Actual mind games only energe when both opponents have a firm grasp of the available options. A provoking sentence? Hear me out!
Here is a common example. You keep on doing your go to a high-low mixup against a player that you have heard is really good. They block every single one of them. How can they be this good at guessing or reacting on defense? In this example it is because they can fuzzy block that specific mixup. The opponent is no god, there simply was no mind game to be had because the two options that you alternated between do not work unless you show an option that kills the fuzzy block.
There are many examples of this phenomenon, where inexperienced players think that they are losing mind games, when in reality there was no mind games to be had. The point being that an interaction can only become a mind game if you know what options beat what. Therefore, even for mind games, knowledge is the first and most important step.
This point relates back to previous advice on playing to learn. If you exclusively rely on options that are effective because the opponent does not know how to deal with them when you are playing the game, you will not learn the deeper aspects of the mind games in GG. The problem with this is that once you face a skilled opponent, you may not have developed the knowledge base necessary to respond to their approaches effectively.
We can never be correct in all our decisions where mind games exist. Trying to “never guess wrong” is a bad ideal to pursue. Your decisions (or guesses) should however be informed by a risk-reward perspective, and thus there will always be better or worse decisions in fighting games, at least in the abstract. If a decision gives you the win in a competitive setting, that is of course the correct decision in a very concrete sense. The point here is however to provide guidelines for how one develops a knowledge basis when approaching mind games.
Initiators and recievers – who has the advantage?
The answer is that the initiator has the advantage. But who is the initiator? And why does the initiator have the advantage over the receiver?
The initiator is the one who is in a favorable position and can initiate moves that the receiver has to adjust to in their decision-making.
The initiator-reciever relationship is rarely obvious but Axl versus Sol a full screen away can work as an example. Here Axl is the initiator and Sol is the reciever. Why?
Axl has reach and Rensengeki wins versus everything on the ground, this forces Sol to maneuver around it.
Who has the advantage? Axl has the advantage because he can decide not to do Rensengeki. Sol must however get in and must use IAD or Bandit Bringer to win versus Rensengeki. Thus, it is therefore not a RPS mindgame, even if it is a RPS mindgame.
– Sol can do IAD to win versus Rensengeki.
– Axl can do anti-air to win versus IAD.
– Sol can dash in to “win” versus anti air (= get closer or punish)
But this is still not a RPS mindgame because Axl has the advantage as the initiator due to reach and how moves interact.
To clarify, Axl does not need to do rensengeki. Axl has many options available to him, whereas Sol’s options are limited and he has to consider the multiple options of Axl. But mainly, Sol must always consider the threat of rensengeki that even blows through gun flame. In other words, Axl has the projectile and Sol is the one who has to maneuver around it. To make the situation even more difficult for Sol, Axl also has the up-followup from rensengeki. Even if Sol managed to avoid rensengeki, he has to think about the followup. Thus, in this example, Axl as the initiator has the advantage of reach that forces Sol as the receiver to respond.
To conclude, the initiator is in a advantageous position that forces the receiver to make decisions at a general disadvantage. The distribution between advantage and disadvantage depends entirely on the matchup and can be expressed in many different ways (such as interactions between moves, screen positioning, frame advantage, and meters). The Axl versus Sol-example is very clear, and okizeme is another clear example.
It is only about the opponent
Mindgames emerge between players. Different players have different tendencies in different situations. The basis for this interaction are matchups.
Some basic questions to think about when playing against an opponent are:
- How are they approaching neutral game situations?
- How are they approaching defensive situations?
- How are they approaching offensive situations?
- Do they tend to use high risk options?
- Do they tend to minimize risk?
During mind games. it is always about the opponent and how they respond to your actions. At higher levels, the opponent will be thinking the same thing, and thus “adaptations” emerge. Therefore, mindgames emerge in a constant interaction between two players based on:
- Their level of knowledge
- Their decision-making process based on a risk-reward perspective
- Their execution
In fighting games, mindgames always keep to a predetermined set of interaction between two characters:
- Air and anti-air options
- Grounded neutral game within the three-structure
- Offensive and defensive options
This constant back-and-forth is one of the most fantastic things about fighting games!