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In Defense of Sports Video Games

Peyton Hillis Madden 2012

Maybe it's the fanboy in me but this gives me chills.

With the season of Madden 2012 almost upon us we are once more beginning to hear the pangs of gamers who find sports video games to be reviling and detestable. But why is this? Is it because they simply aren’t sports fans? Not usually. Just because a person doesn’t eat sleep and breathe football doesn’t mean they don’t like it, it just means that they may have other things to do with their lives. Let’s be honest, there are sports fans and then there are superfans. While we’re not saying you have to be a superfan to enjoy a sports game, you just have to be able to appreciate it.

I’m sure there are many many arguments against sports games and I’m not saying that the five below are the only ones or even the best ones. They are just the ones I hear come up time and time again.

There’s no story

This is an argument that is passe and way past it’s prime. Not to pull an ad hominem argument up to the table but I think back to games like Doom and remember a story that was quite poor by today’s standards. Look at games like Duke Nukem Forever and you see that becomes painfully obvious that stories of older games that gamers love and swear by have very poor story telling.

Then there are games like Tony Hawk Underground, which is a sports game. This was a sports game that put you in control of a character of your own making as you try to acquire sponsorships, compete in shows, and ultimately get set up by your oldest friend for profit. It had a story full of excitement, betrayal, redemption, and ultimate victory.

Madden 2012 breakout

This is a GREAT moment in gaming!

But what they do have is drama. They appeal to the aggro tendencies that arise in competition. Your palms begin to sweat when the game comes down to the wire and you’re charging down the field trying desperately to get into the end zone. You’re using everything you can to keep the clock from ticking away too much and keeping a cool exterior while on the inside you’re bargaining with whatever deity you believe in. Then as the clock ticks down the 3 seconds you snap the ball and throw a 20 yard pass to a receiver who caught a defensive back napping and cut inside towards daylight. He catches it and runs to the end zone with only one man between him and glory. A quick spin move later and you’re celebrating victory.

There’s no skill needed

Tim Tebow Madden 2012

This is the moment where you either succeed or you fail.

Anyone who has ever created an unstoppable offensive scheme in a game of Madden knows that there is a serious amount of skill and knowledge involved in being able to read a defense and call a solidly laid out audible on the fly. Anyone who has been skunked 53 to 0 with a team that was inferior understands that sometimes you are just woefully outclassed by an opponent.

Conversely if anyone can please explain to me the skill of God of War then I would be willing to listen to the argument. The closest thing to skill needed is during the numerous QTEs other than that is slamming down on a button while Kratos does all the work. I’m not saying that God of War isn’t a good game, I’m just saying that it’s not something I would brag about being good at.

Come to think about it, sports games can help foster and grow skills like no other video game can. I have never played and RPG or FPS and felt that I have in any way grown knowledge or understanding of the subject matter. I spent HOURS catching, breeding, and racing chocobos however I would never once say I have a better understanding of Ornithology.

However after seeing various offensive and defensive schemes played out throughout my adolescence on the fields of Madden I have learned the difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, why you run a screen, and the ultimate futility of a Wildcat formation against a skilled and prepared defense.

Not realistic

The closest thing to realism in video games was the start of Heavy Rain where you controlled the main character as they brushed their teeth. That was a very realistic moment in a video game. Watching Lightning leap 15 feet in the air as she slices through an 8 foot autonomous metal robot with a sword that transforms into a gun was not. Link playing a song on an ocarina that changes the very weather patterns while a talking owl helps to guide him was not. Gamers don’t want realism. Realism is boring. If we liked our realities we wouldn’t escape into our video games. This is why we don’t see games like “Weekly Yard Mowing 2011” released in may and “Shovel that Snow 2 – Clear the Sidewalk”.

But when the biggest complaint about a game is how quickly you can run up the score I implore any of you to join me some Sunday this Fall and Winter as I watch my beloved Cleveland Browns. This is a team I have cheered for since my grandfather held me on his knee as a toddler and explained to me why Brian Sipe was outstanding. We are a team not known to be an offensive or defensive powerhouse. I have sat and watched my Christmas besmirched by a 41 – 0 decimation.

They are boring

Madden 2012 Demo

There is catharsis in delivering a punishing hit

If you are bored by the concept of playing basketball then why are you even trying to play a game about it? I don’t like farming so to me the concept of playing Farmville is right out. But that’s not saying that it is unequivocally boring. That’s just me saying it’s not my thing. But this is an argument based purely on opinion and is fundamentally invalid.

Sports video games appeal to a certain demographic. Fans of that sport. If you don’t understand the sport or don’t like it then you won’t find enjoyment in it. Even if you enjoy it you have to enjoy the sport for the sport itself and not for the environment around it. My wife is a football fan. But she is more enamored with going to the stadium on a blustery autumn Sunday. Getting caught up in the emotion of the crowd. Being part of the moment. However what she is not interested in is the fundamentals of the competition that takes place on the field. She enjoys football mostly for the atmosphere that it creates. She is not the target of a sports video game.

I however am. I get caught up in the rivalries and the emotion of the players. I get taken in by the play calling and the strategy in a large brutal game of modern day gladiatorial chess. I revel in the highs or a perfectly executed screen and curse dejectedly when a defender blows an assignment and gets burned outside.

I’ve never played one and thought “This is better than watching the real thing”

Again, I’m a Browns fan. Some seasons Madden is the only hope I have. Three years ago we were down to our fifth string quarterback. Do you know how many teams have a fifth string quarterback? None. There’s a reason. There was a season that watching my beloved hometown heroes was a brutal undertaking that was filled with cursing and shame. Shame you couldn’t wash off no matter how much you scrubbed. This was an entire season that was typified by the statement “Well at least I have Madden.”

Have you ever tried to watch golf? I am NOT a fan of watching golf. You may be, but I would much rather throw in a copy of Tiger Woods and play TPC Sawgrass than watch someone else do it with a calm monotonous drone of the announcer being the only thing you hear above the steady whisper of the onlooking crowd who, just moments ago, were told to be quiet.

Sports games are not for everyone. But to belittle and bemoan them is to point out your own lack of understanding of them.  So next time someone starts to talk how excited they are for the release of Madden 2012 say “I play RPGs,” and remember that they may feel the very same way about Final Fantasy.

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