About four years ago, I moved in with a group of avid sports fans who introduced me to the Sunday ritual. Before, that ritual was always something I associated with the other: a mindless, violent activity that applauded aggression. Being a mellow “we can all be friends” type, I wanted no part in such barbarism, butafter spending several weeks with my new housemates something strange happened. I began to understand the ritual’s rules, I started to follow its participants and, eventually, I started to love it. This ritual, of course, is NFL football, which wastes my Sundays and turns me into a shouting Neanderthal every week in a mix of adrenaline and booze. A video game based on this experience should be fucking awesome, right?
Amazon had a sale last week on Madden 13. Since the season started up, I’ve been drooling over the same highlights over and over to get my NFL fix, so I immediately hit the buy button without a second thought. I don’t play sports games–give me a broadsword and some potions and I’m good–but I love watching football and the gentlemen around the office have been discussing their various “matches” with great excitement so I figured why the hell not? Sports games are still just video games, right? I was sure I could level up my QB and enhance his throwing arm with materia or something. I couldn’t wait to get started.
When Madden 13 arrived, I booted it up and was actually kind of surprised by what I found. I was assailed with more menus than I’ve ever seen in any RPG and with as many meaningless stats and numbers, too. There was no HP, GP, or MP; Iinstead, I saw TD, GS, ATT, and a million more acronyms. It was daunting, but I forged on. How hard could it be? When I got into my first match I was given possession and a list of plays like “X-corner,” “Close HB Zone Walk,” “GL Man,” “WTF am I doing?” and “Did I just get a delay of game!? I’m pressing the A button as fast as possible!”
If there’s anybody that knows what all that shit means, they’re by far nerdier than those of us trying to find the right responses to unlock an affair with a Dragon Age character.
When I finally got to play defense, I didn’t know what the hell was happening but I applauded myself when things went well and cursed (or debuffed) myself when things went wrong.
I’m not getting this at all, but the good news is I don’t think I’m alone.
Before actually getting the game in the mail, I told one of my coworkers that I’d finally made the Madden purchase everyone was telling me to make and we probably high-fived. But something weird happened after that: I asked him if it was good and he averted his eyes, snorted a hurried answer, and ran away from me.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I think I get it: no one really knows how to play this game.
I’m sure there are a bunch of you that get it way more than the rest of us, but the more people I talked to the more I realized that the Madden series is a video game equivalent to drinking beer or talking about cars. It’s a knee jerk dude activity. To most people who play it, it’s not about making the right calls or understanding mechanics, it’s about pounding your chest when the slight calculations and random trivial decisions you made work and telling your friends they’re cheap when it doesn’t. Besides that, it’s all the menus and lists that you would find in the nerdiest of strategy RPGs wrapped up in a manly package.
And I guess that’s a big part of what makes Madden such a successful series even though it’s something core gamers aren’t interested in. On one hand it’s complicated and lame, but on the other hand it has the license for which most dudes froth at the mouth I mean honestly, who doesn’t want the opportunity to sack Tom Brady 200+ times?