Dr. Tilting or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Game

I’ve been thinking a lot about tilting. It’s an odd thing to think about but, the more I play games the more I feel a need to rationalise it.

This post is both an exercise for myself as much as it is advice for others who might find themselves tilting while playing games they love.

Urban Dictionary (go ahead and click, I promise it’s safe for work) has a good definition for it. The key factor in it is “losing repeatedly”. From my experience, most gamers – and I’m talking about people who play any kind of games, be it a basketball game, a chess game or Starcraft – won’t tilt after they lose one game. It is the crushing of one’s hopes in the second and third (and so forth) defeat that will push folks over the edge.

This is understandable. No one likes (or should like) to be defeated. Anyone who tells you that losing should still be enjoyable as long as you learn something is a complete hypocrite. Losing should be acceptable and even useful, but never enjoyable. So it’s easy to understand why tilting is directly related to defeat.

That said, I don’t think tilting is exclusively caused by defeat. Quite often, people tilt because of what the audience is saying in the sidelines; sometimes it’s about them, sometimes it’s about the game and sometimes it’s about their opponents. Sometimes it’s an insult directed at you; sometimes it’s a compliment to your opponent. Sometimes it’s a distraction; sometimes it’s an annoyance. If you are playing a game surrounded by friends and all of them are rooting for your opponent, you can certainly find yourself tilted (regardless of whether you are winning or not). If you are playing a game and someone tells you you are rubbish then you might tilt, lose focus and play worse.

Finally, people tilt because they feel frustrated. I’m not talking about frustration caused by defeat here; I’m talking about in-game frustration, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Sometimes it’s a game puzzle that you just can’t crack; sometimes it’s a boss you can’t defeat; sometimes it’s a glitch that gets you stuck.

The above distinction between the root cause for tilting is important. Understanding what’s making you tilt is half the work to prevent it from happening again. Therefore, I’ll address those core reasons separately.

Tilting caused by defeat

The other day, someone asked Pro-Gamer and Streamer Grubby what his advice was for dealing with tilting. His response was quick: “just stop. After you lose two games in a row, just take a break. Go do something else. Then come back.”.

This advice – as obvious as it may sound – caused an impression in me. How often do we find ourselves rushing to queue into the next game after a defeat? How often do we skip all the end-game / post-game screens because we can’t wait to get back in the game and prove something? I know I do this all the time so hearing Grubby’s simple suggestion really made sense to me. Why not pause the game, go do something else and then come back again? There’s no time limit on this thing; take five, take ten, take an hour. By definition, casual gaming should be all about enjoyment, not about stress or proving any point. So why not take it slow?

Of course, if you are playing professionally (be it because you are a streamer or playing in a competition) you might not have the luxury of taking a break after a loss. I will not pretend to understand the pressure and mental intensity that professionals go through and cannot comment on what to do or not to do to avoid tilting if you are on stage. This post is about casual gaming since that’s the only gaming I know.

It won’t always work but – as with so many problems in life – tackling something while being collected, cool and with a fresh approach often leads to better results than just blunt force.

Tilting caused by in-game frustration

I will resort, once again, to a popular Streamer to exemplify how I like to deal with this particular form of tilting (Day9).

Day9’s motto is “be a better gamer”. Some multi-billion dollar brands don’t have a mission statement this good. If you have never watched any of Day9’s stuff then close this post immediately and go do so. I admire his incredible optimism, his relentless positive approach to every game he plays.

I can’t recall that I’ve ever seen him tilt (wait, how is this relevant then?). What I have seen is him getting frustrated and, before he tilts, draw on his sense of humour to bring him back to normal. In a way, this is almost like saying “the best way to deal with tilting it to not tilt” which is not much in the way of advice. But for me, it took me a while to turn this exercise into a routine.

Whenever I feel like I’m about to tilt, I remind myself of why I’m playing the game in the first place. Maybe it’s because I find it fun; maybe it’s because of its entertainment value; maybe its because I really want some in-game perk it offers me. Whatever the reason might be, draw on it to remind yourself of why you are playing the game in the first place and use that reason to prevent you from tilting.

This is also applicable to when you feel tilted from defeat. Day9 often plays HearthStone with fun decks that have a low win rate and he uses the comedic value of those decks to deal with defeat.

Tilting caused by commentary

There are endless scenarios where commentary by others can cause you to tilt and I can’t possibly play them all out. So I’ll focus on two types of commentary that have caused me to tilt in the past and what I’ve learned from them: in-game chat comments by team mates and comments by friends in person (who are watching you play).

There are so many games these days that have built-in messaging services and so many game that are cooperative by nature (i.e. MOBAs) that chances are that at some point in your gaming life you’ve found yourself in a team where one or more members are constantly flaming you, your other teammates and your team’s gameplay. This can be incredibly tilting, regardless of whether you are winning or losing.

My advice? Most games have a mute option so just nuke them out into silence oblivion. If someone is truly flaming you then silence them before you get tilted or so that you allow yourself to stop being tilted and going back into just playing the game. It’s important to understand that criticism in game should be welcomed. If you can’t take polite, constructed criticism from your teammates in a cooperative game then you probably shouldn’t play that kind of game to begin with.

So those two paragraphs were all about in-game chat with (most of the time) strangers. But how many time have we been surrounded by friends, playing a casual game and finding their commentary incredibly tilting? There’s no virtual lobby with a mute button in real life, so how do you handle that? Note that, for this example, I’m not talking about anyone flaming anyone else; this is more about commentary that distracts you and somewhat makes you tilt.

When I was a kid, I was a sore-loser and a terrible gamer. Over the years, I’ve learned through friends that games are at their best when they are shared and when then they empower you to have fun with other people. So the answer to this final root cause for tilting is similar to the one provided above when talking about in-game frustrations: remember why you are playing that game to begin with.

If you are truly surrounded by friends, then remember that whatever they are saying is probably not ill-intended and it’s more likely either just friendly banter or to get a laugh out of you and everyone else. Remember that a game, no matter how great it might be, is a poor substitute for a friend. Remember to have fun.

That’s it!

This post really came out longer than I expected! I hope that it helps you, kind stranger, next time tilting is trying to get the best out of you!