It’s hard to bring our A-game 24/7. We try to be alert when it matters so we don’t make some silly mistakes that could haunt us down the line. That being said, keeping a constant vigil can be taxing, so it is vital to find techniques to help strategize how to preempt these momentary lapses in concentration. Let me share a few times I have been burned by stupid moments of lost concentration.
I would think most Fire Emblem players may have a signal in their mind going off right about now relating to constant preparedness. Fire Emblem is a turn based strategy game with permadeath (that is, if a character dies, they are gone for good). I was playing some Awakening this past weekend when I got smacked in the face by one of these momentary mental lapses. I was trying to gain a couple levels with some weak units so I had to keep a very vigilant watch on where each unit on the board could advance.
I made it to the end of a level making sure my positioning didn’t leave any obvious openings (even taking some turns in a fully guarded position just in case random enemies decided to pop up, as they tend to do). Additionally, I had succeeded in my goal of some easy levels while keeping my units safe. Now there were only four units left, which I could easily deal with and move on with my game merrily.
Sadly, that is not how it went. I (for no good reason) moved my weakest unit right into the range of an enemy that could slay her without a second thought. I had unfortunately clicked on a specific unit’s range instead of checking the entire enemy army’s range; it was a brief mental fart that cost me nearly an hour setback.
Another traumatic experience hails from the friendly world of Harvest Moon, more specifically Harvest Moon 64 . That’s right, I have been traumatized by Harvest Moon… TWICE. This game is pretty chill in general, but is a good portrayal of this vigilant mind versus mental reprieve balance.
I come into the Harvest Moon games aggressively. I try to juice every moment for its fine rewards, which entails doing something every single moment of the day (and sometimes some excessive hot springs visits to crank through the night). The game somewhat pushes for this initial rush with an unweeded farm and poor tools. But as I get more established, it is easy to get a little calmed with the whole process. If I forget to water some veggies one day or don’t feel that up for playing with my animals, then I let it slide. Sometimes, though, letting it slide can have grand repercussions.
It was a day like any other. I checked my crops, headed over to the village for some purchases, stopped by my prospective girlfriend’s place to see how she was doing, tended my animals, and called it a night. But there is one thing in there I didn’t do… CHECK THE WEATHER! NOOOOOOOOO! Cue impromptu hurricane which kills all my chickens and then my animal-lover girlfriend hates me for my lack of foresight. Sigh.
So, I said twice… where was the second scarring, you may be asking? That hurricane pretty much ruined me, so I stepped away for a bit and ultimately came back and started a new game. This time, things were going far better. I had learned new tricks about farming and harvesting and such from my previous play, and I was well on my way to being one of the most prosperous farmers the town had ever seen!
I was so glad with my progress that I decided I could delete those old memories of Hurricane Shame, as I would definitely not be going back to that file anymore. Sadly I had a (you guessed it!) momentary lapse in judgement. For some reason my mind took “Move” (usually referred to as “Copy” in games) to mean a positional switch of some sort. So I went along and “moved” my chickenless, defeated life, right on over my prosperous life of greenhouse strawberries of plenty… And I haven’t looked back since.
It was a clear moment of stupidity. There is no reason I shouldn’t have just deleted the first file and moved the second file into the first spot, or left the game file in the second spot, OR moved the good fricken file instead the bad one. But in that moment, everything made sense to me and I screwed up bad.
Understanding that the smallest things, like a single click of a mouse or perhaps a poor choice of diction in a conversation, could have hugely detrimental consequences has been a key lesson for me. It’s extremely important to know when it is okay to shut off the mind and what activities should never be ignored. In some instances, brief moments can have great consequences. I remember a time where I was working on a hefty excel file while juggling numerous thing.
I had multiple workbooks open for transferring data. I meant to open one file from my desktop but clicked the wrong one which prompted a message telling me that the sheet is already open, and that reopening it would overwrite what I have done. As I am used to clicking through other messages (like macro enable or security prompts) I just blindly clicked to open, and BAM! There goes my unsaved work for the last hour. Even if the task is mindless, there are always mindful moments to consider… like checking the weather!
I find it useful to make a checklist for actions that really should not be forgotten. Whether it is a repetitive task at work, or a check of the five things I keep in my pockets on a daily basis, checklists help keep structure and focus on elements that could possibly slip through the cracks.
If done correctly, checklists can help create that focus that helps me set aside the times and activities during which I can let my mind rest as well. I am much more likely to make these errors when I am lacking sleep or haven’t taken a break recently… so perhaps next time one of the little merchant people in Fire Emblem pops up telling me to take a break, I will heed her words.
So let me know what you guys think. What are some of the biggest setbacks you have encountered because of a brain fart moment? Do you find you are more apt to make mistakes when more fatigued? And what kinds of strategies have worked for you to combat these epic fails?
Also, I am curious about what other media have helped solidify similar messages. I talk about games because this is the medium that talks to me the most, but the lessons I address are clearly spattered throughout many media in different ways. For example, this article is reminding me a little of the end of All Quiet on the Western Front. So let me know what you guys think!
Thanks guys! As always, game on and learn on!
I definitely make more silly mistakes in XCOM: Enemy Unknown if I play for more than an hour. I just started playing it, so I’m sure they’ll be plenty more mistakes yet to come. It helps to take a break and come back later.
Thanks for the reply! I have never played it, but I feel like tactics games in general bring to light this concept. Glad to hear you concur on the taking a break concept. I feel like it helps keep the mind fresh, and also sometimes opens the mind to some new perspectives upon returning.
Forgive the neuroscientist in me for coming out, but I’m fascinated by the idea that we could, someday, figure out exactly why this is the case from a biological standpoint (say, active attention prevents optimal memory consolidation) and quantify something like the ideal amount of time spent working/playing on something followed by the optimal break period, and what sort of activity constitutes a ‘break’. I love that observations like the ones in this article and the comments could spur on that research.
I have let a fairly high level character die in FF Tactics by absentmindedly forgetting to review them- permadeath in videogames are a scary feature. I really want to check out Hard Rain for the story and gameplay.
Thanks for checking out my blog!
Thanks for reciprocating and posting your thoughts! FF Tactics was always so frantic once someone died… tactician mode went quickly to CHARGE! mode haha.