Yeah, I’ll come right out and say it – I don’t watch sports. Okay, I dabbled in basketball for a while, but that’s it. I’ve never cared for football, I find baseball excruciating and I just plain don’t get the appeal of watching hockey. Even the World Cup tournament didn’t get me excited. Watching other people play sports has never been for me. And yet I love sports games. Or at least I used to. Back in the days of ‘Tecmo Super Bowl,’ I loved them all. ‘Blades of Steel’ was my favorite, and I don’t think I’d ever watched hockey in my life when I got that game. Those games were easy to understand and just plain fun to play. I’ve still got a group of four that gets together on occasion for some ‘Tecmo Super Bowl’ action. We start up a season and play it right through. But that’s about where it ends for me, because modern sports games are far too complex.
It’s not that I can’t figure out how to push the buttons properly. I don’t have any trouble executing plays or throwing pitches. I just don’t know why I’m doing them. You’d think the game would help out with all that, seeing as how most other videogames have a tutorial mode. So why don’t sports games?
Let’s take the ‘Madden’ franchise for example. The last I played was either ‘Madden 08 ‘ or ’09,’ and I was actually pretty convinced that I’d enjoy it. Plenty of my friends were into football and I figured it would be simple enough to understand. “If I can figure out ‘Disgaea,’ I can figure out football, right?” Wrong.
After running through a mode designed to determine my skill level, I was left without much in the way of help understanding the game. The manual and in-game tutorials were clearly created to help those who had never played a videogame before. ‘Madden’ was made to be as friendly as possible for folks that just bought their first Xbox, but there’s no help for a guy who never watched football.
I’ve never been completely ignorant of football. I knew a bit going into this game. I got what a quarterback is, and I could figure out wide receivers well enough, but that’s where it all ended. My passes got intercepted, I lost games by huge amounts and I had no idea why. It didn’t help that the menu for picking a play assumed a lot of knowledge on my part. I dug through menus with names like “Nickel” and “2-3-2″ until I found plays with names I liked, and then ran them. The drawings were like an alien language.
I got frustrated with playing the actual games pretty quickly. So I did what any good ol’ pen-and-paper role-playing nerd would do, and turned to the one mode I could understand. Franchise mode was made of wonderful and easy to understand charts where my characters were given numerical values. Just like any good RPG, my job was to make those numbers go up. Trading players was like trading cards back in my ‘Magic: The Gathering’ days, but without all the debate over whether they were in mint condition or not.
I treated games like I treat random monster battles. I avoided them like the plague, only jumping in when I was bored with management, or when it was a big night. I treated the playoffs as a series of boss encounters, with the Super Bowl being the final one. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I was still left with questions.
What the hell is a tight end and why do I want one? Do the guys on the defensive line also play on the offensive line? Just how important is a good kicker? ‘Madden’ wouldn’t tell me.
It’s not fair to pick on only one franchise. Plenty of other games do it too. I still don’t understand the purpose behind all the different pitches in baseball games or why I’d ever want to bunt. Hockey mystifies me when my players aren’t fighting. Well, I’m decent with basketball. Having only five players helps.
I know the simple solution is to look up the info online, or ask someone. But really, shouldn’t these sports games come with a bit of tutorial for people who don’t watch sports?