First-Person Shooter Video Games
1st vs 2nd-order thinking, Dept.


49ers' fans take great comfort in labeling Russ Wilson a "game manager."  (They need it.)  Seahawks' fans chip their teeth with just as much enthusiasm, hearing this.  Troy Aikman bristled about it during the Super Bowl:  "You're taking away from him everything he's done on 3rd down, everything he's done outside the pocket, taking away all the wins."

Dr. D thinks he knows why --- > fans scoff at "game managers," players and teams who play intelligently rather than as if the game were a first-person shooter.  The Spurs didn't play the NBA finals as though it were a video game.  Greg Maddux didn't pitch that way.  Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson don't think that way.


2nd-Order Thinking

Before 1857, world-class chessplayers acted as if the game of chess were itself a 1st-person shooter.  They attacked from the 2nd and 3rd move.  They sacrificed two pawns, they moved out a Knight and Queen and Bishop, and they started looking for "cheapos."  Easy, quick little 2- and 3-move tactics designed to win in fast food style.

Then came Paul Morphy, a very young, very effeminate-looking boy from New Orleans.  Morphy understood not one thing, but two things:

  • He knew HOW to attack, just as well as Staunton and Paulsen did
  • He knew WHEN to attack!

While his opponents fired up their blitzkriegs on move three, Morphy played for position.  He "CENTRALIZED" his pieces, moving his Knights into the middle of the board where they were capable of both attack and defense.

His opponents tried a few roundhouse punches, but his centralized pieces easily exchanged off the couple of attackers.  Then his own pieces flooded through the holes in the pawn structure and forced victory.

Morphy slaughtered opponent after opponent -- blindfolded.  They used 1st-order thinking; he used 2nd-order thinking.


Russian grandmasters understand this profoundly.  They refer to their chess opponents as PARTNERS.  "It was a pleasure to play those games with Portisch," said the world champion Karpov one day.  Play WITH Portisch?!  What's he talking about?

You sit down to play a game of chess, he has the same 16 pieces you do.  You've got no inherent right to win.  Not at first move.

A first-person shooter, well, your opponents are sedated zombies.  The game is about you.

Junior chessplayers, age 13, they play like the game is a first-person shooter.  They lose badly, and then they go back to try to figure out which shot they should have placed better ...


Cases In Point

Colin Kaepernick, to me, plays as if he believes to his core that the game is about him.  A lot of fans want this kind of QB.  Guess why?  Because they watch their favorite NFL team in video-game mode.

Russell Wilson, in my humble opinion, grasps the idea that the other team has the same 11 players that his does.  He's got no inherent right to win, by virtue of his 5' 11" height.  "Dreams don't come true; dreams are made true."

Robinson Cano steps onto the field with his playing partner, the enemy pitcher.

Dustin Ackley used to swing as though it were a first-person shooter.  He's learning about that.  In fact, you might say this is the most important difference between an MLB(tm) player and a AAA player?  2nd-order thinking.  ML players know how to attack, and they also know when.

Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma are second-order thinkers.  Kuma might be a third-order thinker :- )

James Paxton, I've got to admit, pitches like he's in a video game.  We keep saying that he's just getting started; when he adds Kershaw's ability to cross hitters up, wow.  (Oddly, it's the occasional player like this that stokes the kiddies' lust for easy victory.)

Taijuan, of course, pitched his last two times out as though he's starting to understand that the enemy hitters have just as much right to be there as he does.

Brandon League -- you grok how painful it was, for Dr. D to watch SrFrBoi29 throw exactly the same pitches in all the same counts?  The ultimate example of a guy who saw his opponents as alien invaders, there to fall to his plasma rifle.  (League has 60 strikeouts vs 40 walks the last two years.)

Felix Hernandez has both (1) overwhelming talent and also (2) a profound understanding that he is not in a first person shooter.  When you've got a guy who knows how to attack, and when, well .... the irony is that he looks like he's in a video game.  :- D


You could make your own list.  The point is, a 2nd-order thinker like Russell Wilson or Robinson Cano?  They've got bright futures.

Sometimes, we fans want our sports teams to look like they're in video games.  Honestly, that never appealed to me.  The Spurs' defeat of the Heat, and the Seahawks' defeat of the Broncos, and Robinson Cano's .386 OBP in Safeco, and Hisashi Iwakuma's rebuttal of his critics?

Those things are much more satisfying for me than video games are.


Dr D



Auto5guy's picture

First order thinking is the Bronco's tying their entire off season's need for vindication and redemption to a week 3 road game. Pulling out all the stops, game planning and playing like they were facing the Boss on the final stage of the first person shooter.
Second order thinking is the Seahawks playing to win with the most conservative game plan possible. Grinding out a win while showing nothing but vanilla formations and plays. Lynch as a wideout and the single deep shot to Kearse were the only two plays in regulation that weren't boring. Wilson averages 3 or 4 deep shots a game. Sunday he took only one to Kearse and hit paydirt. Yet they never went back to it. As in the Superbowl Denver sold their soul to stop Lynch, cheating up closer and closer. Rather than try to make them pay or even back off Carroll was content to grind right into it.
Snyder and Carroll want to win Superbowl 49. Not make it there again. Win it. This off season Denver spent millions trying to upgrade their team toughness and they did indeed make their team better. This game was Ali laying on the ropes in round 3. Carroll and Snyder are smart enough to see that the Bronco's are the obvious AFC heavyweight. Why show your whole repertoire in a meaningless week three game? And trust me, while all games on a 16 game schedule matter, unless you're 0 for 2 week 3 is meaningless if you clinch a playoff spot at the end of the year and both Denver and Seattle will do that.
Feeling you need a statement game in week 3 is first order thinking of the first magnitude.


@shannondrayer: Paxton admits to being over-amped. "-It got away so quick, it all seemed like a blur to me. It's tough. They're all important games right now"

M's Watcher's picture

You get to end of the regular season and you hope the games still matter. But the losses in April and July were just as important. So were the 18 games the offense was shut out, or those where we scored less than 3 runs.

bsr's picture

No offense intended, but I think the "Long Con" theory about Carroll and Bevell running boring plays to hide the good stuff for the playoffs is fun for Hawks fans to think about, but not quite as relevant as we'd like to think. The reality is the new/healthy Broncos defense was excellent, and it was clear that taking a lot of playcalling risks against them would be...too risky. The game plan all along was to grind it out. At all costs you must win field position battle vs Manning, he is totally unstoppable on a short field (50+ straight scores in the red zone, 80% of them TD's). Carroll even said after the game, he didn't too much mind taking that safety if it meant they could more easily flip the field (which is exactly what happened, with Ryan punting out of his mind yet again). I mean, he even named Ryan the MVP of the game! I think that about says it all.
I believe the PC overarching game strategy (executed faithfully by the coordinators and DangeRuss) is to do whatever it takes to win safely by 1 point. They do not care about pretty wins or blowouts or "statement games". Not that they wouldn't love to run up the score (see: SB48!), but I would also imagine the coaches are happy to get the team used to playing tight games. Sunday, the plan worked pretty well against a great team. Reality is, that last drive and conversion by Manning was improbable and amazingly executed by Denver (Barnwell on Grantland noted that teams had only scored 2 out of the last 76 times in that game situation since 1998).
To tie back to Doc's cross-sports theme - the Hawks don't want to be the 3-point bombing NBA team that flames out against tough playoff defense. To me, THAT is the "Long Con" they are really employing - not even a con, they are just playing regular season games the same way they know they'll have to play in the playoffs. (Ideally they could get to the 2014 Spurs level of perfection, where they are a 3-point bombing team that also grinds it out in the trenches...we'll see.)
As for first order thinking by the Broncos...maybe, I dunno. They have limited time left with Manning. There is no other strategy available to them than going all out in win-now mode. So far I would say Elway did a good job, the D and team toughness/attitude was vastly upgraded (partly through new hires, partly Miller/Harris getting healthy). Their potential Achilles heel looks to be the lacking run game. Still, I would say any objective evaluation would say they are in the Hawks' league now, and will be a tough out if it comes down to a (healthy) SB rematch.


It's a little hard for me to buy in to the idea that Carroll had kid gloves on, but ...
It could be that he has a "Super Bowl mode," an attack dog mode, in which he forgets about injuries, forgets about longer-term consequences, and "pulls out all the stops" more so than he would early in the year.  That's about 5 degrees off of the Long Con idea, but there is some overlap, maybe.
Good stuff amigos!


Principle 101 is that, when you're the favorite, you minimize the chaos ... the old principle that if you're a 2:1 favorite in a backgammon game, you don't take risky shots and leave blots on the board.
Seems to me that Carroll thought he had Denver "outmanned" in CLink, and believed he could "force" a victory through conservative play.
Or not...

Auto5guy's picture

Sounds like a cheat code on your first person shooter. Heh.
The lack of deep shots is what stood out to me. Seattle plays in the NFC west, we face ferocious pass rushes every week yet we always throw deep more than once a game. I contend that Sundays offense looked more vanilla than what we would see against say Arizona.
Your Super Bowl mode comment triggered a memory. In one of the Superbowl behind the scene shows they played a clip of Lynch coming off the field after his touchdown. Marshawn made a beeline straight to Carroll and, interrupting his coaches congratulations asked. "Can we score again?" Carroll seemed puzzled and asked what? Lynch sounding slightly agitated asked "Can we score more points?" The exchange gave me the distinct impression that Lynch felt frustrated like the offense had been held back for a while.

bsr's picture

Good point on the lack of deep bombs. You are probably right about that and very well may be the key area where PC keeps his cards close to the vest. We've certainly heard a lot of talk in 2014 about the supposedly incredible speed of our WR corps, yet so far haven't really been showing it much. Worth watching as the season progresses.
Another area where we see the team playing very conservatively until absolutely necessary is with Wilson's running. They really seem to shy away from that unless it's late in game (or season) and really needed, like on the winning drive vs Broncos. Which makes sense, you don't want to tire out or injure your QB from sprinting all over the place early on.
Re Lynch's comment about wanting to score more in the SB...I remember that now too. I can only imagine how much the offense generally must chafe a bit at the conservative game plan...yet they seem to generally buy in to their roles, which is another tribute to PC's leadership ability. Very Spurs like.

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