“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
It had been a brilliantly sunny day, but this fact was entirely lost on me as I left my first physics midterm, utterly defeated. Kinematics had never been my strong suit, and I ended up flubbing enough questions to wonder if I would make it through this spring course in one piece. I boarded the bus and made my way over to my friend’s place: although this exam had been devastating, I had not forgotten my promise of delivering to said friend a pair of headphones. He was scheduled to visit family in China in less than two days’ time, and after my bus reached its destination, I cut through a footpath to reach his place. When I arrived, my friend had another request for me: this was back during a time when Team Fortress 2 still was open to idling, and at the time, my friend had been quite keen on collecting drops from a headless Team Fortress 2 client, with the intent of transforming duplicate weapons into scrap, combining this into reclaimed metal and ultimately, refining this metal with the goal of making hats. To this end, my friend had created no fewer than four accounts, and the ask had been simple: I would leave a headless client running while I was at the university and cycle through each account. My friend would leave for China, and I began the process of idling. During days where the cap was reached, I spotted that my friend had Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in his account, and curiosity led me to beat the game over the course of a week. In between finishing lab reports and trying to keep up with the new topics in my physics course, I saw Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish fighting alongside Captain John Price and Bravo Team to prevent Imran Zakhaev from seizing Russian ICBMs and levelling the Eastern Seaboard with them. Throughout Modern Warfare, I was impressed with the sheer grit MacTavish and Price demonstrated: regardless of being outgunned after trying to make their way to an extraction zone, or pressing forwards with preventing ballistic missiles from hitting the continental United States even after they’re launched, Bravo Team never once give up; they simply soldiered on with a grim determination to get the job done. At this point in the summer, I had been more than ready to throw in the towel: in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, summer courses don’t affect the GPA calculation for things like the honours thesis or scholarships, so it would’ve been sufficient for me to simply pass physics and focus on the summer’s main foe, the MCAT.
With its uncommonly well-presented atmospherics, Modern Warfare completely immersed me in its story. When I reached the One Shot, One Kill mission, I noticed that the game presented all of the variables Price needed to account for whilst placing the shot needed to take Zakhaev out. I’d been a little surprised that the bullet drop would be that severe over the distance: at 896.7 metres, I imagined that with the M82’s muzzle velocity of 854 m/s, the bullet would still fly true en route to Zakhaev’s cranium. I quickly broke out the kinematics equations and worked out the drop: the expression d = v₀·t + (a·t²)/2 was sufficient to work things out, and if the bullet was in flight for 1.05 seconds, then assuming a vertical velocity of 0 m/s when leaving the barrel, we can assume that the only acceleration the bullet experiences is due to gravity (8.91 m/s²). With these values in mind, the bullet would drop 5.40 meters (16.4 feet), to three significant figures, over that distance. Spotting this, I was swiftly reminded that although kinematics might not be my forte, there was still relevance in studying it. I thus resolved to put in a more concerted effort for the second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first midterm. Doubling down on my studies, I also spent my spare time going through the remainder of the Modern Warfare campaign, striking a balance between becoming comfortable with the physics work and experiencing an iconic part of the Call of Duty franchise as a means of unwinding. I felt better prepared for the second midterm, and walked away from this one with a greater confidence: two days after the midterm ended, I published a post about my cursory thoughts on the One Shot, One Kill mission and finished Modern Warfare. When my midterm results returned, I was surprised that I’d done significantly better, and by the time the final exam rolled around, I was able to perform. In this introductory physics course, I turned my grade around from a C- to an A-, and moreover, this course acted as a refresher for a major part of the MCAT: kinematics was very much a part of the physical sciences section, and with biology, biochemistry and organic chemistry still fresh on my mind, I had enough of a background to begin mastering the exam-taking techniques. Completing my physics course on a high note gave me the confidence I needed during the early days of MCAT preparations. When my friend returned home from China, I returned the Steam accounts and no longer had access to Modern Warfare, but the atmospherics and emotions lingered with me. I thus entered the MCAT with the same sort of deadly focus and resolve that Price and MacTavish had when staring down what seemed to be certain death.
Additional Remarks and Commentary
- Modern Warfare‘s campaign represents one of the most iconic in gaming history, right alongside the likes of giants like Half-Life, Halo and GoldenEye. Games of this time period were polished and thought-provoking, and when I first set foot here, during the infamous “Heat” mission, Modern Warfare would’ve just turned five. As memory serves, I became interested in Modern Warfare while looking up ghost stories surrounding Chernobyl and happened upon a text that described the Pripyat missions as being ghostly in terms of atmospherics.
- Watching footage of Modern Warfare on YouTube convinced me that this was a game worth trying, but when my friend asked me to idle for Team Fortress 2 hats, I ended up having the chance to play the game on his account instead. This experience allowed me to experience the campaign to the extent that I wished, and over the space of a week, I finished the entire game. In those days, I had an older computer that, while not quite powerful enough to run Crysis or Bad Company 2, could still play Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare without any issues.
- I had nailed most of the questions, but I still remember the final question had me licked. I ended up with a 65 on this first midterm as a result. Looking back, this was a consequence of my going through the motions; the introductory mechanics course was basically a revisit of kinematics from secondary school, and I’d fallen into the trap of thinking that, since I’d done well enough back in secondary school, my old knowledge must’ve still been intact. Coupled with the fact that I was moderately distracted by Otafest and Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode, my focus wasn’t fully on physics.
- After the shock of the first midterm wore off, and with a series of accounts to idle for, I realised that the only way to get through everything with a passing grade was if I focused on my studies when I needed to, and to this end, I would sit down and re-structure my days. I would only deal with laboratory materials on Monday, then catch up with lecture materials after classes ended on Mondays and Wednesdays by doing review problems. Tuesdays and Thursdays were devoted to assignments, and any leftover time I had in the week, I would focus on revisiting any concepts from the week I’d been feeling less confident about.
- Each day of the week, anywhere after 1700 would be my downtime, in which I wouldn’t look at any coursework. This was when I’d go through Modern Warfare, and later, when I finished, Portal 2. In this way, I would regain rhythm in my spring course, and in conjunction with the grit and spirit seen in Modern Warfare, I would come back around and decided that, rather than throwing in the towel, I would do what I could for physics. On this day a decade earlier, I would sit down to my second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first.
- After conquering the second midterm and performing as I had wished, I had enough momentum to push on forwards. It helped considerably that things like momentum, work and energy were concepts I was much stronger with, and I’d also been more comfortable with collisions and energy transfer than I’d ever been with kinematics. My old spirits returned to me, and this timing was critical: shortly after the second midterm ended, my MCAT course had also begun. With only two months left to exam day, I received a crash course on MCAT content and also learnt the means of testing more efficiently.
- Because I’d been fresh out of physics, and having taken several organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology courses, the MCAT content ultimately wasn’t a concern to me: I knew enough of the basics to understand what was being asked, and testing thus became a matter of triaging the exam, keeping cool under pressure and managing time well. For me, strategy mattered more than content, and these elements were helped by the fact that by mid-June, I was simultaneously juggling physics and the MCAT course.
- The strategies from the MCAT course would, curiously enough, carry over to how I took my physics exam, and I recall knocking out the final exam with a greater confidence than I had been. At this time, since I was still focused on wrapping up physics, I did not do well on the recommended practise MCAT exam when it became available to me. This performance was not yet worrisome, since I’d known that my attention had been divided, and that it was still mostly early in the summer.
- According to the date-stamp on the screenshot, I would’ve reached this point in Modern Warfare on the same day as my midterm. Recollections elsewhere in this blog remind me that I had a lab on the same day, as well: spring and summer courses are far more condensed than fall and winter courses, and while this creates tremendous pressure to gain a satisfactory knowledge of the material, the flipside is that I wasn’t taking other courses, so I could focus on physics entirely. Whenever revisiting these missions in Modern Warfare, then, my thoughts always flit towards that June Wednesday back in 2012, during a time when I wished I were doing anything else with my days besides studying.
- However, in retrospect, the summer of a decade before was ultimately what shaped how I approached challenges and adversity. In secondary school, and then for most of my undergraduate programme, I approached things with a brute force solution, resolving to learn principles and systems well enough to pass exams on my own. My cell and molecular biology course began changing this: being able to appreciate the context of a concept helped me to understand its significance. By the time my physics course ended, and the MCAT course had been in full swing, it became clear the old methods would no longer cut it.
- Some of my friends, who’d already finished the MCAT, ended up holding study sessions for myself and a few other classmates who were staring down the MCAT. Outside of the MCAT preparation course and my own studies, we would meet up at the medical campus and spent hours going through exams together. In groups, I could ask questions and get a second set of thoughts on things. Even to this day, I’m impressed my friends went through this level of effort to get us through when they themselves had already finished the exam.
- This is why, when my friends received their offers to medical school, I was thrilled; these are brilliant and compassionate individuals with the personality traits and moral fibre to be a physician. I myself would never make it to the interview stage: in feedback I received from my application, my commitment to ethics and sense of volunteering had been insufficient. In a private conversation with my friends, they felt that the day-to-day of a physician wouldn’t have been for me, and with a decade’s worth of life experience, I whole-heartedly agree with them.
- While I would never again use my MCAT score for anything more than a conversational topic, the exam-taking process itself proved invaluable to me: I ended up performing exceedingly well in my final undergraduate year, and during an open studies term, I was able to excel in all courses despite being preoccupied with medical school applications and a lingering melancholy from the summer following the Great Flood. The same skills ended up carrying over to graduate school, which stand as some of my fondest memories of university: readers can actually spot this as when I really began writing for this blog.
- Four years after the MCAT ended, I would pick up Modern Warfare for myself after it went on discount during the Steam Summer Sale. This time around, I’d been rocking a newer computer and was able to replay the game at 1080p: revisiting old maps brought back memories of the MCAT, and I found myself immensely glad to have finished. At this point in time, I’d also finished defending my graduate thesis. While this examination was supposed to be as tough as the MCAT, the main advantage I had was that, rather than only two months, I had a full two years to prepare for this exam.
- In my revisit of Modern Warfare in 2016, I wrote of my enjoyment of how the game had remained highly immersive despite almost nine years having passed since its launch. The next year, Modern Warfare Remastered became available as a part of the Infinite Warfare: Legacy Edition. I ended up buying this because it’d been on sale, and because by then, five years had passed since my MCAT. The world is now a very different place than it had been since the MCAT, and in the past few months, I’ve taken advantage of the spring weather to revisit campus.
- Some spots have changed beyond recognition: the library block and tower where I’d spent mornings doing revisions prior to the MCAT course (and where I watched Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father! during downtime) has been demolished and completely rebuilt. However, the building I studied physics in during mornings is still there, although the study spaces have now been repurposed as office spaces, and the home of my old lab remains as it had when I was still a student there.
- In this post, I reminisce fondly of how Modern Warfare played a pivotal role in getting my game back together in physics, and how this would set me on a path to take on the MCAT with confidence. One would therefore wonder, had my friend not asked me to idle for him in Team Fortress 2, I would have never played Modern Warfare. I imagine that, while I wouldn’t have been as inspired or encouraged to make a comeback, the fact that I was more comfortable with materials in the course’s second half would’ve allowed me to still recover my grades somewhat, and since I’d just begun watching CLANNAD then, this, in conjunction with study sessions from my friends, I would still have some inspiration from other sources.
- The short answer is that, even without Modern Warfare, I would have likely survived the summer, and had that occurred, I would likely have ascribed the outcomes of that summer to something else. However, it is the case that Modern Warfare did act as the catalyst for me to get my head back in the game and pull through physics: it is fair to suggest that Modern Warfare did have a nontrivial impact on how my summer unfolded: seeing Price and MacTavish motivated me to do what I could, and so, on this day a decade earlier, I was able to walk out of that second midterm with a much greater feeling of confidence that I did well.
- After my second midterm ended and finals began approaching, my friend returned home from China. Although this meant my access to Modern Warfare would end, my friend ended up sending me a discount code for Portal 2 as thanks for helping him idle, and in downtime outside of my studies, we ended up playing Team Fortress 2, as well as MicroVolts. The games might’ve differed, but the outcomes were the same, and altogether, I would suggest that the combination of maintaining a balanced schedule, having things to look forward to on a day-to-day basis and support from friends would carry me through that summer.
Looking back, conquering the MCAT had a significant knock-on effect on my career trajectory: the techniques and approaches I used on the MCAT would prove to be immeasurably helpful during the final year of my undergraduate programme. I no longer worried about exams, realising that I could hit the principles and then reason my way through to solutions rather than attempting to memorise facts and figures, and used triaging methods to hit high-value-low-effort problems first. With this newfound confidence, I performed better in my final year than I had the remainder of my undergraduate degree, and for the first time, it hit me: doing well for the sake of doing well is meaningless, but when I changed my mindset to simply learn and appreciate the material, the pressure associated with scoring high on exams evaporated. I carried this confidence into graduate school; my medical school applications weren’t successful, but I would see another path I could follow. I thus walked this path with conviction, and ended up cultivating the skills needed to succeed in the realm of mobile development. It may appear to be a stretch that I say this, but if my successes on the MCAT imparted in me the know-how of rising up to life’s challenges more effectively, then turning my physics course around gave me the encouragement to do so, and this in turn was facilitated by the fact I was able to play through Modern Warfare and draw inspiration from the game’s progression. I would not have gone through Modern Warfare had my friend not requested that I help him to idle for Team Fortress 2 item drops, so it seems reasonable to suppose that my friend’s simple request set me on a path I certainly could not have foreseen taken. While some of my outcomes ultimately do boil down to what I brought to the table, independently of any external experiences I may have had, the fact is that having Modern Warfare to play through helped me in a tangible fashion: whether it’s Bravo Team surviving the assault from Ultranationalist forces, or MacTavish pressing onwards to stop nuclear-tipped missiles from flattening the Eastern Seaboard, I am irrevocably reminded of those breaks between a frenzied effort to stave off a poor grade in physics. Going back through Modern Warfare now, I am appreciative of the efforts I’d made back then, and the fact that nowadays, I can play though the game again without this particular weight over my head.