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[And now from even later in the book…]
Presence of Mind
Presence of Mind is the ability to see all the moments of a short-lived situation as they go by, often accompanied by the sensation that time has slowed down. This is possible when the situation has grown familiar to you and your brain is able to filter out all the unnecessary elements leaving only a few simple cues.
When you step into a new, unfamiliar game, critical moments will pass you by in the blink of an eye. At first, you won’t even know that these moments mattered, that you were supposed to be paying attention during them. Even when you do know, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the millions of things that might occur can cause that moment to flicker by and you won’t have that feeling of total awareness. The change comes when your mind is fully ready to accept the moments ahead. You know they are coming (because you recognize the pattern of events leading to them), you know that only a very few things could possibly happen during them, and you are able to filter out everything except the one or two cues that you’re waiting for.
Let’s take the fighting game Guilty Gear XX as an example, using my character Chipp. I run at you and force you to block my attack sequence (you’ll block it crouching). One trick I can use is to sneak in an “overhead” kick that you’ll have to stand up to block. If you are unfamiliar with Chipp, then my whole attack sequence will go by in a flash. You will be waiting for it to be over so you can do something again, and you don’t even realize that a decision is required of you before my sequence ends.
Now let’s say I show you this so-called overhead kick beforehand so you know exactly what it looks like. Anytime you see it, I tell you to block high. We practice this and you are able to do it. Now we play a real game, and I can probably still hit you with it. It’s quite a task for you to sort through the chaos of a real match and actually see that kick. For all you know, it could come at any moment, which makes it difficult to mentally prepare for it. I think you probably could block this without trouble if you have good reaction times, but fighting games (and most competitive games) are not ultimately about reaction times, contrary to popular belief. One time they do come in handy, though, is when you are put in a situation where any of a thousand things could happen, and you have to detect a certain one and react to it instantly. Yomi [the ability to know the mind of the opponent] is useful here (if you have some basis to predict which of the thousand things the opponent might do), but lacking that, you are left with reaction times.
Now I will tell you the crucial information you need to block the overhead kick. I cannot do it any time I want; there are only two ways I can do the kick. When I run at you, I will start with a few moves such as f+p, slash, slash, heavy slash. You don’t need to care about these, really, and if they seem to go by in a blur, that’s fine. At this point, my options become much more limited, and one of the few things I can do is my “fire punch” series. It starts off with a distinctive looking, well, “fire punch.” After that I have the option to do the overhead kick. If I don’t, I can instead do a low kick. After the low kick, I have another chance to do the overhead kick. Those are the only two times I can ever do the overhead kick.
Now you can develop your Presence of Mind in this situation. I run at you and do some punches you don’t really have to scrutinize. But you know that I usually do a fire punch after that. You are totally ready to see that fire punch and you already know it’s likely you’ll have to make a decision about blocking high or low soon. Ahh, there’s the fire punch, right on schedule. Now you know I have my first chance to do the overhead kick. For all practical purposes, I have only two options. Your mind isn’t spinning with the multitude of options you’re faced with. You are totally focused on this one upcoming moment. You’re waiting for it. You’re tuning out all the extraneous information on the screen. Forget our health meters. Forget our super meters. Forget the sound effects. Forget the fancy graphics of our characters, and the pretty backgrounds behind them. The only thing you need to see is the start of that overhead kick. In time, this situation becomes so familiar, and your ability to filter out the extraneous stimuli becomes so good that you can’t even imagine getting hit by this kick. The moment will seem to go by in slow motion, and it will even be amusing to you that the opponent could ever think he’d hit you with this move. Meanwhile, the beginner saw this moment go by in a flash and is oblivious to all these moments.