GamingFilter: How do you remain calm during FPS?
January 4, 2022 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm back into gaming after years off. We're playing Borderlands 2, a first-person shooter. It's fun of course, but I notice I tense up and get stressed out during firefights. How do you remain calm when you're in the thick of it?! Aside from taking a break that is.

I didn't used to think about this much but having my brain continually on flight-or-fight mode even when having fun is probably not the best thing for mental well-being.
posted by storybored to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, which is why I can't play those games any more. I think that for a lot of us, especially as we age, the adrenaline rush and over-stimulation become entwined with anxiety and other unpleasant associations. I've switched to first-person exploration and puzzle games, for the most part, as they don't put me on edge in that way.
posted by pipeski at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Being in voice chat with your team helps. But, that tense moment of being surrounded by baddies is why it's fun for a lot of us! There's much less tense fps games (satisfactory, the talos principle come to mind)
posted by bbqturtle at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2022

From the days in which I played a lot of FPS games (Counterstrike and TF2 in my case), I think the answer is "play so much of it that nothing is unexpected anymore." Once you've seen it all a thousand times it starts becoming a pattern recognition exercise and stops engaging the high intensity fight-or-flight response so often.

Getting to that point may not be worth the trip, though.
posted by jedicus at 8:00 AM on January 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Video games are audio visual mindf*cks. Which is great! They are illusions that trick you into thinking you are doing things when in reality you are manipulating a cartoon on a flat panel monitor.

One trick I have used in the past for particularly difficult sections in games like Dark Souls is to mute the music, or at least turn it way, way down if possible. Some games specifically use sound effects to help guide you, so maybe don't mute everything. But play around a little with volume settings. The music and SFX is there to get your heart racing, which can be wonderful. But you might be surprised by how much reducing volume levels can help you performance-wise.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I don't think you can change how you feel that much when you're in the moment of a given game, but you can pick games that don't make you feel keyed up quite the same way.

But tension isn't just about fast action and firefights. I can easily send my heart rate racing while playing DCSS (a turn-based game that has no music and tiny little tile graphics).

As for fps, I find spaceships/planes dogfight type action to be more detached and relaxing, as well as games with more abstracted/fantastical violence (i.e. less realism).
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:11 AM on January 4, 2022

Some small in the moment things that have helped me: drinking water, taking a moment to look at a cute game or meme on my phone, chatting (out loud) with friends or my partner while playing. Also literally reminding myself to stop and breathe since a lot of the time when I tense up I forget to take deep breaths and once I do that again, I feel myself relax. Afterwards, I make myself a cup of tea or do something else that's small and comforting and usually spend some time away from a screen until I feel better.

In the long term, I try to be mindful of what else is going on when I play these games. If I've had a frustrating day or I'm tired/feeling mentally down, I tend to avoid playing anything that will just make me more anxious or frustrated. Sometimes having a bad time in a game can ruin my whole evening so I try to only indulge in that sort of game when I know I have the fortitude to deal with it.
posted by fight or flight at 8:24 AM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: Lower the stakes by not really trying to win the first time through a firefight. Most times, you can just restart the mission or reload from your recent save point, so it helps to think of it as not a firefight but a puzzle that may need a few recon attempts to figure out completely.

Deconstruct it. Study the lay of the land, study the likely spawn locations and the AI of your assailants, study how their attacks and weapons work against your own. I like to run around the scene and see which attacks I can trigger from a safe distance.

Learn what you need, take your time with it, and then reload and give it another try. After doing this at different points in a single game, it also gets easier because you get a better idea of how the game developers built the thing.
posted by mochapickle at 8:25 AM on January 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Underline the "taking a break" awareness, and importantly: make them physical breaks. Take a walk. Do some crunches or pushups. Dance like nobody's watching. A lot of the bad-arc of lengthier play sessions is that adrenaline's pretty maladaptive when there's zero physical outlet.

Before and between the actual playing: be mindful of set and setting going in. I'm in the amen corner for don't start playing stress-making games when you're already in a frustrated, stressed, or otherwise generally crappy mood. Be mindful of when you're hungry, or already tired.

In the actual playing: work on reframing your awareness of what happens. Mainly: focus on the absurdity that is most (every?) game. That time when you carefully approached lines of fire, darting from cover to cover, tried to flank, and promptly had to restart because it kept not working...and then when you just say heck with it and leroyjenkins through some dakka and win: properly reframed perception that's not stressful and frustrating, it's hilarious.

Look away from the screen. Blink more. Hydrate. Stretch. Many times, stress is physically carried in all sorts of little ways that go into negative feedback loops, and all those little micro-breaks are about nipping many sources in the bud.
posted by Drastic at 8:38 AM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, along with mochapickle's answer, is if it's an older game to look for speedruns and see how the runners accomplish it. Sometimes the devs put in a ton of inconsequential fluff to make the fight seem bigger and harder, but all you actually have to do is kill the main boss and everything else disappears or runs away. I've found that tremendously helpful at lowering the stakes in games.

Also, if the game has difficulty modifiers, go ahead and adjust them! You're playing the game to be fun, and if it stops being fun, why bother? If fun for you is banging your head against a boss for a day until you figure out the pattern, great! If fun is running down bosses like a miniature digital god, that's also great! Don't let anyone else tell you how you should game.
posted by Kyol at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: Suicide over and over at any stage that is causing the tension to be unpleasantly high. Getting shot as you go through the gap? Walk through the gap and get shot down without trying to raise your weapon. This will cause your perception of the time to slow down, and you can practice raising your weapon next, and then practice raising your weapon and aiming, all without trying to shoot. Once you can raise and aim and die without tension, try to survive.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:45 AM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

For Borderlands 2 in particular:
  • Use a ranged character, if you aren't already. The action is more manageable from a distance.
  • Try Maya. Her Phaselock ability locks an enemy in place, allowing your team to focus fire and keeping the enemy out of the action for a bit.
  • Pay attention to the game's assessment of quest difficulty-- if it says a quest is hard, it is.
  • The game is designed to be frenetic; just recognize that some of this is theater (voices in your ear, lotsa enemies, a busy screen). If you die it's not really a disaster.
  • Make sure you understand the elements system and when to use which one-- e.g. you want Corrosive damage against Armor, Shock damage against Shields.
FWIW Borderlands 3 is actually more forgiving. But BL2 is better written.
posted by zompist at 8:52 AM on January 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can't speak specifically to video games, but I've been working on my singing voice for a couple of years now, and learning to recognize the physical manifestations of tensing up has helped me to stop and approach the notes differently. Noticing that I'm lifting my shoulders or raising my chin? Stop and go back and do it again deliberately not doing that thing.

Which I think is related to the suggestions for desensitization: go through the scenario without immersing yourself in the story you're seeing on screen, just reduce it to "yeah, pixels are changing".
posted by straw at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

One of the things that helped me on things like this is choosing to play on "Easy" mode. There's no shame in choosing a difficulty that matches the type of experience you'd like to have with the game. If "normal" or "hard" is stressing you out in ways that are not fun, change the difficulty.
posted by softlord at 11:26 AM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding zompist for BL2 in particular. Keep in mind that Borderlands is generally meant to be farcical, even if BL2 does try to raise the story stakes somewhat. The consequences of dying in BL2 are typically minimal as well, basically it only zaps you to a nearby respawn point and costs you a percentage of your in-game money which becomes amazingly plentiful and less necessary as the game goes on IME. It's not a moral failing to play badly, and while you didn't say whether this was the case, if you're playing with teammates that treat it like that, I'd argue that you should probably find different teammates if you can't get them to tone that down.

Also, BL2 provides ample opportunity for lower-stress and lower-stakes quests in between the main story quests. If you've been focusing mostly on story quests, maybe take some time to do side quests as well between the main story beats. This will have the added advantage of helping the story quests be less stressful as you'll be better leveled and equipped for them.
posted by Aleyn at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Olympian air rifle shooters have been known to use beta blockers. I am not recommending this, but maybe some L-theanine and St. John's wort, or ashawaganda?
posted by mecran01 at 1:38 PM on January 4, 2022

Just picked up Halo Infinite after playing back through Half Life Alyx last week, and the flat screen FPS feels so relaxed now by comparison!
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:32 PM on January 4, 2022

Are you playing PvP multiplayer or single-person?

This will probably sound super bad, but getting better than your opponents - by a bigger margin than you're currently at - should do the trick.

Play against noobs or play at a lower difficulty (or, I hate the phrase, "get gud").

Being a better player might involve getting a better keyboard/ mouse hardware that's more responsive/ accurate, getting better hardware/ decrease graphics settings to improve lag, or even stepping back and analyzing your playstyle and adjusting to what the game mechanics favours.
posted by porpoise at 9:34 PM on January 4, 2022

Oh, thought of some other things you might try that apply to any FPS: If you're sitting close to the screen, you might try sitting further away, if possible, so it fills less of your periphery. You might also adjust the Field of View (FOV) settings up so that more of the scene in front of you is visible at once, which can move some of the action that used to be in the periphery to the center of your awareness. Both of those help to decrease the immersiveness of the game; usually I do this to help tamp down on motion sickness, but I'd bet they'd help for your situation as well.
posted by Aleyn at 4:31 PM on January 7, 2022

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