In college, SMQ's nuclear familial unit made an excursion to Baton Rouge to watch Ole Miss and LSU, a game eventually won by the Manning-led Rebels (and the last game lost that season by LSU before an improbable SEC title run).
Early in the game, on its first or second possession, LSU faced third and three or four around midfield and came out in five wide. Peering from binoculars from the furthest upper reaches of massive Tiger Stadium, a perch so far from the fied the no doubt insane fans on the opposite side sounded like mob a mile away, SMQ said, "This is a quarterback draw" a few seconds before Rohan Davey hesitated, took it up the middle for about eight yards and a first down, the crowd exploded and father of SMQ, a longtime high school playcaller, asked, "How did you know that?"
SMQ doesn't remember what he said then, but the real answer was, "That's what I would do on NCAA Football." The five-wide quarterback draw on third and short at that time was a years-old staple for SMQ's dominant video teams; with Rohan Davey, it wasn't a difficult guess.
Tuesday, Felix Gillette relayed a similar account of education via PlayStation in Slate:
I've watched hundreds of football games on television and in person. But I've never learned as much about how the game works as I did on Saturday afternoon. When you watch a game live, the big plays usually seem inexplicable and mysterious. When you participate in a big play in Madden, the success is not a mystery. Rather, it's the logical outcome of well-timed manipulation and execution."
SMQ does not agree with his later stance that the televised game should employ more Madden-like features and graphics, but Gillette's sense of learning football's intricacies by playing a fairly competent simulation rings true. And especially playing it against another person, whose strategy evolves, rather than the static computer; SMQ had never hooked up NCAA Football to the Web before last Spring, but since it's become a sort of cerebral pleasure to match virtual wits against xXxSoCalBallazxXx and bIgDaWg6969 several times a week.
A recent article by a British expat for an English magazine (a link SMQ can't find now) copped to the intellectual attractions of American football, even while advancing the usual "football as apt metaphor for the American obsession with war" conclusion, and the strength of contemporary video games is that they strip away the physical limitations that prevent people from playing the real thing, and leave a passable facsimile of the strategy. Played correctly, resisting the temptation to exploit the computer's strange generosity regarding the deep ball, the best online games can evolve pretty much exactly the way real ones do. You learn angles, protections, progressions and holes in zones; there's not much more satisfying than sticking a hot route over the middle after sagely instructing your running back to pick up a blitz, features that are never much use against artificial intelligence that still fails to make adjustments to the blatant, predictable tendencies of human opponents. As he types, SMQ's roommate is discussing with a visiting friend the finer points of progressing through reads on the "Angle" play out of the I-formation.
Obviously, football ain't chess. But the modern video game versions are probably closer than they get credit for.