If you want to make your gaming experience healthier and more positive, it’s not enough to simply identify stressors; that’s only the first step. Tackling stress and tilt in games requires developing a mindfulness strategy that takes into consideration your own habits, the types of games you’re playing, and the aspects of play that cause you the most stress. I guarantee that if more players took the time to do so, play and gaming spaces would be much better off for it.
This is the second part of our two-part series on managing stress in games. In part one, we took a closer look at some of the most common stressors in several different types of games and what causes them, including “ELO hell” in multiplayer games and bad habits surrounding play. Now that we’ve identified some of the biggest stress-inducing moments in games, we can develop strategies to address and counteract them. Part two of this series is all about minimizing the effect that stress has on your body, mind, and skill during play by presenting potential solutions that can be incorporated into an all-encompassing stress reduction plan. Keep in mind that not all of these strategies will work for everyone; they’re intended as a starting point to provoke further thought and personal development.
Minimizing Stress in Multiplayer Games
It seems like multiplayer games always get the spotlight when it comes to stress in gaming. This is both a good and a bad thing: while it means that multiplayer games seem to cause more stress than single-player games do (with the exception of well-known stress-causing single player games like Dark Souls), there are also more strategies available to counter the negative emotions that multiplayer play can cause. Because of the potential for cheating and intense PvP interactions, these games also frequently have the most robust player-reporting systems. If you believe a player is using wallhacks or an aimbot and it’s making you mad, just leave the match (if you can do so without garnering a penalty) and report and block the player. If someone is egging you on or otherwise trying to get a rise out of you in text or voice chat, simply mute or block them rather than trying to rise to their challenge. (The notable exception to this is if someone is spewing racist, sexist, or homophobic language or rhetoric – in that case, speak up, especially if you are not the target. Let your fellow players know that that kind of language is not acceptable.) The more people who use multiplayer games’ reporting tools, the better they get, so use them liberally.
Many of the other stressors found in multiplayer games can be categorized as difficulties with skill or mechanical play. Instead of being upset when you’re matched against a player who’s better than you, try to watch what they’re doing or what strategy they’re using. Death recaps and kill cams are particularly useful for this: instead of focusing on the part where you die, examine the other player’s play style, weapon choice, or other skills. This also applies if watching streamers or pro gamers stresses you out because you don’t think you’re as good as them: watch their play with a different eye to try to pick up tips or strategies that will help you during your matches. If you feel like you’re stuck in ELO hell or you’re frustrated with bad teammates, try taking up the shotcaller mantle and directing the flow of play. If one person is speaking up or trying to coordinate, people are more likely to contribute to communication, resulting in a better play experience for all. The goal is to use your frustration productively by channeling it into improvement; often, the impetus of increased skill is anger and disappointment. (That doesn’t mean you should try to get angry just so you’ll improve, though!) If you don’t care about improving and just want to have a good time while gaming, try switching to an unranked or quick play mode that’s less stressful. These modes often allow you to try out new characters, builds, and abilities without feeling like you’re risking your hard-earned rank, which can result in increased skill the next time you decide to try a ranked mode again. A little bit of mindfulness to identify where your stress is coming from and how best to tackle it will serve you well on your multiplayer journey.
Minimizing Stress in Single-Player Games
Single-player games are a little trickier to develop strategies for, simply because they’re, well, single-player. When other players bear witness to our play, it becomes much more stressful, simply because none of us want to look like idiots or low-skilled players in front of others. With single-player games, stress is more likely to come from the game itself rather than other players. If you find yourself stuck on a boss, level, or puzzle over and over again, a la the infamous Dark Souls, take a break from the game and clear your head rather than trying and failing over and over again. (Exercise and other physical activity are great ways to clear your mind and get rid of frustration!) Oftentimes, your brain will work out the solution when you aren’t even trying to think about it, which makes booting up the game and clearing whatever you were stuck on a breeze. Even if you don’t come to a solution, taking a break can give you a fresh perspective and a more relaxed frame of mind when you do come back to the game. The same thing applies if you’re attempting to place on a leaderboard or other one-sided competitive activity and you’re just not getting the results you want: try walking away from the game for a little bit, then looking up tips or strategies (not cheats!) online to help yourself progress. I find that I actually play most games better after taking a long break from them – it forces me to examine everything anew when I come back to them; I pay more attention to things that were simply muscle memory previously.
If you sense that you’re frustrated by a game because it doesn’t have clear markers or progress or you believe it to be poorly designed in a way that upsets you, it’s okay to just put the game down and not come back to it. Games’ culture of completionism and “clearing the backlog” encourages players to do everything all at once, but it’s okay to leave a game unfinished if it’s stressing you out. As I said in part one, games are meant to be entertainment first and foremost. If a game is no longer entertaining to you or is even actively making you feel bad, it might be time to put it down. Delete the game from your hard drive to make space for something else; if you have a physical copy, sell it secondhand. Either way, don’t let it sit in your library and taunt you. The most important thing to do to counter stressors in single-player games is to take breaks. Don’t try to fight through the frustration – that almost never works, and it’ll probably only make you feel worse. Be aware of what you’re feeling and know what can be done to counter the negative emotions you may encounter.
Minimizing Stress by Improving Habits
Outside of games themselves, there are several things that can be done to make your play experience more relaxing and satisfying. Perhaps most importantly, foster the presence of mind that allows you to recognize if you’re overdoing it. If you’re playing games to avoid dealing with something in your life or if you find yourself neglecting school, work, friends, or your SO, it may be time to reach out to a therapist and get treatment for gaming addiction. Though it’s sometimes laughed about in communities, gaming addiction is a serious problem, and it should be addressed with the help of a qualified mental health care professional.
Other, smaller habits can also help making gaming a better experience. The practice of mindfulness can be adapted to gaming by doing things like taking lots of short breaks, writing down your thoughts and feelings while playing, and remembering to breathe. All of these habits can help pull you out of a frustration spiral before it begins, potentially preventing you from experiencing a lot of negative emotions. Avoiding playing extremely late at night or early in the morning can ensure that you’re performing your best, removing some of the frustration from a perceived lack of skill. If late at night is the only time you can play, make sure to get plenty of sleep and use a blue light blocker like f.lux to make getting to sleep easier. Avoiding eating lots of junk food can also help your body feel better, which in turn will help your mind feel better and keep your skills sharp. If you take the time to adjust your habits surrounding gaming, your time within games has the potential to be a lot better.
There are only some of the most common ways to counter frustration, tilt, and other negative emotions while gaming. As stated before, every strategy may not work for every person, but the items listed here can serve as the jumping-off point for the construction of an individual tilt management strategy. The most important aspect is to be aware: aware of how you’re feeling, aware of the actions of other players and their intent, and aware of the potential consequences, both good and bad, of your own actions. Regardless of whether you play League of Legends or The Legend of Zelda, you can mix and match these strategies to make things better for everyone involved, yourself included. To celebrate National Stress Awareness Month, take a moment and think about how you can develop a healthier, more positive relationship with the games you play.