Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fear, the Great Paralytic

Space is a big place, and in Eve, every session affords you plenty of threats you should genuinely fear.  Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that this is ultimately a game.  Maybe you’re jumping that low/high gate for the first time wondering what you’ll find.  Maybe you’re participating in your first tidi grind and worried that you’ll face soul-crushing lag and lose all control of your ship.  Maybe it’s your first time hitting that “jump to xxx” button in your new carrier.

Fear is natural.  Fear is useful.  But fear can also turn to terror and leave you unable to make rational decisions.

Everyone who has ever entered low or null has faced the familiar scenario.  You load grid in your Drake only to find a dozen ships orbiting the gate with drones out.  If you’re in null-sec, they’ll even have a Sabre to trap the pods of any unfortunate victims.  Maybe one of those interceptors is starting to get pretty close to decloaking you.

Your heart rate starts to climb, your fingers start to shake a little, and you briefly wonder whether your eyes are telling you the truth.  Maybe it’s not really a gate camp… maybe the gang just landed and is going to jump through, leaving you safe on the other side.

But loss-mails aren’t earned by “maybes”.  Nor are lessons.  Invariably, your cloak timer runs out and you need to think.  If you let it, fear will cause you to align out toward the sun in a vain hope that you can warp off before an interceptor can reach you (you can’t) or your two warp stabilizers will save you (in a battlecruiser, they won’t).

Often, your true enemy isn’t the pilot you’re facing.  Rather, it’s the fear in your own mind.  “Fear is the mind-killer, the little demon that brings total obliteration,” as the Bene Gesserit say.  Fear brings panic, and panic causes mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s hard to recall every scrap of Eve knowledge you have at a moment’s notice when that moment is adrenaline-infused and comes upon you when you don’t expect it.  Remembering the roles, most common fits, and bonuses for every ship in a gang within that gate-cloak window is difficult even for a veteran.  I’ve spent most of the last three years in null-sec, and I still can’t do it every time.

It’s not enough to tell yourself, “I’m going to die, but I’m going to take down as many of them as I can.”  Depending on your situation, your death might not be a given.  Every situation is different, but there are some tricks you can do to mitigate that fear, and thus minimize the effect it has on your flying.

First, close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Yes, you lose a second or two, but time spent under the influence of panic is wasted time.  You need to control your instincts and use that second to prepare yourself for an engagement.  No, you didn’t choose it, but you do have the chance to choose the exact moment you decloak and what you do when that moment comes.

Next, look at the situation and identify facts and reasonable assumptions.  In our example, you’ve jumped into a gate camp.  How many ships are you facing?  What are their sizes?  Are you in low-sec or null-sec?  In the latter, you need to account for bubblers.  What’s on the other side of the gate?  If you’re at a high-sec gate, your strategy will be different.

Once you know what you know, ask yourself what you don’t know.  Unless you’ve faced this group before, you don’t know their exact fits.  But you may be able to make some assumptions.  Do you see any wrecks on scan?   If so, are they your size, smaller, or larger?  Have they been looted yet?  How many tacklers do you reasonably expect to face?  If you find yourself facing a fairly uniform gang – all their DPS ships are the same ship, for example – chances are they have a limited number of points fitted.  At what range from the gate are their dps ships?  Are they clumped together, or spread out?

Next, ask yourself what you can reasonably do.  Can you fight them, or should you try to flee?  If flee, should you make your way to a celestial or burn back to the gate?  If you have gate guns on grid, can you tank the enemy long enough for the gate guns to pop one of them?

Once you’ve made your decision, act.  If the situation changes, recognize what changed and whether it affects your strategy, but indecision will kill you every time.

How does this approach – calm, state facts, make assumptions, identify options, act, repeat – help defeat that fear?  By framing the unknown – any moment that causes fear or panic – in a series of known steps it robs your fear of it’s primary weapons, surprise and alarm.  If you create a series of steps you can apply to every situation, no situation will utterly flatten you.

Fear is the mind-killer.  But by breaking a fearful situation into a familiar procedure, you rob it of it’s power over you.  That’s what they mean by, “I will face my fear and let it flow through me.  When the fear is gone, there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.”  You may still lose your ship, but at least it won’t be because you were paralyzed by fear.

Ultimately, the only way to completely eliminate fear is through practice.  Put yourself into unfamiliar situations until every situation is familiar.  Walk yourself up one step at a time.  You won’t fear flying a faction-fit Cynabal if you’re used to T2-fit Cynabals.  You won’t fear a T2 Cynabal if you’re used to flying T2 Vagabonds, and you won’t fear flying a Vagabond if you’re used to flying a Stabber Fleet Issue.

And that’s the way to prevent fear from paralyzing your flying.  But you don’t want to eliminate that fear entirely… it can actually help you.  But that’s a topic for the next post.

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