Quake Metagame Series

Article 2 - The "Zone"

Conscious, logical decisions are important in Quake. It takes a clear head to interpret the sounds an unseen opponent makes, and it takes forethought to choose an advantageous position. The conscious mind must make multiple calculations at every moment in order to stay on top of the game.

But what happens when logical thought get in the way? An interesting aspect of our physiology is that emotional chemical responses (read reflexes) operate at much, much higher speeds then cognitive thought. This is a basic survival aspect; it allows for instantaneous reactions to danger. Furthermore, as emotional impulses are repeatedly sent through our body, the “highways” they travel on become more streamlined. What this means is that, ideally, we would be playing with our unconscious, emotional thoughts totally and completely, without any slow linear thoughts bogging down our reflexes.

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to reach this state, as are the sides of our brain are constantly cross-communicating with each other and keeping each other in sync. Problems arise when there is a conflict between the two sides of the brain: One side understands intuitively where to aim that rocket, but the logical side doesn't react in time to fire off that shot. The logical side needs to be able to take “orders” from the intuitive side flawlessly and quickly in order to execute the commands.

In Sun Tzu's “The Art of War”, it is stated that “He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.” Beyond the literal interpretation, this quote implies the importance of perfect synchronization between you and the “sovereign” (or the intuitive side of the brain).

This state of perfectly synchronous thought is known to many of us as “the zone”. There are many names one could use to describe this, but for the purpose of consistency, I'm sticking with this one. When we are in the zone, we know it. We know where our opponents are at all times without thinking about it. We are able to pull rail shots out of the air every time, and there is no hesitation in any action. We feel untouchable.

In my first article, I received feedback from people who stated that, contrary to what I said (or rather, failed to make clear), they can play better when distracted by the phone or by a stressful day. I blame this confusion on a terminology error: What's the difference between conscious “concentration” and ideal “focus”?

I use the term concentration to express the logical thought patterns... think “furrowed-brow” kind of thought. This can cause a lot of hiccups in your play, and therefore a lot of frustration.

Focus, on the other hand, is descriptive of this synchronized left-right brain activity. When some people play better while seemingly frustrated or distracted, it is the intuitive side of their brain that is paying more attention to the game then the logical side, which is being used elsewhere.

So, how can we consistently bring ourselves into this “zone”? One answer, obviously, is practice. The more you play the game, the more your intuitive side understands the impulses you are receiving. I must state, however, that the right mindset is needed while playing for this to be effective. By becoming stressed about your losses, you disrupt the communication in your brain, causing you to become even more stressed out. While playing, let every loss go. Constantly self-examine your body and state of mind

Note, however, that a clear mind is not necessarily different than an angry, energized mind. A lot of us use music and anger to pump ourselves up, causing us to have more forceful reflexes. Really, this is the same as the quieter kind of “zone”, and a difference is only needed when the energy debilitates your ability to make rational decisions. Whether quiet and composed, or loud and aggravated, what matters is the free flowing feeling that comes when in the “zone”.

To recap:

  • Logical thinking, while needed, is slower in response than the other side of our brain: the intuitive, reflexive side.
  • The more we use the intuitive side of our brains, the faster it becomes.
  • The “zone” occurs when there is perfect synchronization between the logical and intuitive sides of our brains.
  • Using apparent “distractions” can actually aid our ability to rely on our intuitive senses.
  • There is no real distinction between being calm or energized; all that matters is that the game flows.

I didn't plan on speaking on such an involved subject so early in the series, and I apologize if this puts anyone off. I did this now due to the amount of feedback I received on this topic from the people at Doom3World (thank you all).

Next week, I'll hope to bring it back down to the ground a little more, with  discussion of something more specific.