“Help, I’m struggling with ADHD in fighting games!”

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Hey Pat,

I’m interested to see if you’ve seen or known of any examples where someone with heavy ADHD/Executive Function Disorder has succeeded within the FGC. I’m struggling to cope with a lot of my current disorder-related issues, and I figured I’d reach out.

Thanks in advance,

Executive Function Zero

Dear EFZ,

I don’t know anyone who has been particularly open about ADHD specifically, though I do know a few folks with ADHD who play fighting games and they’re having a great time. Let’s dig into your particular situation and see what’s going on.

I think the most important information in your question isn’t the ADHD bit, though —it’s the part where you’re asking about “succeeding” within the FGC. If you’re playing games, having fun, learning stuff, and meeting neat people, I’d describe that as plenty successful, and I don’t think ADHD would prevent you from doing any of that.

If I had to guess, it sounds like you’re holding yourself to a certain degree of performance or ability, or you’re frustrated because you’re trying to do something you think you’re supposed to be able to do and can’t do it. Holding those expectations and feeling bad when you don’t hit them isn’t particularly helpful to getting better.

Based on what I’ve seen from my ADHD friends, yeah, ADHD probably makes it harder for you to make gains as efficiently as a non-ADHD brain could, but making efficient gains doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a better time. These are games, after all!

EFZ replies:

I definitely enjoy learning, practicing, and applying fighting game stuff, but the point you made about holding myself to poor comparative standards that shouldn’t rationally impact me (as everyone’s a different situation and has a different journey, of course) is pretty helpful to point out already.

Some of my main issues with progressing and keeping persistent in fighting games I love right now is that feeling of being super anxious to play and thinking I’m inadequate to show up to any lobbies/netplay. A lot of this feeling comes from how much I actually know of that I don’t have fleshed out, the really deep valley of the Dunning-Kruger curve I guess.

Additionally, the feeling of “train myself outside of the game first, and flesh out everything I need to play this game like the highest level I know can be piloted” has made me much less likely to actually play matches against people and I’ve devolved into just grinding lab stuff (which is ultimately less impactful since I’m not getting as much in-game context for said labbing). In BBTAG for example, I rarely play even just for casual fun with people I know wouldn’t judge me because I’m so anxious about investing time in the wrong things and performing worse than the knowledge I possess.

I’m sure I don’t have a clear understanding of my actual issues, but I have some things I have to approach to cope properly and get back onto the journey. The ideal goal is to be able to healthily approach and assess which games I want to invest in without it turning that looming cloud over my head whenever I can’t get on the game and do what I know what I would be doing if I wanted to get consistent progress (i.e. I can’t get myself to play because my brain just isn’t emotionally motivated or something irl is distracting me heavily).

Again I’m thankful you’re willing to sauce some ideas from others’ experience on what might be useful. It’s worth a lot just because I don’t think I’ve been able to help myself progress much past learning how to learn.

Okay, this is helpful! Let’s try to break down a couple of these things you’re running into.

First: It doesn’t surprise me that you’re having motivation issues, because you’re basically blocking yourself from the part where you get to feel that the work pays off. Netplay anxiety is real, and the “Learn everything I can first, then PvP” mindset is a valid approach, but it’s not very fun for most people and thus not very sustainable.

Learning fighting games is a series of small cycles repeated endlessly, where you practice things in training mode until you feel comfortable, test them out against people, fail until you succeed, and then find new things to practice. If you never get to the part where you feel the satisfaction of seeing your work pay off against other people, it can be real hard to stay motivated and consistent, ADHD brain or no.

It sounds like the fear of being judged by other people on netplay is contributing to your reluctance to play, and I have good news: No one cares, and it doesn’t matter.

Think about it this way: Your brain is already overloaded when you’re playing a fighting game because they give you way too many things to keep track of at once. If you’re playing someone anywhere close to your level, you can expect that your brain is roughly about as saturated as theirs is with stuff to do, so they’re not gonna have that much brain level to spend on judging you. What’s more, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to see all the mistakes that you know you’re making, because they probably won’t know your character well enough to know what was intentional and what was an accident.

Even if someone is judging you, you’ll never know unless they tell you, and what they think doesn’t really matter anyway. We’re all on our own journeys here, and there’s no point in letting someone get to you because they think you suck after a couple rounds of netplay BBTAG. Besides, anyone who has gotten good at these games has spent plenty of time being bad at them and remembers what that felt like.

For what it’s worth, the fear of judgment is actually pretty common and it’s almost entirely a symptom of netplay being soulless and empty. Hop in a discord and play on voice chat and you will almost certainly have a 10x better time, and it’s largely just because you can hear people curse to themselves when they drop shit.

The last thing I noticed was your thinking around “Investing time” and practicing consistently.

Yes, if you want to Git Gud at a game, and actively compete and test your progress, it helps to focus on a single game, because that’s where your feedback loop will be the most clear and satisfying. But that might not be what is right for you right now.

You don’t get to bring your character or team from one game to another, but you do get to bring your brain and your body. Lessons learned in one fighting game will carry over to another fighting game. Going deep is great, but playing broad can be good too.

If you want to get good at fighting games, you have to play fighting games, both by yourself and against other people. The more you do that, the better you’ll get. Yes, there are ways to optimize your gains per unit of time spent, but if you spent 10 hours playing in a week and had fun for all 10 hours, you’re more likely to continue that pace for the next week, and the week after, and so on, and that kind of consistency over time is what will make you a better player.

Take it from someone who has been playing these games for 20 years and still is plenty inefficient when it comes to training habits and matchup study. I wouldn’t be sticking around if I wasn’t making sure I was having fun.

EFZ:

All this really helps explain or gives me an outside perspective on some valid frustrations I had, so it has been really nice reading. The thoughts on people judging me and cutting myself off of the payoff for my own work is especially big.

I think that going forward I’ll just prioritize overcorrecting how much I play the games I want to play without worrying about practice or perfectionism as a prerequisite; and if I end up playing too much with no practice I already have that extreme worked through anyways.

The silver lining is that I loaded myself into a lot of knowledge that I can apply when I actually do the playing part, so I think I’ll just let whatever excites me take the wheel, and at worst I’ll have more experience rather than none.

YES! Let the game make you want to work for it. If it doesn’t, you might just be playing the wrong game.

Thanks for reading! If you found this essay valuable and want to support my work, please do not hesitate to share it around on your social channels, follow me on Twitter, check out my Twitch stream (Mon-Thurs 830PM-1030PM PST), or join my Patreon.

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-patrick miller

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