The spectral foe towered over me, her sheer size outmatched only by her overwhelming poise. The pole arm she held in one hand was twice the size of my character, and the loose robes and prayer beads draped over her hulking figure only served to make her more intimidating. With a grace that only made her enormous size more horrifying, she sprung forward effortlessly, slowly. My brain immediately set into a flurry of observations and calculations. If she spun toward me, I could dodge her vertical swing at the last second and get in some juicy sword swipes before she finished her attack animation. If she didn’t spin—shit, she didn’t—it meant she was going for a much quicker horizontal. My body was immediately jolted by a series of sensations which, if I had to put into words, would be:
“GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE, ROOKIE!”
I deflected successfully, battle-hardened by the several times I mistakenly sidestepped right into the business end of the Corrupted Monk’s big, pointy stick. I found my thoughts becoming increasingly urgent, negative: stupid mistake! You know better! The errors I made while fighting this enemy in the ever-difficult Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice were excruciating, the reads exhilarating. The feeling was familiar, but it wasn’t immediately clear why—until I played volleyball that night.
It was our league championship, and we’d gone undefeated this season. The team we were playing had noticeably improved since we swept them three games to none in the first match of the season, so we expected to win, but we also knew we needed to take the match seriously. As the game continued, my focus tightened. The other team’s outside hitter got a set. My mind went into a flurry of observations and calculations.
She’s been hitting cut shots all night, I thought. She’s coming right to me. I watched her carefully, looking for signs that she might tip: straightened elbow, slower approach. But as she reached the net, she kept both hands raised instead of just one. Alarm bells started ringing.
“PUSH!” I screamed to my teammates, who were already adjusting for the placement she’d telegraphed. Her shoulders were square to the deep corner, and our middle back defender sprinted over as I pulled back farther and got ready to counterattack. “You got me!” I screamed at our setter, ready to capitalize on the opportunity they’d given us. It was exhilarating, and we ultimately won the championship match—but volleyball has always had the excruciating moments, too.
In a tournament I played some months back, one of the opposing teams had a middle hitter who towered above me at around 6’2”. Every inch of her wingspan made the downward angle she could put on the ball more threatening. On one play, she got a quick set, towering above the net like the arbiter of hitting an unprepared bitch in the face. From the left back position, I set my feet just outside the area our own middle blocker could protect, moving in a few paces from the sideline as fear reminded me how hard an angle she could send the ball. The bend in my knees deepened, my legs ready to spring left, right, or forward for the results of her whip-quick swing.
She smacked the ball right at me, just a little deeper than I’d expected, nailing me right in the chest. If I’d stayed in position rather than adjusting for what was, in hindsight, a bad read, I would have been fine. I reflexively angled my body up to at least keep the shank high and playable, but while it bounced up high into the air, it sailed way out and we lost the point.
“Titty shot,” I mumbled sadly, to everyone and no one. “I cheated up too far,” I added, acknowledging my error. I should have been planted closer to the sideline, ready to move forward for the shorter ball I’d worked myself up over. You know better.
The volleyball encounters made me realize just what it was that makes a game like Sekiro, with its constant cycle of defeat and winning and defeat and defeat and defeat, so rewarding. The wins are huge and feel earned. I got this or that win by learning and observing and watching and reacting. I was good, and I was quick, but more than that, I was smart.
Though after watching so many bloody Sekiro deaths, I have to say: Getting hit in the nipple with a volleyball is probably way more pleasant than getting run through with a big ol’ spear.