Spacing Out: Unlearning What I’ve Poorly Learned?

My Flying Style...
My Flying Style…

On one of the forums I frequent called Broken Forum, there was a thread entitled, “Embarrassing Gaming Weaknesses” in which forum members described their biggest weaknesses or flaws in their gaming lives. This got me to thinking on what my biggest weakness was, and after some thought I posted this:

As much as I love flight sims and space sims, and as many hours as I’ve played them over the years, I’m still not that great a shot because I’m not as gentle with the stick as I could be, resulting in jerky movements. The worst thing about it is I know I’m doing it while I’m flying about, and try to stop myself, but the result is almost always the same: lower accuracy than I’d like. :/

Now, I’ve been playing like this ever since I got my first serious joystick for flight sims — which I might recall as an original CH Flightstick or Flightstick Pro, but it might be even earlier than that — and it just felt normal. Right, you know? Well, imagine my surprise when a fellow forum member clued me in on how I might’ve been playing these games wrong for three decades…

The next response was from forum member Jasper, in which he said:

I’d bet you’re simply squeezing the stick too hard.

I stared at this for a while, and it was like a door cracked open in my brain. He said more than this, of course, but it was this simple phrase that I was stuck on. This phrase that made me immediately start questioning thirty years of virtual piloting. It went something like this in my brain:

Am I holding the stick too hard? No. Maybe? Oh my god I bet I am. And because of that all of the movement is in my hand rather than my whole arm. No, no way. Really? Holy crap, have I been doing this wrong for thirty years? Oh my god. I bet I have. I have to try this as soon as I get home tonight. I mean this might change everything

As I was at work when this occurred so I couldn’t test this immediately.

As soon as I got home, however, I fired up both Freespace 2 and X-Wing Alliance and tried a calmer, more patient approach. If you know me at all, “calm” and “patient” aren’t two words usually associated with me. ;) According to a quote I found on a fencing website:

The sword is like a bird.  If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it… to lightly, and it flies away.

I then focused as best I could on my hand and my arm, striving to hold it as I would a bird: not enough to crush it, but enough to keep in in my hand. After a few missions in each game I had a glimmer of it. A calmness, a zen-like peace in which I could much more easily track a target and shoot it down. It was only there for a fleeting moment, but when I was in that moment, it was amazing. I then realized that, for thirty years, I had been flying like this:


But if I had learned back then what I learned yesterday, I could’ve been flying like this:


How many missions could’ve been won more easily? How much higher might my accuracy have been? How much better a virtual pilot would I be today?

I’ll obviously never know the answers, but with new knowledge in hand (heh), it’s time to put it to use. Therefore, from today on, I start a new portion of my gaming journey: To become a calmer, better, more patient pilot. I know — I FEEL it in my bones — that with enough practice and hard work, I can be an even better pilot than I am today. Now that I know what I have to do, it’s only a matter of time.

Interestingly enough, when I mentioned all this to my girlfriend — who teaches violin — she had indeed noticed that I tense up quite a bit when playing games, and now that I told her what I’d learned, she agreed with Jasper. “If you were one of my students,” she told me, “I’d tell you to stop tensing up and relax.” Holy crap, it all made sense. ;)

Therefore, every time I fly now, I’m going to work on relaxing not just my hand and my arm, but eventually my entire body. To become calmer overall, not just in the parts that hold the joystick. It’s amazing what a few simple words can do to nudge one in the right direction, because this does feel right. :)

Thanks for the tip Jasper, this post is dedicated to your awesome honesty and insight. :) I hope you enjoyed reading this, folks. :)

Author: Brian Rubin

9 thoughts on “Spacing Out: Unlearning What I’ve Poorly Learned?

  1. Back in the 8 bit days, there was an oddball mercury switch joystick. I know it worked on the C64, presumably it worked on other machines as well; I think many of the machines of that era took the 9 pin trapezoidal connector sticks.

    At any rate, there were two things about this stick. One is that it was mercury switches; it was a free-floating stick you held in the air, and if you tipped it, the mercury inside would flow and close the switch for that direction.

    The nastier thing was it had a stress sensor in it. Squeeze it too tight, and it would shut itself off until you slacked up on it.

  2. What remains is for you to recite some haiku while you blast your foes to smithereens blind-folded.

    Pilot Skill +15, level +1. New capability unlocked. ‘Serene flyer’ medal awarded.

    I want to see if all those happen in real life. Keep us in the loop :)

  3. Great entry, thank you Brian

    And – heck – come to think of it, I wonder if I am squozing the mouse like a badass and thunderfracking my arrow keys with equal torniquet most of the time. Holy crap, I bet I am.

    Total game playing audit triggered…gently,
    x Kabbers

    1. Welcome to the comments Kabbers, and thanks for the kind words! Yeah, sometimes an audit is a good thing. Let us know what you find out about your mouse hand! ;)

  4. You know what’ll cure you for sure? Realistic helicopter sims. DCS Huey is an immediate punisher of those who can’t finesse the stick. Black Shark is more kind. Think of it like this… you’re sitting on a big beach ball with a stick coming out the top, and you’re trying to balance so it doesn’t tip you off. It takes constant tiny corrections in pressure on the stick, and if you do anything un-subtle, your ass is dumped.

    That being said, DCS A-10C will also force you to do the right thing, because while you can bank-n-yank the stick, you’ll never hit anything. Learning 30mm gunnery in the A-10 requires a real steady hand and the ability to make very fine adjustments. Another reason you should be flying with me.

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