This weekend I learned the key to not sucking ass at Mario Kart: relaxing your hands.
My general stance on competitive multiplayer games is that I play them to have fun with friends, and therefore I can’t be stressed about whether or not I’m good at them. That was again the case this Sunday when I was playing Mario Kart with my boyfriend. He’s a lot better at Mario Kart than me, but I couldn’t be bothered by that—I was having a nice time with someone I love. Still, getting last place a couple times in a row was kinda demoralizing.
As I shook out my tense hands after each race, I noticed that my boyfriend wasn’t partaking in the same post-race ritual. Suddenly, something became really clear to me. I was gripping my Joy Con like I wanted to kill it.
I’m a naturally tense person, which makes sense because I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve always gripped my controller tighter in tense moments, or steered with my controller during driving games, as if twisting my arms around would help me make those tight turns. My boyfriend is more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and since he was doing so well, I decided to take after him. I took a deep breath, stretched out my hands, and tried to grip the Joy Con firmly, but loosely.
I had this same exact issue back when I played violin in middle school. In order to play well, you need to use a grip that’s controlled, not tight or stiff. This became a huge issue for me. I was so nervous about not doing well in high-pressure moments that I’d choke out my violin, and then I’d play like garbage.
At least I had that experience to draw on while trying to figure out how to hold my controller. (We were playing on a single Switch, one horizontal Joy Con each.) Keeping my fingers over the shoulder buttons, I put my left thumb on top of the joystick and tried to use my other thumb as a counter balance. I was surprised by how natural it felt to hold the Joy Con this way. I often joke that they’re the only controller made for my tiny hands, but this was the first time that holding it horizontally didn’t make me feel like I was trying to eat the kernels off a piece of baby corn.
It worked. After switching up my grip, I won my first race. My boyfriend still beat me overall, but hey! First place.
I try not to care about winning or losing too much when I’m just playing video games with friends. It keeps me from getting so frustrated that I don’t have fun, and also opens up a space for me to experiment with the way that I play. Sometimes it leads to torturous Smash modes, and sometimes it leads to me getting better at a game. My boyfriend better watch out the next time we play Mario Kart. I’m coming for his ass.