Struggling to React

Death is not far away. It’s around the corner with every step. I’m resigned to face it as much as I’d like to run in the other direction. Playing as the Wolf, Sekiro is unforgiving. The movement is fluid, the samurai are bold and furious, moving with grace yet striking brutally. I fall to the ground, resurrect myself back to my feet and repeat it countless times. I can see the sword swing coming for me, they arc in from all angles, requiring a tap of ‘L1’ to deflect their blade. I try and I try again, internally screaming at myself to play with intensity or, as many say, to “Git Gud”. My fingers don’t move as fast as they used to. I’m getting old, I guess. It’s something none of us can escape – death is not far away. It’s melodramatic, perhaps loaded with hyperbole, but games are making me feel my age.

Parry, parry, parry.

It’s not just Sekiro, also Avicii: Invector, Mortal Kombat 11, but most importantly for me, also Fortnite. I’ve never been brilliant at Fortnite. Sure, I know my stuff, that comes from playing – despite my lack of skill – and watching hundreds of hours of gameplay on Twitch, Mixer and YouTube. I can see the builds, the movement, the goal of playing. I know the how, the why and I know which buttons to press, I just can’t press them fast enough. My brain often mixes up the Triangle and Circle buttons, used to pull the player in and out of editing/building mode. This is exacerbated when playing the game with my children and I watch as my 10-year-old daughter storms forward, towards an enemy, ‘ramp rushing’, juggling structures and editing herself into ‘box fights’. I sit in awe of her ‘shotgun switches’ and ‘SMG sprays’.

Aside from the basics, I can’t build fast anymore.

I get furious with myself, urging my fingers to move a tiny bit faster, knowing that if my reactions were on point I could play as I would like to. Instead I find myself turning off my PS4, quitting out of Sekiro or leaving Fortnite hanging. I’m 37, wishing I could still play like an 18-year-old, back in the days when I could parry in Street Fighter: Third Strike, now I can barely block a fast fireball. It’s not all games that make me feel this way, only the ones with twitch movement and rapid button presses that rely on reaction speed. I can hold my own in Apex Legends, Overwatch and I can dodge numerous bullets in Enter the Gungeon.

It’s like there’s a mental block between my brain and my hands, something which highlights my age and my slowly degrading skill. I prefer the slower paced action, where I can think and plot, relying less on spur of the moment reactions. In Apex I can collect the right weapons, sit back and edge my way into fights. But I miss these games, I miss the opportunity to play and win. Of course, in certain situations I still have fun – Fortnite with my children will always be filled with laughter, and I can coach them in what to watch out for and how to react to situations. After all, that’s my job, to write ‘how to play’ guides for younger audiences.

Oddly, this isn’t an issue for me.

I try to practice. I take advantage of training areas to hone my skills, but the AI or human counterparts still best me in combat. I can’t outbuild anyone or block and parry an attack. I’ve tried my hardest to ‘Get Good’, even switching up control schemes, trying new controllers. So, I go back to Sekiro, I push myself along beautiful paths in villages, I take my time to instead step back and wait for openings for my sword. I slowly make my way to the fog gates symbolising a boss fight, taking a moment to breathe, to heal and I walk through. Die in two hits and wonder if I’ll ever play these games again. I’m already mourning for Elden Ring.

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