel threatened. If I am playing to learn, then I know I'm sacrificing my win, and I don't worry as much. If I am playing to goof around, then I know I'm sacrificing my win. If I'm playing my hardest to win? I become afraid that it won't be good enough, and I start to turn inward.

That might even be okay, except I am not looking at how I feel to make sure that I'm staying in a clear state of mind. Something like that isn't being self-centered, we just call it "centered," or grounded, or something. That thinking would be productive. Instead, I'm looking at my performance, and what it says about me. I start crashing into my ego tripwires by thinking "am I playing well enough? Am I good enough?" Now I am not looking at how I feel. I am panicked, trying to eliminate the source of my fear.

Once I go too far down this path, getting back is very difficult. Usually I just get mad and embarrass myself. This also distracts me from focusing on the game, because it's not the game that is upsetting and hurting me. Losing is not hurting me. Errors aren't hurting me. My fear is hurting me. It's the thoughts in my head that I chase around, the criticisms I throw at myself, the way I imagine people are thinking about me.

Think of all the things I could be focused on during this time. I could be observing my opponent's habits. I could be paying attention to the state of my body and adjusting my gameplan based on how I seem to be playing. I could count backwards from 100 by increments of seven and a half. Anything but worrying and dwelling on fears that I can't actually dispel. 

That right there is the other key thing about this self-centered fear: I can't actually do anything about it! If I win, my errors are still eating at me from the inside. Sometimes I just feel like a fraud for winning when I know how bad I am. If I lose, I become incredibly mad, and at that point, I can't undo the loss, I can't say "at least I did this right." The thing I'm afraid of, the thing hurting me, is a ghost that can't be killed. I can't run from it, because it lives in my head.

We defined compassion; let's define fear. Fear is the desire to eliminate or escape a perceived threat to one's well-being. If it's a physical threat, you fight or you run (or you try to look unimportant so it goes away). If it is more nebulous, like a threat to your social standing, or a threat to your self-esteem, you can run from the situation, you can try to conquer the source, or you can try to *justify* the threat away with excuses or rationalizations. You have to make yourself feel as though the threat does not exist.

I said that compassion is an inversion of fear; here is why. The reason compassion takes you out of yourself, especially in a competitive context, is because it is very hard to feel fear when you don't perceive or imagine a threat. When you feel compassion for something, you stop worrying about what hurts you and more about what helps them. The threat begins to vanish from your mind as your focus goes elsewhere, and soon the fear does too.

I also want to clarify that when I say "compassion," I do not mean "want the other person to win." I don't mean "let them win," "sandbag," or anything like that. It doesn't even mean "stop wanting to win yourself." Compassion means acknowledging the other person as somebody like you that also wants to be happy, and viewing their happiness as desirable. When you see the person and the situation as a threat, whether it's to your ego, your health, your reputation, or whatever, that is when fear kicks in. That is when you begin worrying about yourself and destroying the source of the fear.

Forget fun. You've convinced your mind that you're in a fight for survival.

I have been trying get better at noticing this fear as it arises. I have been trying to replace it with compassion for the person I am playing against. They want to play well, they want to succeed, they want to win, they want to be happy, just like me. I am afraid that I'm going to look bad and be bad... but what about my opponent? Do I feel that fear for them? Why not? Do I want them to feel bad? Do they have to feel that way for me to be happy?

In nature, things kill each other and eat each other to survive. It's pretty understandable that they don't have soul-shaking moments of empathy and compassion for their predators or their prey. But in a video game? When the other person is a human being who is a lot like me? Focusing on my fear takes something that could have been a fun and enjoyable learning experience and makes it a lot more mean-spirited. Like I said, it also means I don't even focus on the game, because I'm not afraid of the game. I'm afraid of other things, so my attention goes to them.

And don't forget, compassion is something you can feel for yourself. One of the most insidious things about traits like neurotic perfectionism and low self-esteem is that you may start to treat YOURSELF like a threat. You become the enemy. You can't escape yourself. In my case, I am constantly asking myself "why aren't you good enough?" Suddenly, I am the threat that I fear. I'm the one attacking me by asking myself that question, and I'm the one dragging myself down with perceived failures. The fear sets off chain reactions that make me lose focus and become stressed.

I try to feel it for the other person, because this helps me believe that something good will come out of the match no matter what. I try to feel it for myself, because this makes me avoid negative self-talk. If I wanted another person to be happy, I wouldn't tell them that they were stupid and bad. I wouldn't insult them for making mistakes, I'd try to give them productive advice. If I want that happiness for myself? Then I can't say those things to myself. I wouldn't say them to somebody else, not if I desired their happiness.

The thing is, I knew some of that before. But it hadn't quite occurred to me to couple the concepts together, using one as the antidote for the other.

Lately I have been in circumstances that might have ordinarily set me off, except they haven't. I would say that my anger management has gotten better, but that's not quite right--I just feel a lot less angry and stressed from the get-go. It's not necessarily that I developed new antibiotics, it's more that I'm getting sick less.

Still a work in progress though. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.