Thursday, October 12, 2006
The Cult of Personality
Video games have never looked better, sports games in particular. Nowadays gamers notice when a football field fills up with puddles during a rain soaked game and 3-dimensional crowds react realistically to the action right in front of them. Players move and look like their real life counterparts and the courts, fields and ice are so redonkulously gorgeous that most non-gamers (like my wife) couldn't tell the difference between live TV and a video game.
Of course this means that sports games are at their apex, their zenith, their...best ever right?!? Not quite. As my Grandpappy used to say: "Looks ain't everything" (and then my Dad would follow up with: "But they are important"). Put together the sage wisdom of two old coots and you have what I call "The Graphics Corallary".
The "Graphics Corallary" states that if a game is so visually stunning that you kiss the case it came in (not that I've ever done this) its going to have a deficiency in the personality department. Think Lindsay Lohan, Ben Stiller, Paris Hilton or Terrell Owens. Sure you'll be happy for awhile because your new game looks so good but eventually you'll find it lacks substance, penache, what the French call A-certain-I-don't-know-what and most importantly Personality. And yes I did capitalize Personality.
It wasn't always this way. Sports video games used to have style. In football, gamers could take out their opponents quarterback with only a 15-yard penalty to discourage them. And if you were playing against a friend, you'd have to hold him down so he couldn't press the reset button. In racing games cars used to take damage, in baseball games players would break their bats after striking out and in basketball you could commit a hard foul. But the sports game with the most Personality was hockey. In NHL '94 you could slam a guy so hard he flipped into the bench, have a tooth-busting fight every period and check a guy so hard against the glass it broke! Now all of those things are gone.
I know that just about every pro league out there is trying to keep things clean. They want fans to concentrate on great athletic ability and make all sports family friendly. This attitude gets passed down to the NFL, NHL, MLB, etc. licensed video games. I get it, there's more money in it. It's also incredibly hypocritical. What do you see on Sports Center? You see the big catch and the game winning bucket but you'll also always see lots of big hits or that days bench clearing brawl.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't want to be playing NBA Live '07 and suddenly have to button mash as my starting power forward rushes into the crowd to take out fans. I'm not promoting violence, I'm promoting realism.
If Al Wilson hits Steve McNair late and draws a penalty while knocking him out of the game for awhile, I should be able to do it and see it to. If mild-mannered Joe Sakic is bent out of shape about some cheap shots he's taken earlier in a game and then nails the guy so hard into the glass it knocks him out, I should be able to do that to. And if Tiger Woods confronts a fan who dares to take a picture during his backswing and throws it into a pond, I should be able to do that (while staring at Elin Nordegren) to.
As EA Sports is known to say "If its in the game, its in the game". Americans love sports, so why not put what we love about sports (the Personality) into our games as well? Sports video games look as real as ever, now its time they played like it.