Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pace


First off, happy new year everybody!  The blog continues on into 2013, and joy abounds.

And our first topic for the year is going to be the concept of "pace."  First, there's the way it applies to games.  Then, I'm going to take it and apply it a bit more broadly in a social context.  Then bring it back to video games!

In games, pace is about keeping the game oriented in places where you are strong.  If you are patient and defensive, you force your opponent into slower paced situations where you layer positional traps and gain small advantages over time.  You see this in Chess when a player opts for very complicated positions that are based on controlling space and locking down options.  You might see it in fighting games where a player chooses to stay at maximum range, zoning with little annoying poke moves while baiting for counter-hits.  If you're aggressive and fast paced, you keep the pressure on, forcing the opponent to make rapid decisions, confident that your snap-judgments are better under fire.

Controlling pace is based heavily on understanding your strengths.  Being able to keep the game fixated where you are strong is what makes some players feel so unstoppable.  They have weaknesses, they just don't play the game around them.  Doing this lets them avoid turn-arounds, and it also keeps execution solid and confidence high.

What are you good at?  How can you make sure the game stays focused on those areas?  It helps to be proficient all over, but if you really want to dominate, focusing on your specialties is the way to do it.  Sometimes it can frustrate your opponent, and make them bash their head against the wall trying to beat you where you're best.  This only works out well for you.  Likewise, if you seem to be playing poorly, consider this possibility: you're playing normally, but the game is focused on things you aren't great at.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to improve your weakest area, but you really do want to save that for practice.  I can get really stubborn in tournaments and try to play the opponent's game to prove that I can beat them at it, when the smart (and less stressful) thing to do is prove they can't be me at mine.

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I think it's interesting to examine a social parallel here.  We influence each other's behaviors through a large number of cues, some big and some almost invisible to conscious detection.  When somebody is stressed, they communicate it with body language, and sometimes they transmit the mood by putting you on your guard.  There can be unspoken tension between you, tiny things that make both people feel uncomfortable.  You walk away more stressed than you began, even though nothing actually happened to you.

So you can set paces and moods in conversation by the way you act.  And in turn, you can focus on not getting drawn into somebody else's mood (or pace, or presence).  They act stressed, they hunch and tense their bodies, set their jaw, and by acting on edge, they start putting you on edge.  To avoid letting this transmit, you might choose to maintain a laid-back posture; you relax your face, open up your stance, and become a living embodiment of composure.

Does it work?  It's obvious that mood effects your body language, but studies show body language effects mood as well.  The associative link is very strong going both ways.  In fact, having made the decision to be in a good mood when somebody near you seems determined to be miserable, you may find yourself thinking how ridiculous they look.  You may find yourself thinking how ridiculous YOU look if you're obsessing over a problem, then consciously choose to adopt the posture and expressions of somebody with everything under control.  As long as you don't start telling yourself, "God I feel so stupid and fake," you'll be surprised how easily you slip into a different emotional persona.  It sounds goofy, but there's a ridiculous amount of research backing it up.  You can also practice it, and make it easier to influence your own emotions over time.

Let's move back to games.  Instead of just talking about the pace of the actual game--where you keep the game focused in places you're comfortable--let's talk about your emotions while playing.

When you play a game with somebody who is in a really negative mental zone, they tend to transmit it.  They may be taking everything seriously, getting angry over every little error, and it ends up creating a negative atmosphere.  That can effect the way you feel, which changes how you think, which alters how you play.  It can be as obvious and surface-level as "jeez, I might just have to lose on purpose so he doesn't flip out," to the intangible; you normally play a loose, aggressive game based on intuition, but their mood makes you tense and you begin to second guess yourself, hindering your reflexes and causing you to make bad plays.

Be aware of your feelings!  You can be drawn not just into somebody else's pace in the game but also into their mindset.  If you play your best when comfortable and relaxed, but you go up against a very intense and jumpy individual, pay attention to how you feel.  Do they pull you in, or do you do a good job of staying in your own zone?  Maybe it's the opposite; you thrive on pressure and intensity, but your opponent is too laid back and you have a tough time getting pumped up.

Thanks for reading.  See you on Friday!

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