What you’re about to read should be re-read every time you feel as though you have lost hope. Attitude is contagious and it’s easily passed around by tone of voice over Skype or TeamSpeak. When gaming in a competitive environment and small mistakes mean the the difference between life and death the atmosphere of your group can affect performance greatly. It is my hope that not only will this be useful for gaming but also for real world scenarios where our hope is challenged.
Stepping back about a year and a half I wasn’t nearly as good of a healer on Star Trek Online as I am today. The improvement attributed to a number of factors first and foremost gaining a wider understanding of the games mechanics but secondly a changed group dynamic of those that I played with. This second factor is what the takeaway should be for everyone. Group dynamics matter and make for a better gaming experience for everyone. How exactly does this work? Read on!
A negative outlook is bad for the group. Anyone can attest that when in a close group in the real world the mood is often shared between all members. This is true whether sharing a great movie or experiencing great sorrow at a funeral. This also happens over voice chat online. How can it happen when there’s no physical connection between people? Internet communities bring people together in a close-knit way. It’s this closeness that creates a harmonious group and ultimately transfers the negative outlook.
With a negative outlook floating around your gaming group you might say, what’s the big deal? The friction caused by the tone of voice or words used can cause individuals to lose concentration and make small mistakes. What’s more likely is a subconscious response to the surrounding negativity. Humans are programmed to perk up to bursts of energy, positive or negative. It’s a conditioned response dating back to the ancient times when a flight or fight mechanic was needed daily. Even if we want to tune out the overt tones emanated these subconscious queues will decrease our performance and ultimately our desire to win.
In much the same way as an excessive amount of back chatter can cause trouble during competitive gaming sessions this is the same for a negative tone. For example, if one person in a group of 5 may be having a bad day then this can be easily transferred to other group members. If the person having a bad day makes an outward expression the following chain of events is set into play. First everyone is automatically disrupted by this outburst. This can cause its own whole set of problems, a sniper misses a shot, the medic or healer loses focus from the teams health bars, or the group leader has to take focus away from the top down game outlook in order to calm the situation down. Throughout this entire process a number of seconds have elapsed and depending on the game being played this could mean the difference between life or death.
While a negative outburst is temporary and can be corrected an underlying negative tone is a bit more subtle. If the group leader or a key team member is having a bad day it will become apparent through a stressful gaming session. This situation is the complete opposite of the high energy outburst expressed above. For a moment let’s take a step backwards from the gaming environment and look at the animal world, a dog in particular. Everyone has probably heard of Pavlov’s experiments with classical conditioning in dogs. As the story went Pavlov was able to condition his dog to salivate to the sound of a bell. This is classical conditioning at its most basic level. This underlies the behaviors of all animals that we know today. The dog doing tricks for you, the cat using the toilet, the sea lions performing at the water park, and many others. Humans are also prone to classical conditioning, and more so than we’d like to think.
Through upbringing we learn that when negative stimuli surround us it’s likely that a series of unfortunate events has taken place. We are conditioned to parse out this negative tone and incorporate it into our being in order to help those around us with whatever negative situation they may be experiencing. In order to not appear insensitive we therefore dampen our mood. This dampened mood serves as to not upset our family and friends in a time of sorrow or distress. These are perfectly natural coping mechanisms for humans but sometimes we need to turn these negative impulses off in order to enhance performance. This is the same thing that happens to battle hardened soldiers, through training and experience they tune out the negative stimuli of the war zone in order to achieve greater focus on the mission objective at hand. This is why PTSD is a major problem for those returning from the battlefield.
We are fortunate, we are not in a fight for our lives while gaming. It is this relaxation factor that allows for the incorporation of negative thoughts into gaming. For those wanting to take gaming to a competitive level these coping mechanisms need to be turned off. By turning off the coping mechanisms that have been developed through our upbringing a gamer is able to achieve a higher level of performance. By filtering out the impulse to think negatively a gamer not only helps themselves but they also help the general atmosphere of the TeamSpeak room or Skype conference call. These improvements although they seem small make massive differences in performance and team cohesion.
While looking out for the team by controlling negative outbursts and controlling built in natural responses is novel, there is one final reason to do both of these while competitive gaming. Your own self well-being. While it may feel great to always aim to improve and provide negative reinforcement to remind yourself of past failures continually doing this is unhealthy. Not only can it affect your team or gaming group as specified previously but it can enforce a trend of self-deprecation which if not handled carefully could reduce self-esteem. This is something to be wary of especially if faced with negative stimuli outside of the game world. Thinking negatively in game could enhance ones desire to also think negatively in the real world. Games should be for enjoyment and there’s no need to enhance an aura of negativity.
There have been times in the past where I’ve been tasked with the success of one game or another. Of these times there have been cases where we failed to mount a credible offense. After these games I would painstakingly dissect what went wrong for far longer than healthy. I ultimately realized that by consulting with the others in a calm orderly manner after the games was the best source of learning and feeling better about my performance. I also discovered the solace of taking a moral victory or finding at least one good thing to feel positive about during the game that I can call a personal victory.
If anyone is interested in a detailed explanation of any of the games that I have highlighted that brought me to this realization please send me a private message or reply in the discussion topic. I could have included numerous cases detailing the exact game scenario I was referring to but that would have made this article more voluminous than required. I also would not mind pursuing actual scientific research into this topic in the future should time allow.