Why Sports Titles Represent the Best and Worst Aspects of Gaming

While sports games are criticized for trotting out the same features each year, they do highlight the best part of gaming: imagining yourself in a different light.

Sports games have attracted some of the most dedicated fans in gaming, while also being criticized fairly for stagnant gameplay and annual sequels with little innovation. Each year’s addition to sports franchises becomes another  target for everything that is wrong about the industry. Whether it’s the retrotted franchise and superstar modes in Madden or the bug-ridden releases of the NBA 2k series, sometimes it seems like sports games just can’t get it right. But really, these games are, for better or for worse, indicative of gaming culture at large.

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If It’s Annual, Then It Probably Ain’t Great

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Good games take time. Great games take even more time. But sports games? Sports games take less than a year – or at least, that’s what the industry suggests, since developers pop them out at a frantic pace. That year includes time for testing bugs and actually advertising the product, which means that there is a significant time crunch on most sports franchises. That’s why you see the same-old features being rehashed year after year: the Madden series is notorious for trotting out “updated games” that look the except same for the different rosters. Sure, they might add a new hit stick or gang-tackling, but then again, one might argue that if the game had gotten it right the first time, those things would already be there.

So while annual releases get screwed by their ever-pressing deadline, there are some positives. The reason why these games are released every year is that there is a huge demand for them. Plenty of gamers are dying every late summer season to hit the gridiron before their favorite players do. FIFA’s annual releases are coveted around the world. Sure, the games would be better if they had more time to grow. But at least they are bringing more people back to their consoles. Without the top sports franchises, a lot of gamers would eventually fade away from their consoles after a year, without a new release to interest them. The more people at their console, the better for the gaming community as a whole – which is why it’s good to have these mainstays every year, even if the quality suffers.

Let’s Talk About the Commentary…

Erin Andrews turned gamers into fan boys with her Road to Glory coverage

Erin Andrews turned gamers into fan boys with her Road to Glory coverage

Horror stories of the past won’t be discussed here: we can leave those back in the nineties with Seinfeld and the Cure. Suffice to say though that things haven’t improved much. The problem is that it is impossible to realistically comment on game play without seeing the play in front of you. Or at least, it’s impossible to sound intelligent while doing it. So when you hear the NBA 2k announcer talk about how bad of a shot you just took, but fail to mention that there was one second on the clock, it always makes you want to throw something. Or at least find your remote’s mute button.

But in-game commentary has become highly advanced, showing how much better voice acting and cause-reaction programming has gotten over the years. Using the NBA 2k engine as an example again, while the commentary is painful at times, it is also surprisingly reactive. The announcers will often shape their commentary based on what has happened to the team within that virtual season – they’ll mention Steve Nash being traded by the Suns (in-game, as in, before he was traded in real life) and talk about what that means for the rest of  the roster. If a team has not met expectations during the season, the announcers will mention that the team was expected to do much better.

These are small things, but they account for many, many variables. So even though it’s difficult to listen to the Madden announcers drone on about the prevent defense for the millionth time, we should take solace in the fact that things are getting much better.

Gamers can only hope. And, maybe Erin Andrews will come back and be a sideline reporter again, like she was for NCAA Football 10’s Road to Glory mode.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Putting Yourself in Another Person’s Sneakers

Averaging 55 points a game isn’t realistic, but it sure is fun. (Note: this isn’t my character)

The dream continues. You do a crossover, once, twice, then break left while your defender – let’s say Lebron James – goes right. His mistake. You roll to the hoop and bam, you just dunked over the King. Or maybe you just made the header in the 90th minute to put Real Madrid into the Champions League finals. Before that, of course, you were the best quarterback in the NFL. 50 touchdowns in a season? Please. You put up 60.

At the heart of it, this is why sports games are so appealing – because they draw on our desire to be someone or something else. Or at least, to have experiences outside our own. Sports games are some of the best in the genre at fulfilling people’s fantasy of themselves. They cater to our desire for a different existence. 

And for that reason, sports games represent some of the best the industry has to offer, even with their sometimes unrealistic game play and hastily made re-releases.


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Author
Nick Fouriezos
I'm a freelance journalist who loves sports, gaming and creative writing. I'm also a GameSkinny intern and right now I'm playing unhealthy amounts of NBA2k12, Halo 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Check out more of my work at nick4iezos.com.