How to win games with the power of your mind

Online or off, there are plenty of ways to manipulate your opponent's brain into game-failure, ranging from the simple to the downright devious. You don't need anything so uncivilised as trash-talk or griefing to put your opponents off. You just need tactical psychology. And here's how you do it.

Give the immediate impression that you%26rsquo;re amazing

First impressions count. Before the game even starts you can instill fear into your opponents simply by the way you present yourself. The trick though, as is the case with a lot of these points, is to not go overboard. A screen-name like ‘Apocalypse teh noobeater’ might seem like a good idea, but in reality it just smacks of trying too hard. Real video game hard-bastards are quietly confident and don’t over-compensate.

Above: The sort of aura you want to create

Instead, use any tools the game itself gives you in order toconvey an impression of leetness. Any titles, medals, badges or unlockables the game gives you for extended online play should be combined into an intimidating calling card, and you shouldespecially pay attention to any that relate to specific achievements or the mastery of certain styles of play. If people think you’ve got a badass niche, they’ll either recommend medical advice or be very wary of you. But probably the latter.

Remember, the game doesn’t start in the game. The game starts in the lobby. Use that time to create a subtly imposing presence. Or alternatively you can…

Give the immediate impression that you%26rsquo;re shit

All of those titles and medals you’ve accrued? Throw them in the bin and strip your online profile back to the bare start-up minimum. With a little editing of your achievements it can be very easy to masquerade as a first-timer, at least to begin with, and you can compound the effect with a little faux-noobish talk and pseudo-naïve questioning about the game.

Above: Imply incompetance in any way you can

The effect? No-one sees you as a major threat at first, so unless they’re the sort of 400lb bully who likes to shoot newborn kittens using a Sherman tank, they won’t bring their A-game to you. Then you can reveal yourself to be a nuclear-capable cyber-kitten and redecorate the walls with their bone marrow. Leading on from this, it’s also a good idea to…

Hold your real skills back at first

If you can’t create a persona in the lobby, do it in the early games. You have to be at least part-way decent at the game to spring this trick, but if you can spend the first couple of rounds deliberately playing like a noob, once you start playing properly you’ll take everyone by surprise. Obviously this works better in games with less players,as your opponents will build aclearer idea of who you are and what you can do, and it’s an absolutely ideal tactic for fighting games.

Fight like a broken-hoofed gazelle during round one. In fact if you plan on repeated re-matches, do it during the first couple of full fights. Use obvious, basic patterns to let your opponent naively think they’ve learnt your game and have all the right responses. Then pull out the big guns and smash their unprepared faces off. The real beauty of this one is that by taking your play down a gear at first you’ll actually make it easier to observe and learn your opponent’s play style, making the eventual turnaround a hot dish of violence served with a side order of bitter, char-grilled irony.

Using this trick isone time when you should definitely show off all your ranking booty to full effect. Every game has weapons and characters that are known to be the tactically safest meat-and-potatoes of mainstream competition, so a player pulling out one of the overlooked options is either a total noob, or confident enough in their ability to be a major threat.

Back your choice with proof of your experience and you’ll instantly set everyone you play against on edge. And you’ll have the inherent advantage of putting them up against something they don’t see very often. Like an alligator fighting an angry badger. You don’t necessarily need to have world-class skills; you just need to be good enough to capitalise on the element of uncertainty you bring.

Just don’t pick Dan. That’s way too obvious.

Remain aloof and don't talk much

Unless you’re choosing to masquerade as an excitable noob, don’t say much. Remember, real pros don’t enjoy games. They’re too focused on being awesome at them. Don’t whoop with celebration of your headshots. Don’t hand out tips or banter to the fallen (unless you’re playing a team-based game, in which case you’d be shooting yourself in the foot by not doing). Just be the silent killer, moving efficiently from victory to victory. No-one would fear Jason Voorhees if he stopped off for a cup of tea and a chat in between the guttings. Well they would, but only because he has a machete. You won’t have a machete.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.