Hello friends. Been awhile.
In Melee, one of my biggest struggles recently has been with my mindset. Well, that's always been difficult for me, and it's the reason I created a blog in the first place, but it's definitely flared up a lot again lately. I’m going to share some personal information about how I think and feel about the world, how it’s influenced my play, and why it’s made competing so hard for me lately.
Recently a friend helped me frame an attitude that seems to have resolved a lot of internal conflicts I’ve been having. It is the fusion of a lot of different thought processes, and I hope it will allow me to compete at full capacity, so I am also going to talk about that. I hope you find this interesting.
The first thing to know about me is that I have very serious depression. Many people don’t quite know what clinical depression entails, so I’ll give you the basic rundown.
Depression is not the same thing as sadness. Many times, we say “I’m really depressed” to mean “I’m really sad,” but the condition of depression is something else. Depression, as a condition, can probably be summed up most effectively as “a chronic lack of motivation, reward, and positive reinforcement.”
Basically, you don’t want to do things. When you do things, you rarely feel good about them. Over time, this creates a feeling of pointlessness, hopelessness, and despair, because it seems like no matter what you do, nothing ever makes you happy. It’s easy to feel sad or upset, because things never seem to work. When they do work, you don’t feel good about it, so it becomes harder and harder to care.
You lose interest in your hobbies. You lose the desire to start things, you lose the desire to finish them. The same chemicals that govern sleep and appetite are also involved in joy and reward, so your sleeping patterns and appetite can get messed with.
“Getting over it” doesn’t work, because there is nothing on the other side of the hill. It’s just another valley of depression. That feeling that a non-depressed person gets from succeeding at something? That feeling of success, of joy, of sustained interest and effort? That feeling that yes, I know I don’t want to get out of bed, but if I get moving I will feel better? Being depressed means not having that. There is a wall of frustration and sadness and difficulty in front of you, and if you break through it, there is nothing on the other side.
To make up for this, you will probably find yourself turning to external generators of reward and positive feeling to make up for it. Those hits can come from gambling, drinking, abusing drugs, eating certain types of foods or just eating lots of food. If it’s a vice, it probably has some way of temporarily plugging the depression.
But why? Why does this happen? Why would a person not feel success, reward, and achievement?
This can result from your habits of thought. You can have absurdly high standards that you never meet, or you can have an internal voice that trashes you constantly. No matter what has happened, nothing ever feels like a success, nothing ever gives you that emotional hit that comes from reaching a goal or finishing a task. You rarely think “I succeeded” because you set your standards of success so high, and so your brain responds by denying you the chemicals that give you that positive feeling.
Or perhaps you don’t have high standards, just extremely skewed judgments of yourself. It’s not that things are that difficult or hard, you just always fail. If you always fail, why try? Over time, you can convince yourself to avoid doing anything, and you can think your way out of every positive experience.
It can also be biological. Our brain is an incredibly complicated network of… stuff. Lots of stuff. Screw with any piece of the machinery, and weird things happen. We know this, because you give somebody a medication to help with one problem, and it creates five others. I’m not a neurologist or a psychiatrist, and even if I were, I doubt I’d have the exact explanation for why and how it happens. However, if you are willing to accept that a substance can change the way you feel (like a drink or a drug) then you automatically accept that chemicals have an influence on how you think and feel, and that your emotions have some biological basis.
Likewise, if you’re willing to accept that people can vary across different physical attributes, or even be born without attributes that you’re “supposed” to have (like arms, or hearing, or the ability to see certain colors), then you should be willing to accept that people can differ in their brains in such a way that it affects how they feel and experience the world.
Your environment can also constantly deny you rewards, and if you spend enough time in such an environment, then you may develop depression. If you have something very important to you and you lose it, you might develop depression, because everything served that important goal, and without it, what’s the point?
And of course, there’s no reason it can’t just be a mixture of the three. In fact, one may cause or feed into another.
All of that is a prelude to this basic statement: I have a tough time finding reward and joy in anything. Most things are not fun for me. Most jokes do not make me laugh. Most things do not make me smile. I struggle, on a daily basis, to find a reason to get up and exist. I have serious depression, and I have had it for a long, long time.
I’ve got several workarounds for this. One is soda (I love soda) and it’s pretty much because it’s chock full of sugar. Another is video games. After all, games constantly funnel achievement into you: defeat an enemy, gain a level, find an item, everything is a pseudo-concrete thing you can point to and say “I did that” and then feel good about. In case you ever wondered why some games are so addictive, it’s not that they are super fun. It’s that they find ways to funnel lots of tiny achievements to keep you going while dangling the big ones just out of reach. The little stuff sustains you while the promise of the big stuff keeps your brain salivating, chomping at the bit for more.
Most things happening in real life? You sink effort into them, you complete them, you feel a sense of reward, and the circuit is complete. If you don’t feel reward? You stop pursuing them. What’s the point? Why care? Why bother? You won’t feel good. You won’t care.
That’s me. Most things do not matter to me, because I sink my mental energy and effort into them, and feel nothing afterwards but fatigue. I started feeling this way when I was pretty young (the trigger, as best I can recall, was adolescence), and I also developed thought habits of perfectionism and low-self esteem that compounded it.
I also became incredibly unhappy if I did have a source of satisfaction and reward (like winning a game) and had it denied to me. I don’t feel much positive payout from my life, so when somebody or something inhibits that payout, I get angry. The more I’m expecting it and counting on it, the worse the backlash.
Nowadays I take medications that help a lot with this, and they let me get up and do things I enjoy. Or rather, they let me enjoy things that aren’t digital or sugary (God help me the day I find a way to eat digital sugar). I still fall into depressive spells, but knowing that I will emerge from them mediates the effect a lot.
I also have always found that teaching people has a unique way of circumventing my depressive feelings. When somebody else achieves something, I feel happy for them. Each person is unique, and explaining and teaching them something is its own challenge. The whole system feels quite rewarding, so even when I have trouble doing something for my own sake, helping somebody else has actually given me satisfaction. That’s important to keep in mind for later.
However, I still have a lot of traces of my depression within me. You never really “beat” depression, especially if there’s a biological component; you find your workarounds, you find your solutions, you get support from others (who keep helping, even when you try your best to ignore them), and ideally you carry on.
I still have perfectionist tendencies. I still beat myself up for mistakes. I still get these sinking feelings that everybody else is better than me at everything and that I am a constant failure. If I’m not paying attention, these thoughts creep up on me, they shift my mood, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to shift back. I have to monitor my thoughts and how I evaluate situations, or I set myself up for a lot of emotional backlash.
It is much better now than it has historically been. It’s never truly gone, but it’s improving.
Another element of who I am is my craving for novelty. It might be related to the same things that make me feel low achievement and success.
I don’t have a problem grinding the same task over and over again. I will keep at it over and over again until I have succeeded. I can spend hours doing the same level or boss in a video game, practicing the same tech. I think the main force behind achievement is not brilliance, but erosion.
That is… until I achieve it. Once I know I have achieved it, I stop caring about it almost instantly. I care about proving to myself that I can do it. Once I have done it, it’s not interesting to me.
This is why Melee has held me in its grip for so long. It is ruthless and there are many strong players to defeat, so I always feel tested. The tech is difficult, so I never feel like I’ve “made it” and that holds my interest. The tech and skillsets of the game keep changing, so the game rarely feels stale. Somebody is always improving with a new character or adding a new tool to their game, and learning to deal with it has provided me a constant source of novelty.
There is another side to this coin, however. If I am in a strong position that gives me a big advantage, I don’t want to use that big advantage. I want to try something else. If I have a combo that I will work, I quickly tire of using it (unless it’s really hard and flashy). I constantly seek out different positions that I haven’t practiced, areas where I’m weak, and try to win from those situations instead.
If I know that camping under a platform will net me victory, then I don’t want to do it anymore. I know I will win if that happens, so what is there to explore? I would rather attack, put myself at a disadvantage, and try to win from that disadvantage, just to see if I can. I will intentionally do something I’m not very good at to try and improve it.
This puts me in positions where I’m more likely to lose, and a part of me demands that--why would I play a game that I know I’m going to win? The uncertainty and the novelty hold my interest, and this shapes a lot of how I play the game nowadays.
The positive is that I keep pushing and exploring and learning. I keep finding things that are new and fun and wacky. The downside is that I’m deliberately setting myself up to have higher odds of losing, and as somebody who hates losing on a deep emotional level, I’m not doing myself a favor.
Playing To Win
So lately I’ve been saddled with a huge dilemma.
--If I play to win, then that means I deprive myself of novelty. I focus only on the things that will get me to victory, and if I don’t achieve victory, then I lose out on my designated source of satisfaction. It also means that any mistakes I make are detracting from my target, which upsets me, and makes me more prone to tilting and raging.
--If I play for fun and novelty, then that means I throw away opportunities and wins on purpose to satisfy my own novelty craving. If I lose doing this, part of me is dissatisfied.
--If I play for fun and novelty, but the other guy plays to win in a boring fashion, then I am restricted in terms of how I can play, and I lose out on the fun factor. If I win, it’s boring. If I lose, it’s boring. If the opponent is predictable, I get bored of playing them, because the “correct” method is repetitive and dull, but the “fun” method might afford me no advantages and make me lose… so I quickly shift back into “play to win mode” without being ready, and I tilt myself again.
Basically, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to enjoy myself when I play the game. But I can’t walk up to my opponent and ask them “hey could you purposely do stupid combos and weird stuff so I can have a better time?” That’s pretty irrational. Pretty much nobody is going to do that for me.
In fact, the more they know that I will be playing inefficiently, the more they can maximize the likelihood of their victory by being boring, because I’m more likely to tilt and overextend and fall for the same stuff. If I play to win, then I risk boring myself, the win is less fun, losses hurt more, and errors upset me more. I can end up winning and hating it. Then nobody wins.
I haven’t even touched on issues of reputation or the expectations on my performance from others and myself, but I don’t think I have to; I think we’ve got enough to deal with as is.
I think that how you frame a situation changes a lot about it. The best solution for dealing with pressure is approach the situation in a way that reduces pressure from the beginning. Getting yourself out of emotional states is actually quite tough; you’re going to think in a way that perpetuates it. Depressed minds think depressed thoughts. Angry minds think angry thoughts.
In this case, my goal is simple: find a way to approach the game so that I can try my hardest to win, using the best tools I know, without getting bored or pissed.
I said simple, not easy.
I was recently at a small tournament at a local player’s house, and I was getting incredibly upset. I had to deal with matchups I didn’t like, almost losing to another player while tryharding, making dumb mistakes, and I had no idea what to do. A friend of mine talked with me for awhile to help me sort through my feelings, and by the end of the tournament I felt much better, played much better, and I feel deeply satisfied with this way of framing the game for myself. It lets me feel like I win no matter what, takes pressure off my mistakes, reduces expectations on myself, and lets me feel satisfaction from a situation even when my opponent outplays me. It lets me deal with potentially boring opponents, and it lets me feel like every match is meaningful.
It is rooted in a philosophy I have about competition: your opponent is your teacher, your student, and your test, all in one. They show you where you are weak, and teach you how to be stronger. They try to learn from what you throw at them so they can defeat you. They test your skills and try to match yours. With that in mind, the things that I really enjoy doing are all present.
I like teaching people things and seeing them succeed. When teaching people Smash, I am perfectly content to sit there and f-smash their shield a hundred times while waiting for them to master their wavedash out of shield. So in this regard, it is perfectly fine for me to play as optimally as I know how, because in doing so, I’m teaching my opponent the matchup and testing their ability to deal with it. If they beat me and it stops working, I can take satisfaction in knowing my student learned. If they lose and I advance, I can take satisfaction in knowing that my best play has withstood another test.
I like learning new skills, and I am content to work on the same puzzle or problem for a long time while I grind away at an answer. In this regard, if my opponent is better or using an abusable strategy on me, they are giving me the opportunity to practice dealing with it. If my opponent is strong and I don’t know how to beat them, then I feel no qualms about throwing my absolute best at them to try and win, because the outcome is uncertain, and that’s exactly how I like it.
I like showing people that I’m skilled. If I win, I have done so, and I can feel satisfaction. If I lose, I’ve shown myself what I need to work on, and now I have something to practice and study, and can feel satisfaction.
I am going to try and hold this frame of mind in my head as clearly and squarely as possible while going forward. I will still do my best to explore and test and try new things, particularly in friendly matches, but from now on I want to be the best possible teacher and student in tournament as I can be. My hope is to be able to use my strongest knowledge and strongest techniques in matches without losing the satisfaction that comes from learning and having fun.
This means that when you watch me play seriously, it is going to be less wild and less wacky than the playstyle you’re probably accustomed to watching. I also am determined to see satisfaction in every situation, even if I play poorly or lose when I am putting everything forward to win, and keep focused on being a source of positivity in the game and the tournament scene.
I believe that when you compete earnestly in something you love, in a community that shares your passion, you are able to find ways to always win, even if you lose the game, even if you make mistakes, even if you feel like you failed. It’s hard to keep focus on that, but hopefully this frame of my mind lets me do that.
I’ll see you guys at Evo! Take care.