My father asked if I wanted to play baseball when I was around five years old. I said yes without really thinking about it and signed up for eight straight years of Little League with my father managing my teams.
I couldn’t hit a pitch to save my life, and was only a decent second baseman. I played because I thought my father wanted to share the sport with me, as he’d been a good enough pitcher in college to get scouted by the old Oakland A’s. He was so into playing baseball that up until his late 50’s my father was pitching in two over-30 men’s leagues and regularly striking out batters with his collection of fastballs, sliders and curveballs. Dad recently admitted that he only encouraged me to play Little League for the socialization with the other kids and to learn how to play as a team, and only managed my teams so that I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the hyper-competitive assholes that we saw managing other teams during those eight years.
If baseball was my father’s sport then team-based first person shooter gaming might be mine. After almost four years of playing FPS games on the Xbox 360 with the same group of guys (heretofore referred to as “my squad”), I’m beginning to realize how many of the lessons my father taught me through Little League are directly applicable to how I interact with my squad.
Sometimes you have to take one for the team.
That aphorism led to standing in the batter’s box and allowing myself to get hit with a pitch, or making sure I got low to catch a ground ball even if I knew it very well might hit a rock in the infield, pop up and smack me dead in the face, or laying down a bunt even though I wasn’t fast enough to outrun the throw to first base.
My squad tends to favor objective-based matches over deathmatch, so there’s plenty of room for strategy, and I’m always the guy who goes for the off-side flag. If our team is defending the A and B flags and we’re getting pressed hard by the enemy, I’ll pop into a stealth build that keeps me off the enemy’s radar, sneak through their lines, and then loudly announce my presence at the C flag, usually with explosives. I die every single time in a matter of minutes, but the enemy has no choice but to send people back there to secure the C flag. And as soon as that happens, my squad knows they have the temporary advantage on the primary line of engagement and can push the other team off balance.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.
Even if you lost the baseball game, you lined up with your team, shook hands with the other team and recognized when and if they played well. Even if that pitcher struck you out five times in a row, you let him know that he did a good job. You didn’t argue calls with the umpire like a jackass, and if you talked trash on the field you knew where the line was drawn. Playing a sport was partially about creating a competitive and fair environment for everyone.
I have zero patience for hackers and glitchers in first person shooters. I can’t stand employing cheap tactics even if they’re completely above board. In Battlefield 3, the Recon class can unlock a Micro Air Vehicle which they can stand on and lift themselves up in the air with, giving them an elevated position from which to snipe. This isn’t a glitch, but it’s cheesy as hell and I won’t do it. The Micro Air Vehicle can also be used to run players down, and it takes way too many bullets to destroy. Dodging an MAV and trying to swat it down like an insect ruins matches for me and my squad, so I won’t do this, either.
Playing team sports is about knowing your position.
I knew to back up the shortstop at second base when he took a throw from the catcher to catch someone trying to steal the base. I hustled my ass over there every time. I knew to cover first base when the first baseman ran in to grab a bunt. I knew to get into relay position after a deep hit to the field in order to get in position for a relay throw to home plate.
My friend Bryan and I have been playing FPS games together for years. In the real life military, platoons break down into squads, which break down into fire teams, which break down into buddy teams. If I’m part of a buddy team in an FPS it’s with Bryan. When our team is attacking a flag there are few things more satisfying than when Bryan sees me covering the area with him and says “Of course you’re right there with me. Of course you are.” I can be depended upon to do my job.
I think the most important lesson I learned from playing baseball was being there for your team. The Assault class in Battlefield 3 can resuscitate dead players to get them back into the fight without waiting for a respawn. In a match a few weeks ago, I was driving a tank around the perimeter of a flag held by my squad, and saw Bryan in a close-quarters exchange of fire with one of the bad guys. I saw both of them go down, so I quickly jumped out of the tank, ran over to Bryan while I equipped my defibrillator, hit his body with the paddles and then dove back into the tank.
There was no thought or hesitation. My buddy was down, and I had to get him back up. And it felt exactly like giving a friend on my baseball team a pat on the back when he struck out after a full count, or wafted an easy pop fly as the third out of an inning in a close game.
I may have been terrible at baseball but I understand the sport well enough to be able to coach a Little League team if and when I have kids and teach them the same lessons my father taught me … but maybe I’ll try to sneak a controller into their hands a little earlier than my wife might like and teach them via eSport instead. At least then Daddy could play with them without making a fool of himself in the process.
First Person is a weekly column by Boston, MA-based freelancer Dennis Scimeca. You can read some of his other musings on his blog punchingsnakes.com, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.