Life is an FPS death match

Two players have fifteen minutes to score the highest number of kills. That’s death match format in first person shooter (specifically Unreal Tournament 2004) games, described in one sentence. Simple, right? You kill your opponent more times than he kills you.


Sometimes your opponent is quicker, sometimes you are. More often than not, this becomes a game of chance. That’s how most beginners approach the game. What sets expert players apart is they approach the game with an economics slant. How do you starve your opponents from utilizing resources available in the playing arena. Guns, ammunition, health packs, vials, shields are replenished periodically at various locations. If your opponent has no weapon to shoot with, or if your opponent runs low on health points, he is disadvantaged. The aim of the game is to not shoot at your opponent quicker than, but to starve the opponent. This was such a fundamental paradigm shift that it blew my mind the first time I understood it.

You should know where each item is on the map, and track when you picked up an item. Everything gets replenished in periods of multiples of 27.5 seconds. Now, you are tracking several items and when they come back next. Some you picked up, some the opponent picked up. Some items are replenished in cycles of 27.5 seconds, some items are replenished in cycles of 55 seconds, and so on. And in between, you actually have to shoot at your opponent to rack up the kill count.

Oh and when you do shoot, you subtract health points from your opponent each time a shot lands. You have a near accurate idea on your opponent’s health count because you have been listening to the items he has picked up. When you land a shot with the lightning gun, for example, you caused a 90 hit point damage. With a shock rifle 45, and so on. Some weapons cause hit scan damage, meaning they have to land on your opponent’s body. Some weapons cause splash damage, meaning if they land close enough to your opponent they cause damage. Every weapon has a primary and secondary mode of usage. Of course one needs several other skills such as tracking spawn points, tracking your opponent’s position by foot steps, etc. You get the idea. A fifteen minute game can be exhausting with several variables to track while requiring you to be real sharp with your response times.

In Counter Strike, sometimes you throw away a round to save up money for the next round. You are prepared to lose a round to better your prospects in the subsequent rounds. This is called the “eco” round. I don’t think I ever looked up what it is short for, I am guessing economize? Sometimes you spray a wall with bullets hoping it hits an opponent on the other side. Decision making is equal part strategy and execution with a healthy dose of randomness.

What they call first principles

Thinking about things from their most basic components up is what they call first principles. This style of thinking transfers very easily to several things in life. Academic, work related, or personal life. Arguably, a player who has the map locked down for the longest duration has a significant advantage, and should go on to win. Time is the most crucial resource invented by humans.

Think about your strategy and how you allocate time to execute it. Of course more variables come into play when it involves other people. Be clear on the metric you are using to evaluate strategies. Be clear on whether you are debating strategies or its style of execution.

You are a completely unfair job scheduler

You are a human job scheduler. Like the one in your computer’s operating system. Your strategy dictates which jobs get scheduled and how you spend your time. And there is an absorbent barrier at the end. Death. In Unreal Tournament you have a timer counting down. You know the absorbent barrier is at fifteen minutes. In real life you do not know how far out your absorbent barrier is. Life is indeed short, but your strategies should not be short term. You might go on a spree (hot hand) because of the randomness I mentioned above. I guess this is the trickiest idea to wrap one’s head around. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun when you are running around picking up weapons and various items. In life, the unknowns and sheer number of variables biases your scheduler towards short term, immediate feedback type jobs. If you adopt the right metrics to evaluate your strategies, and realize it is important to go on “eco” rounds some times, you have significantly upped your probability of leading a fulfilling life.

That means you are only taking safe and boring decisions

Not all risks are created equal. It is essential to separate ability based risks and lottery based risks. Every time you encounter your opponent, there’s an amount of lottery based risk on who lands a shot. By turning the game into one of territorial control, you have bolstered your competence/ability. And therefore you are in position to take more ability based risks. When lottery based luck kicks in, you are shooting at your opponent with a lightning gun causing 90 hit point damage, where as your opponent is probably causing you single digit hit point damage. Long term thinking is crucial to amass abilities/competence. And ability based risks are the most rewarding when they pay off (they usually will). Now tell me, is it really possible to accumulate abilities/competence in short term?