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An Examination of Skill pt.14

Reflex is a skill of the moment that involves comprehending and reacting in a split second. Naturally, it can be difficult to find examples of using reflexes in everyday life. Here are a few examples from my experience...

  • Seeing the spin of a ping pong ball. A single back and forth volley in Ping Pong can happen in under a second. Whether the game is played at this fast pace or with much slower shots, being able to react to the opponent's body motions and the spin he/she puts on the ball takes sharp reflexes.
  • Catching falling objects like breakables and knives. In the kitchen or around the house, there are times when objects are knocked off of raised surfaces. If the object is a glass reacting and catching it before it hits the floor requires snappy reflexes. In an instant I have to determine how the objects falls and how to save it. Sometimes I catch objects with my hands. Sometimes I use my feet. When the object is sharp like a kitchen knife, I have to determine if it's safe to catch or how to move out of the way without knocking something else over or burning myself. 
  • Reading micro expressions and movements. Most people only listen to others' words. Because I know that people communicate with their words, inflections, and body language, when I listen I use a more comprehensive approach. Sometimes the smallest change in one's facial expression is key in understanding what one is trying to communicate. Catching such a micro expression takes good momentary vision reflexes. 
  • Scanning a page before reading aloud. To make the process of reading aloud as smooth as possible, it's important to look ahead. Whether you scan for hard to pronounce words or curse words (which I certainly avoid) the more you see at a glance the easier time you'll have. I can spot a trouble word almost instantly as I flip through pages. 


When it comes to a fast paced, engaging game like Super Smash Brothers Brawl reflex is a very important skill. The sound design in Brawl is very balanced. Nearly everything makes a distinct sound without cluttering the overall sound scape. This means that just about every attack will have a sound effect that makes it easier to react to. And because audio reflexes are the fastest, listening to the game becomes very important. Perfect shielding in particular makes a quick, sharp sound that helps snap the player into action to take advantage of the small window of opportunity. When playing on TVs with the sound turned too low, I tend to play much worse. Even though it's still possible to react to the visual effect of the perfect shield, I'm used to reacting to the sound. 

In my article series on why Melee/Brawl is a "next-gen" fighter, one of the distinguishing features I noted was rumble support. I described the force feedback as an extra set of "eyes" that feeds the player a very specific set of information. For those who scoff at the legitimacy of rumble as a next-gen fighter feature, it's been scientifically proven that we react faster to physical stimuli than visual. Feeling and reacting to a hit vs. a miss, a strong vs. weak hit, or a multi hitting attack vs. a single strike can make a big difference in competition. 


G&W pulls out a #4. Olimar perfect shields with red/blue/purple Pikmin handy. Snake escapes. Pit jumps and curves an arrow. But did you see the land mine inside the whale?


Our sense of sight makes up 80% of our sensory intake. For this reasons, it's no wonder that the vast majority of reflex challenges in Brawl are from visual stimuli. Being able to see all of the battle field including level elements and characters requires peripheral vision reflex skills. Some of the smallest details that are very important to keep track of are snakes grenades, C4 bombs, land mines, Olimar's Pikmin, the shining cannon indicating that Samus has a max charge, the aura around Lucario when damaged, and whether or not a character holds an item in their hand (Samus pieces, Rob's top, Diddy's banana). And to challenge one's peripheral reflex skills further, Melee/Brawl's camera view zooms out to keep all the characters on the screen. This means it's possible and typical for the camera to zoom out and make these small details minute. 

Eye movement is like the functional opposite of peripheral vision in that it deals with objects within focus. If you have poor peripheral vision, you can make up for it by quickly switching your hard focus between targets. The faster you can do this while still clearly seeing the action the better. 

Keeping your eyes focused on a moving target stresses your dynamic visual acuity reflex skills. Brawl features a wide variety of characters, projectiles, and level elements that move in very unique ways. Unless you keep a close eye on them and clearly track their movements, you can be surprised by something right in front of your eyes. Even though the best players are completely focused on their matches, there are times when opponents will hit them with the most obvious straight forward attacks. Whether their minds or eyes are overloaded  or some combination, I can say from personal experience that it's like the opponent suddenly becomes invisible. 

To close, I want to explain how one's reflex speeds can shift with a bit of knowledge. As I described in pt.13, the difference between simple, recognition, and choice reflex tests are the number of stimuli, whether or not there's a distractor set, and the number of corresponding responses. If you think about it many of these factors can be set by the player. Because certain attacks, tactics, and strategies can effectively account for or counter several other viable options, it's not uncommon to have a single response to a situation and still be successful. Furthermore, even when you're only looking for one stimulus to react to, you can fake out your opponent by appearing to set up for another strategy. 

The reality of playing competitively is that the simple reflex opportunities are rare and looking for them generally limits your ability. Comparatively there are many more opportunities where the opponent has a number of viable options. To get the advantage in such a situation it's typical to have a response in mind for each possibility. For example, if the opponent attacks I'll do this. If they air dodge I'll do this. The research proves that the more stimuli and responses you have to think about the slower your reaction times. This fact makes it easy to understand why air dodging out of hit stun is so effective. Pressuring an opponent getting up from the ledge also stresses recognition reflex skills. Even tracking an opponent that will either fall/move to the left or right can be difficult. The more you know about the character matchup and the current situation, the better you can convert a choice or recognition reflex challenge into a simple one. 

In part 15 I'll unveil "Reflex" the next game from B.E.S


« An Examination of Skill pt.15 | Main | An Examination of Skill pt.13 »

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