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How Scouting Can Help Your Anxiety

More life lessons from Starcraft

Izo Lopez

Banner credit: Legacy of the Void Cinematic

Sort of an Editorial.

Many people have social anxiety. Gamers, in particular, tend to be introverted, and then many introverts also tend to be socially anxious. I couldn't cite exactly why that's the case (and it's not always the case) but it's a trend that seems to almost speak for itself. It's one of the things that binds many gamers together.

But social anxiety is not a good thing to have. It can make a person feel judged, or worse, alienated. Whether a person has an actual disorder or really just feels inconveniently antisocial from time to time, it's not something that person wants to feel.

It just so happens that while playing Starcraft (we have been playing Starcraft a lot in our office, and it's not even because EnDerr himself works at Mineski), something struck me as a good response to social anxiety: scouting.

It sounds weird. Let me explain.

When you are socially anxious, perhaps when you find that you have to wade into a room full of people you don't know, don't you tend to avoid anyone's gaze? When someone catches your eye, isn't the reaction sometimes to immediately look away, as if the shared gaze was such a burden?

Perhaps you don't understand this feeling, in which case, you may be well-adjusted and very good for you. But people who don't do well in social situations often want to feel invisible and part of that is not looking at anyone and not having anyone look at them. It's an instinctual response that says "don't notice me".

There is a perceived judgment, and you start to imagine people silently judging you. Your shirt is too small. Your hair is too flat. You don't belong here. You begin to internalize an exaggerated inferiority and more than anything you want to just find your own corner away from all these silent judgments. You want to get away from this feeling.

This doesn't even have to happen in a room. You can feel it walking in a school corridor, or sitting in the front pews of a church, or even online when you feel judged for posts you've made.

And then here's how it happens in a game of Starcraft. Granted, in Starcraft, it's not social anxiety but the pressure is kind of similar. This is when, in Starcraft, you have no vision of the enemy's base and you start to worry about what devastating army he's amassing.

The instinctual reaction, you'll find, is very similar. Most players, especially beginners, will start to play defensively. "I don't know what he has so I have to be prepared." If in a social situation the reaction is to find your own corner; in Starcraft the equivalent is turtling up and making units. And then, before you know it, your enemy has two more bases than you and you've basically lost the game.

The fact of the matter is that this turtling, this hiding into yourself and becoming defensive, is merely an escape and not a solution to your problem. If anything, it makes your social anxiety worse instead of addressing it.

It is no different from averting your gaze or flinching from something you are afraid of. But you cannot fight what you are not looking at. If you know your enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles (or a hundred awkward parties).

Look at it. Look at what you fear. Look at your classmates. Look at the people who you think are judging you. Go to the Facebook walls of the people you think are judging yours. See the danger with your own eyes and gather information because otherwise how are you ever going to beat it?

In Starcraft this means scouting. It means sending an observer, or spending a scan, or suiciding an overlord into your enemy's base and finding out exactly what it is that is threatening you from that darkness. What you'll soon realize is that the enemy's army is most often about equal to yours, especially if you've both been building units at the same pace. You find that your enemy was under the same economic and time constraints as you, and so couldn't possibly have a much bigger army. Most importantly, you find that your imagined dangers were not dangerous at all.

In the same way, when you look at other people, you will find that they are also flawed and, to a certain degree, also insecure. No one is even looking at you, let alone talking about you. They each have their own conversations, their own small bubbles around them, and ultimately their own defenses. Just like you, they're concerned about how they look, more so than how much they care about how you look.

When you simply take the time to look you realize you were equal all along and in exactly the same boat, under the same pressures. And once you realize that, hopefully, the feeling of being alone goes away. You are not the outcast at this party, but a part of it. Everyone just wants to have fun.

And eventually, when you've calmed down a bit, that's when you walk over to someone and crush their base.