LordKnight Explains: Defeating the Negative Feedback Loop

By on March 16, 2016 at 6:28 pm
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Hi everyone!

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been posting long reads about fighting games. They’ve ranged from how-to guides to strategy and philosophy. This column is a continuation of that.

I want to share my experiences with both new and intermediate players who might be stuck. If you read one of these and think, “Well, that was obvious,” then good! If you take something away from these articles, then that’s good too.

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, feel free to ask me on Twitter at @LordKnightBB. Previous articles in this series can be found here.

It goes without saying that every game has problems. It’s on me as a competitor to find a way to overcome whatever challenge a character or play may present. But when you can’t work through it, you can be caught in a terrible place mentally.

I’ll use myself as an example, as I’ve run into this before, and I’m walking through it right now. Elphelt is a unique challenge in Guilty Gear Xrd and, to be honest, if there was an exceptionally good Sin, maybe I would feel similarly about him. Losing is a normal part of growing and improving. However, you can get lost in the darkness if you have a goal of taking down X character and continue to fail.

In the case of Elphelt, it felt like no matter what I did, no matter how much I tweaked and refined my play, I couldn’t finish her off. I found myself reviewing matches, going from, “I’m playing perfectly,” to, “I slipped here,” and finally ending at, “I lost,” and became upset as a result.

Being upset at a loss with something on the line is natural, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what happens is that losing repetitively, with the negative thoughts compounding, take away from my inherent skills as a player. While there are times I’ve returned to neutral or even feeling pretty good, I’ve been down overall.

The problem with getting caught in this negative feedback loop is that any thoughts relating to “What should I do?” will fall into the loop as well. In the end, you won’t come up with an answer because you’re already severely biased from long periods of being upset and losing. This is dangerous and hinders growth.

In my case, the progression was:

  1. “Elphelt’s a problem, I should figure her out.”
  2. “Wow, this is bullshit, what do you even do against Elphelt?”
  3. “Well, do I really know how to deal with (x, y, z)?”
  4. (After losing more) “Even after that I still lost?”
  5. (Repeat 4 x N)
  6. “I can’t beat Elphelt.” DANGER POINT

Steps 4 and 5 would be the negative feedback loop (the feedback being losing despite putting effort towards improving). In this case, I ignored all the effort I put towards my goal, including any potential upsides or victories. To be honest, I likely won quite a bit against Elphelt players in general, but because I kept getting eliminated by the character, the feedback loop continued.

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Some people never get through this and get stuck as a result, some for long periods of time. In 2013, when BlazBlue: Chronophantasma came out, I fell into this negative thought pattern almost from the jump for about three months. I came to hate the game, I complained a lot about my character, and practically deleted anything good I accomplished from my mind. In the end, I never worked through it, and switched characters in order to get a fresh look at the game. Because I picked a new character, I turned my losses from, “How could I possibly lose?” to, “Oh, I lost. I should work on this for next time.” Using one character for so long made me feel almost “entitled” to wins.

So, in the case of Guilty Gear Xrd, I got caught again. But switching characters isn’t always the right answer, and should never be your default. With a main goal of simply performing well, my thought process looked something like this:

  • Stop worrying about how hard it is to perform, because it hinders yourself from the goal.

I had thoughts like, “It’s so much harder for me to play my character because of X, while they can just do Y, and it’s easy.”

  • My character is not the problem.

I internalized this long ago, since I usually only play top tier characters. However, when I’m in the negative feedback loop, sometimes I overlook this.

  • Am I sure that I’m doing absolutely everything I can in regards to the problem? Aren’t I focusing way too much on X?

I make sure to ask myself this, because part of the reason I fall into this pattern of thinking is that I already know how to put effort towards a problem. When I still don’t feel like I solved the problem, I get upset and overlook points for refinement.

  • At the highest level, you can’t win 100% of the time.

The negative feedback loop comes from losing, so even though I know a big part of competing at tournaments and playing at a high level is “perform consistently,” losing to the same thing pushes this understanding aside.

Point number three is the most important – because you get so caught up in whatever is causing the negative thoughts, you don’t realize there’s more you can do. You probably know if you’ve been caught in this mental trap before, so if any of this sounds familiar to you, step away from the game for a little while, clear your head, and review your problem from square one. If you’re anything like me, there’s always more you can do.

(Featured image c/o FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)