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I've always had a reaction time measured in seconds (literally). Recently, I bought pinball arcade and was trying to learn to play it. I'm too slow to 'nudge' the table. By the time I register what's going on, its already too late to do anything.

I've tried to look up stuff online about this, but it was all for sports players and 'drummers'. I could find nothing about video gaming.

I don't know what I could do to fix this. I mean, I already have a reaction time that's slower than average. I don't really see how I could possibly get fast enough to seriously play pinball, especially at my age (I'm 31).

Is it possible to improve reflexes for video gaming? And if so, is it too late by the time you get to a certain age?

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    What you are describing sounds like a neurological condition, and you may get a much better response on health.stackexchange.com from people not just sharing anecdotes – Andrey Sep 6 '18 at 18:50
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    Comments are not for extended discussion or partial answers; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Robotnik Sep 7 '18 at 0:56
  • You may want to read up about 'muscle memory'. It's not always about raw reaction time. – Yuu Dec 12 '18 at 2:56
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It's hard to tease out what 'raw reaction time' even is, because reaction speed is so context-dependent. I'm going to crib from the wonderful book Bounce by Matt Syed (as far as I remember).

Set up is that Syed is a former Olympian in ping pong player whose day job is as a journalist for the BBC. As part of a publicity stunt for Wimbledon or some other tennis tournament, they had a "journalists vs pro tennis players" series of matches. Syed was paired with Michael Stitch of Germany. He said going in that he didn't think he'd be able to return an pro serve (~135mph), but would at least make contact with the ball.

Yet when the time came:

I saw the ball go up, I saw his racket make contact, and I heard it hit the curtain behind me.

Oops.

Syed follows up with this:

My colleagues at the BBC may have just thought "oh well I just don't have the reflexes of a top athlete". But I do have those reflexes. The amount of time to you have to return a smash-kill in table tennis is 100ms, which is half the time it takes for a 135mph serve to reach you in tennis. I'm twice as fast as I should have needed to be.

He continues with the fact that a pro tennis player only "sees" the ball (and by extension an Olympic-level ping pong player) because of their expertise: they already have a pretty good idea of where it's going to be. But that expertise is domain-dependent (as Syed's anecdote demonstrates). I would imagine the same holds true for other amazing feats of perception, e.g. hitting a Major League fastball.

So your best bet, performance wise, is to become an expert at pinball. Play a lot. Get a machine with the glass removed, practice specific setups that you control by placing the ball. Get an intuitive feel for collision angles, etc. etc.

NOTE:

The quotes may be somewhat inexact, I don't have the book handy and am working from memory, but the gist should be correct.

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    Also this whole thing is really confusing, are they playing Tennis or Table Tennis? – Shufflepants Sep 6 '18 at 20:26
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    @Shufflepants He didn’t say that anything in ping-pong is 135 mph; he said that a return smash in ping-pong reaches the player in 100 ms—half the time a 135-mph serve covers a tennis court. A tennis court is a lot larger than a ping-pong table, so the ping-pong ball can be traveling slower, yet still reach its destination in less time. And the anecdote is about a tennis match played by a ping-pong player. The switch of units from 100 ms to 135 mph is somewhat confusing (had to read it twice to catch it), but otherwise it seems perfectly clear to me. – KRyan Sep 6 '18 at 20:30
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    @KRyan even us dumb Americans use SI units for time :) – Jared Smith Sep 6 '18 at 20:31
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    Sure, it was more the fact that you had “100 [...] less than half of [...] 135” that threw me—reading quickly, I assumed the numbers were being compared, rather than the second number being part of an adjectival phrase describing the thing actually compared against. – KRyan Sep 6 '18 at 20:37
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    @casualcoder There's nothing wrong with posting an answer that expands on topics covered in other answers, so long as the new answers adds something substantial. The additional detail about domain-specific reflexes, as well as the example, add quite a bit on top of your answer. – Beofett Sep 7 '18 at 16:41
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While TheBird956's solution is helpful and will definitely help improve your reaction time, I am providing an alternative solution

While improving your reaction time is a part of improving your play in games like pinball, its not everything. You can also improve by getting more familiar with the game to predict when you would need to act and how (so its more preemptive rather than reactive) Once you start identifying the common patterns you know how your are going to need to act cutting down the dependence on being reactive

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Yes it is possible.

In the past, I used this website to train my reflexes: https://aim400kg.com/ Of course training in the game in which you want to improve your performance is a lot better. The exercises in the website I linked are really generic and may not reflect perfectly in Pinball.

Like others said, you should train directly in your game and ideally play only that so you get used to predicting what to do.

With age it can take more time to practice, but I dont think you would have a major disadvantage at the age of 31.So take your time with it, you will get better at the game and with your own reflexes. Everything can be trained, but remember that you can also lose that training if you stop for too long.

Note: The website I linked is using flash which will be discontinued in a few years, so their minigames might stop working even before that. It is not known if they have plans to switch to HTML5 or something like that.

Also, I am not affiliated to that website, I just used it in the past when I wanted to get better at Overwatch.

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    What does it do, how's it work? (This is basically a link-only answer right now) – Xen2050 Sep 8 '18 at 23:50
  • This webpage requires Flash to work, which a lot of users choose to avoid and there are good reasons to avoid it. It's also going to be officially killed in year 2020. – Sarge Borsch Sep 9 '18 at 9:58
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    This reads like an advertisement. How on earth has it got 20 upvotes?! – djsmiley2k Sep 9 '18 at 16:52
  • @djsmiley2k I edited my answer, I would like to have your feedback – TheBird956 Sep 9 '18 at 17:22
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Something I'm not seeing as much -

I have mediocre reflexes. I compensate by thinking ahead, planning out "If A then B", then when A occurs, I'm primed and ready to do action B.

It's a fairly useful skill, and one directly applicable to daily life as well. While it can look like reflexes, it's more pre-planning.

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I think one should differenciate between "reaction time" and "quick reflexes".

In general, i'd say that your hand-eye coordination influences your reaction time more heavily than pure "reflexes". I've been playing video games for all my life, a lot of them requiring quick reaction, and (at least for me) there was a huge increase in reaction speed over the years. Of course, you're not gonna be a pro in e.g. Counter Strike just from playing pinball, but if you have played a lot of different genres your overall curve of reaction time in new games you start gets steeper and steeper. Thats because overall hand-eye coordination improves, so even if have no motor memory of the actions required by that game you'll become quicker at it faster.

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    Do you perhaps mean "there was a huge increase in reaction speed over the years."? Otherwise I read "increase in reaction time" as you getting slower over the years. – Inarion Sep 6 '18 at 12:17
  • @Inarion You're right, whoops ;) – WhiteMaple Sep 6 '18 at 12:40
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I'm in my late 30's, and managed to earn all the Wizard Goals on the first 3 seasons of The Pinball Arcade (currently working on 4th), and plan on completing the remaining ones in the coming months. Keep playing a given table over and over, and you will get better at it. It's not just about reflexes. There's a lot of 'muscle memory' at play, as well as knowing which risky shots to avoid. Let me know if you have questions regarding specific tables.

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Why not play a game where you need reflexes and learn from that?

I suggest something like Enter the Gungeon, starts out slow but still hard

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    If he's just starting to play Pinball, Enter The Gungeon is probably too much of a difficulty spike for him. – WhiteMaple Sep 6 '18 at 9:16
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I have a friend that had been on the pro scene of Counter Strike for some years before retiring because his age gave him a reaction time that was too low. But he explained to me how that works.

First their is how quickly your brain will see something. You can't improve, either you are quick or are not. No way to improve it and the more you age the worst it is.

What you can improve is your reaction time after your brain processes the image, how long will it take you but that is just a lot of drilling to develop the reflex to act instead of needing to think about acting. A CS:GO player will shoot before they have processed that their is an enemy that far away and you might want to shoot him, or in your case "there is a pinball, how should I hit it"

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