Discussing Tilt with Paul Grimes

In our first (and maybe only ever) interview, we sit down with Paul, an expert on tilt.

Paul’s got a lot of expertise with the psychology of gaming which is especially useful with the amount of Star Realms I play. This advice comes at a perfect time as tomorrow marks the start of the fan-created Star Realms Pro Circuit which consists of 9 online tournaments (including three Grand Slams) and a Season Final featuring the top 12 ranked players of the season (currently 131 players signed up!). Keeping your head and avoiding a downward spiral will be just as crucial to doing well as those early Machine Cult pick-ups.

1) Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m Paul Grimes, I have worked in past as a poker player and coach. In my coaching I specialized on the psychological side of playing poker. I have also worked in competitive esports. I became interested in tilt after working to minimize it from my poker game. I then began to incorporate the things I learned into my coaching of other players.

2) What’s your definition of tilt?

Broadly, tilt is the behaviour resulting from emotional responses to playing games (usually multiplayer, with some level of competitiveness). The behaviour is characterised by a downward spiral of playing worse and worse, feeling more and more frustrated as time goes on. It has some similarities to road rage.

3) What is actually happening to us when we experience tilt?

It is very hard to talk broadly about tilt as the causes and experiences vary greatly from one person to another. Some get into a cycle of making a mistake, responding with anger and frustration that increases the likelihood of making another mistake.  This spiral of mistake and angry response can cause an otherwise good player to effectively implode.

Another characteristic of tilt is the notion of ‘entitlement’. In poker, tilt occurs frequently when an ‘inferior’ opponent ‘gets lucky’ against the player in question. The central process is that “I ‘know’ (believe) that I am a better player – yet this has not been reflected in the outcome. On an unconscious level, this happens because the player does not believe in the chance based aspect of the game (even if they do rationally). Unconsciously there is no random aspect and they have been beaten by a worse player “who probably doesn’t even know what they’re doing”. This confusion causes anger and if we then let it affect our play we spiral into tilt.

4) Are there any real-world consequences for game caused tilt?

I think tilt can be seen as a wider phenomenon outside of games that affects any time we respond to emotion in a way that creates a feedback loop. As mentioned before, road rage is a great example, frequently energized by a sense of entitlement to the road or belief that other motorists are inferior drivers.

5) What are the best things we can do to minimise tilt from online games?

At first, the best thing is to stop and take a break before coming back again.

The second thing is not to attempt to minimise tilt by negating/discounting angry emotional response – because this is not possible to do anyway. I dealt with my tilt issues by focusing on my process whilst playing. I made everything about me and stopped paying more attention to my opponents than necessary. In games with lots of randomness/variance, I stopped looking at results over short amounts of time, I focused on analyzing decisions in my control rather than outcomes out of my control. Over time I stopped caring about individual results because they seemed genuinely irrelevant to me. I got pleasure out of making good decisions and motivation (and sometimes anger) out of making bad decisions. The difference is that the anger didn’t cause me to make further bad decisions and thus the cycle was interrupted.

6) A Star Realms arena run is over after 2 losses. What can we do after the 1st loss to avoid another immediate loss?

Focus on each individual decision in the here and now. Think about the past in as much as it gives you information now (opponent tendencies etc.) but no more. Think about the future in as much as it helps you plan ahead, but no more. Stop focusing on winning games because this is not solely up to you (if it was it would be boring). Start trying to make good decisions at each point and let the results come.

6) I’ve just signed up to my first in person Star Realms tournament. What can I do in a real time in person game to negate tilt?

This is a great scenario to practice minimising tilt. Focus on yourself and your game. In an in-person setting this is more challenging. Take everything decision by decision. If you make a mistake and feel angry that’s okay, acknowledge it, and give it a moment. After that take the next decision afresh. Your previous mistake only influences your next decision if you choose for it to do so.

7) Do you think game creators should be taking steps to lessen tilt effects on players?

I don’t think it’s possible, because it’s only up to the player whether they choose to let their emotional responses inform their future behaviour.

I think that game creators should take steps to protect the other players in the game of the individual who’s tilting. I think the tacit acceptance of toxic gaming atmospheres (typically in MOBAs) is unacceptable.

8) How do you feel about online games that use similar tactics to those used by gambling companies?

I believe that it is up to developers to be transparent about the probabilities involved in loot boxes and related products. It’s up to the players to decide whether to consent to purchasing with this in mind. I think there should be more recourse for players not capable of consenting to this (children and vulnerable adults, for example).

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