Written by Ryan Johnson Sunday, 06 February 2011 00:00
A friend and I sat down for a meaningful conversation lately. While I don't know all of his background history, I know that he grew up enjoying sports. Myself, I absorbed into the worlds of comic books, video games, and general band geek-iness. I am close enough to this friend to finally ask a big question: What's the big deal with sports games?
This question is hard for me to ask to a general sports nut. I've tried in the past, and most have just gotten frustrated with me. Football in particular: people say they'll "take it easy" and "teach me the ropes so I understand." Now, this is my own ignorance, but I know very little about sports. I know that in football, side A is trying to get to the goal behind side B, and side B will stop them to go the opposite direction. You ask me about playbooks, and I'm lost. My favorite sports games' titles were only one word: Baseball. Hockey. Football. We're talking early NES stuff. There was a simplicity there. I also enjoy the arcadey games, such as NBA Jam.
What usually happened in these test runs was as follows: friend would say what each button did, offense and defense. He would use words I didn't understand. I would see play books, and my eyes would cross. If I was cooperative with them, I would slowly sense aggravation until they would say "let me pick the plays for us" or "I'll take over quarterback" and suddenly, it didn't matter what, I'd find myself controlling someone whom I felt had nothing to do with victory. If we were competing, they would "take it easy," yet by the end of the game I would aggravate them as they saw me picking plays. They thought I didn't care how the game went: I just didn't know what to do. Even though they "took it easy," they'd still win by double digits, sit back, and say "so, you wanna play again?" Oh yeah. Fun.
This has bothered me for most of my gaming career. I want to enjoy sports games. They look fun. So I sat down with my friend to get the final answers. He is a close enough friend that I knew we could get into a healthy debate.
He talks of strategy: I claim I don't see it. All football plays to me are "run" or "pass." He talks of how plays work...of why new games come out each year to update stats...discusses the statistics boards you can see within each individual player's roster...talks those words I don't understand again....suddenly I feel like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher in class....wah WAH WAH wah wah wah WAH....
I try to describe to him my emotion. Suddenly I feel as if I know how to explain it: I start telling him how I prepared for my final battle with Sephiroth in Final Fantasy 7. How to have proper equipping and combining of materia for maximum effect...how Mime can chain powerful spells against a foe...how the Active Time Battle system works...we realize that we are speaking two different languages. He's feeling like Charlie Brown now.
So I ask him: What can I do to learn? If I know NOTHING about sports games, I do know that they can provide an awesome social experience with a lot of my gamer friends. He discussed websites for me to learn about plays. How following a season can help you learn about players. How a fantasy football league works. If I could just see games during the season, I could follow college kids as they progress into the majors....I start seeing that this is a lot of work. I would have to basically give up my story-driven enjoyment of games to fully grasp the football game. In essence, I would have to trade hobbies.
Other side of the coin: I have discussed with him how important these fantasy worlds are to me. He's a huge Lord of the Rings fan. We have had a full marathon to watch the entire extended trilogy before. How each and every one of these 80+ hour games can be just as epic and involved. But when I show him Red Dead Redemption, even after this conversation, his first reaction (which he recognized afterward) was to jam on start to get to "the real game."
If I fall into a sports game, I see a muddle of numbers, statistics, and things I don't know how to control. Yet if I just throw him into a game, well...I still get made fun of that he tried Spider Man 2 and happened to load my file just as Peter Parker was forced to deliver pizzas as Spider Man before he got caught having to race across town to meet his girlfriend or he would be in big trouble...quite the epic hero, if I say so myself. In an RPG, he also sees a muddle of numbers, statistics, and things he doesn't know how to control.
So what am I trying to convey with this article? Maybe I don't know myself: I'm looking to spark some good conversation. Sports games aren't bad: they aren't my cup of tea, though. Just as I know I could easily get flamed at how stupid my enjoyment of JRPGs is. This is the joy of video games: variety. You can taste a bit of everything, you can master one category, you can do what you want. In fact, I'm still interested in getting into Madden or such, and I know my friend would love to see why I dig my Final Fantasies. The dedication required to truly understand the intricacies of one single area of gamingdom is great. Hobbies take a lot of time to fully enjoy. In the end, it's up to you to decide what to do.
So what kind of gamer are you? Anybody feel me? Disagree completely? Sound off in the comments!