It was midnight. I was exhausted. You Died. The red letters hung lazily on my computer monitor as I starred back with a blank expression. “I won’t let it end like this”, I thought to myself. I can’t let the game win. If I quit now, the last 3 hours will have been for nothing. That’s when I hear it – a whisper. The voice in the back of my head. It reminds me that I have to get up for work in 7 hours. Chives impatiently howls at my motionless husk. She is well overdue for her evening playtime. The real world is calling.

Picture of Chives screaming at me at midnight

I relent.

Dark Souls is shutdown. Manus, Father of the Abyss, will have to wait for another day. I slide out of my chair, play with Chives, and slither into bed. Defeated. Hollow. If only I could have played a little better, then maybe I could have secured victory. I am a failure. Nasty thoughts of my own inadequacy carry me to sleep. When I awake the next morning, I feel like shit. The consequences of my actions the night prior.

Sulking in bed after giving up for the night

A week goes by. I haven’t touched Dark Souls since that fateful night. I decide that I’m finally ready to pull up, and throw down. I load up the game, and die on the way to the boss. Well…that’s encouraging. It has been a week though – you’re probably just a little bit rusty. Pushing past this momentary setback, I make my way to Manus, unaware that this would be my final journey to him.

The fight goes flawlessly. Any attack that can be punished is, every dodge roll comes out on time, no opportunity is wasted. The boss music wasn’t for Manus – it was for me. But how did we get here? How did we go from soul-crushing failure, to a flawless victory?

Perfect counter attack, blocking, and rolling in Dark Souls

It’s simple – I took a break.

I’m reasonably certain the story I shared above is a familiar one for anyone who’s played games before. It might not have come from Dark Souls, but I’ve read no short supply of stories where folks have gotten stuck fighting a challenge that seemed insurmountable. We’ll bang our heads against the wall repeatedly trying to overcome said challenge, and in some cases we do. In others, however, it doesn’t matter how hard we try – we just continue to fail.

If you’re like me then this might be a problem you experience quite regularly. I like it when I feel challenged by games. Unfortunately, this can lead to several play sessions where I’m not always certain that I’m having fun. Some of the time I am, but frustration tends to cloud both my ability to enjoy myself, and my ability to perform. What’s truly terrible, is that I’m so damn stubborn that I won’t quit. It feels like the game wins if you give up, so you can’t stop playing. Thus, you continue to play even though you’re doing worse, which further compounds the issue of having fun.

I didn't hear no bell meme starring Chives

When I’m tilting this bad, it’s time to take a step back from the game. No amount of continued frustration is going to help. Hell, even if I do get the results I want, I won’t be happy about it. I’m so far gone from where I can actually enjoy myself. That’s when it’s time to take a break.

What’s wild is that there are 2 major benefits born out of taking a break from a title. The first is that you give your brain time to digest information. As humans we’re not great at learning complex information quickly. Often, we need time to digest information, and store it in our long term memory. There are no shortcuts to this. That story I shared above where I kicked Manus’ ass after a week long break is a great demonstration of that. The 3 hour grindfest I performed on the initial night showed me all of his attack patterns, and I was also able to learn the counterplay to each of his attacks. Unfortunately, I’m not a machine, so while I knew what to do I couldn’t reliably do it. My brain then took that information, internalized it, and then I was much better equipped for the fight when I tried it again a week later.

Short term memory + time helping your long term memory

Hell, the same sort of thing has occurred while I’ve been playing Guilty Gear Strive over the past year. I remember the first time I tried to do one of May’s charge inputs in a combo. I couldn’t do it to save my life. For several weeks I practiced the same handful of combos daily until eventually they stuck. It was too much information to process for someone that wasn’t terribly familiar with motion inputs. My brain simply couldn’t process all of what I was trying to learn in a single afternoon.

Despite having over 500 hours in the game, I still need time when I’m learning something new. It doesn’t matter how much better I am now compared to when I started – time is still required for learning. Why just recently I became comfortable doing both of May’s super moves, and her command throw. Now I’m able to perform the required motions for all 3 when I want to, which has encouraged me to use them more often. This in itself has helped me to develop my abilities even further, while also providing a much needed renewed sense of confidence in my abilities.

May riding Mr Yamada

That renewed sense of confidence, brings me nicely into the second key benefit of breaks: they can help improve your enjoyment. Let’s be real – when you’re always getting salty at a game, you’re probably not having fun. There is a certain kind of enjoyment born out of overcoming challenging bosses, or besting someone in a PVP setting. I understand this all too well. However, there is most definitely a point where the challenges crosses the line from engaging to fucking annoying. When that happens, it’s time to call it quits. If you don’t, you could end up forming a toxic relationship with the game in question. I remember how I used to always be in a foul mood after playing Heroes of the Storm, even if I was winning, because I’d formed a negative association with the game.

Me being incredibly salty, visualized

What’s even worse than forming a toxic relationship with the game, is when this kind of spiral bleeds into the non-gaming parts of your life. I wasn’t going to mention this, but Mir thought it was important. When I get salty at a game, it tends to ruin the rest of my day. I get huffy, and short with everyone. I’m just generally not a very nice person to be around. This also tends to throw off my ability to play other games, or otherwise complete various tasks that I’d like to spend my leisure time on – like blogging. That sucks. All things considered, it’d be far better to take a step back before reaching the tipping point, so the game I’m upset with can’t ruin the rest of my day.

It’s not just your day that could be better from taking breaks either – you might also find you perform better while playing competitive games. There’s no denying that it’s easy to get mad salty when you’re on a loss streak. This will invariably cause you to play worse, which leads to more losses and more salt. When that’s happening, it’s best to take a step back, recognize that you need to stop playing, and follow through. Highly competitive games are always their most fun when we, as players, are performing our best. There’s no need to force something when it’s not working out. It’s better to pack things up for the day, and return tomorrow with a fresh perspective.

Take a break. Your ELO will thank you.

I hope I was able to make my case in favour of taking a break. For months I’ve actually struggled to follow this advice, but I’ve slowly been getting better. The benefits to taking a break are simply too good to pass up on. Our brains need time to learn. There’s no way around that. Plus we’re a lot more likely to enjoy our leisure time if we aren’t seeing red the whole time we’re playing a title. It’s important to stop, decompress, and internalize what we’ve learned. It’s only through doing this that we can grow, and improve at the games we’re playing, or as people in general.