Everything in life has a physical and mental aspect to it. Fighting games are no different. The physical element comes down to your ability to execute the maneuver you want at the time you want it, regardless of the circumstances that may make you mess it up. When it comes to improving one’s ability to play a fighting game, most guides and training aids will focus on the physical aspect of fighting games.
With that said, the mental aspect of fighting games shouldn’t be overlooked. I’d go as far as to say that the mental aspect of fighting games is far more important than any physical factor. In today’s edition of the Universal Fighting Game Guide, let’s cover the mental element that will play the biggest part in your success or failure. That element is mind games.
What are mind games?
According to thefreedicitonary.com, mind games are defined as:
1. An act or series of acts of calculated psychological manipulation, especially in order to confuse or intimidate.
Why are mind games important?
Within the context of fighting games, psychological manipulation is critical. Through psychological manipulation, you can dictate the flow of the match in a way where every situation leans heavily in your favour. If you successfully implement your mind games into a match, your opponent will feel like you’re always one step ahead of them. In reality, they’re simply playing into your mind games, which leaves them open to your tactics.
How do mind games work?
Mind games are an act or series of acts of calculated psychological manipulation meant to confuse or intimidate your opponent. If you’re able to do those things, you’re putting your opponent at a mental disadvantage where they’re more prone to making mistakes. Exactly how do you go about doing that? There are no shortage of ways to do so, but here are a few examples of mind game tactics.
Induce a certain behaviour in your opponent
You as the opponent can actually control what your opponent does or doesn’t do within the flow of a match. You can do this by inducing your opponent to do something, or getting them to avoid doing something.
Let’s start with the first point. There are a lot of ways to induce your opponent into doing something that puts them in a bad spot. For instance, by repeatedly crouching in a 2D fighting game, that crouching motion makes your opponent think that you’re going to throw a fireball or input some other special technique. When they jump in the air, you punish them for their foolish mistake. Oftentimes when I knock an opponent down in any fighting game, I love to whiff a normal move while they’re on the ground to make them think I’m going to attack once they get up. When they do get up, many immediately try and snuff out an attack that I was never intending on throwing, which then leaves them wide open for more attacks.
Besides getting them to do something, you can also induce them to avoid doing something. For instance, in Injustice: Gods Among Us, Deathstroke players love using the Sword Flip on wake-up to stop any incoming attacks. The problem with that move is that it is unsafe on block. Knowing this, you can simply stand close to his grounded body while ready to block and when he does it, punish it as soon as you can. While foolish Deathstrokes will continue to fall for it, smarter players will realize the fact that you’re ready for it and adjust by not doing that move again in that scenario. With your opponent more gun shy, you’ll now have the opportunity to attack in that situation with less fear of a Sword Flip coming out.
Whatever the tactics are that you employ, inducing certain behaviours in your opponent is crucial to gaining control of the match. Once you have them behaving the way you want them to, everything becomes easier.
If an opponent can’t anticipate what you’re going to do, or comprehend what you’re doing, they’ll have a much harder time stopping you. Causing confusion can occur in a number of ways. Attacks that can be difficult to block go a long way towards creating confusion, such as cross-ups, frame traps and elaborate pressure strings. In games featuring assist characters, such as Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Skullgirls, leveraging the point and assist dynamic can create offensive sequences that are really difficult to stop.
Personally, I love doing out there tactics that defy convention to throw my opponent off of their rhythm. One I employ a lot is the throw. When I think I’ve got a good handle on my opponent, I’ll throw them repeatedly until they figure out a way to stop it. If they don’t clue in, then they’ll usually send me a bitter hate message about how throwing is cheap. The smart players will eventually get out of it, but not before I’ve taken a good chunk of life from them.
That particular example is mostly gimmicky, though there are countless ways of creating similarly confusing situations that are much more reliable within the context of a real match. In Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman can create a myriad of confusing scenarios through the use of his mechanical bats. As your opponent is busy blocking the bats flying at them, you have a number of options available as follow-ups. You can hit them with an overhead to catch them as they block low. Or maybe start with a low attack if they’re blocking high. Maybe you can try and catch them with a jump kick, as they won’t be able to knock you out of the sky while they’re blocking the bats. Or maybe you could throw them after they’ve successfully stopped the bats. Those are just some of the many options available options when you pin them down. The more options you have available to you in a given scenario, the easier it is to confuse your opponent.
The beauty of this is that you don’t necessarily have to be superior to your opponent to demonstrate superiority. If you’ve got an opening, land a large and highly-damaging combo to flaunt your ability to dish it out. Have at least one ‘wombo combo‘ in your repertoire to help instill fear in your opponent. Play your cards right, and this display could cause them to play more defensively, which then allows you to play more aggressively.
You can also demonstrate strategic/tactical superiority by stringing together a series of great counters or opening up your opponent with a number of great reads. While this is easier said than done, being able to win a number of smaller battles in a row will cause most to mentally break down. They get the sense that you’re in their head and will begin to act more erratic. In order to achieve this effect, it’s going to require you to learn more about the match-ups beforehand and dissect your opponent’s behaviour as the match is happening.
Mental Guard Break
In a battle against other human beings, your mind plays an important role in victory and defeat. Beyond the action on screen, you should be doing everything you can to break your opponent’s psyche. While talking smack over the internet or to their face in a tournament could do the trick, your actions within the game can have a much greater impact. Implement some of this article’s wisdom in your game plan, and your opponent will be much easier to topple.