|(source photo by Scott Ableman)|
Our current, incredibly underdeveloped theory of sports games is this: sports games are simulations. We watch professional sports on TV, then go on to play the licensed game with licensed properties and likenesses of professional players and John Madden's licensed voice saying licensed things with a sportscast-style user interface and presentation. Just compare a still from an ESPN sportscast and a screenshot and the resemblance, from the HUD to the camera angles, is uncanny.
If we're to say they're simulations, we have to think about the act of simulation; specifically, the "thing" one simulates must be a stable, discrete thing in order to simulate it.
But modern soccer as we know it (or "football" as the rest of the silly world calls it) has transformed through hundreds of cultures, variants, rulesets... It's not stable. We don't just plug some VGA cables into a rulebook and get a "simulation." The Mayan version of "football" existed for millenia; who's to say our "football" is more "football-ish" than their version of football? Thus, sports are largely originless, and only exist as long as we're willing to repeat playing them over and over.
(I'd add that even modern organized professional sports aren't stable: the great transfigurers, the greatest players, always change the way the game is played: Michael Jordan, etc.)
... Then Bogost kind of goes on this giant trip through a scholarly debate on Ancient Greek football, or something, and says all these Greek terms along with untranslated slides of Greek words. (I had to replay this section like 5 times because I kept getting bored and browsing something else before realizing he might've said something important.)
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So sure, sports games simulate some superficial aspects of real-life professional sports... but give sports games more credit! They're interesting. They're complicated. There's a reason why watching professional sports is so popular throughout the world.
Now, there are many variants in sports: explicit variants, like "Horse" in relation to basketball, or "Catch" in relation to baseball -- but there are also implicit variants in how we consume and participate in sports.
Take the statement, "let's go play [American] football."
- If a 7 year old asks you, maybe they actually mean a game of "catch" in the backyard.
- If a 14 year old asks you, maybe they mean a game of Madden on the PS3.
- If your 22 year old buddy from college asks you, maybe he means a large pick-up game with the neighbors.
Is this really controversial? We already see a Dragon Age in Flash and a Dragon Age on PC and a Dragon Age on Xbox 360 as essentially similar but different ways of playing the same thing, with different graphics and capabilities and whatnot. This mentality already sort of exists in the gamer community, we just need to apply it to a different context -- to sports.
|(a slide from Ian Bogost's presentation, I added the question marks)|
|(another slide of Bogost's, I added the question marks)|
But where is the "FIFA-Ville" of our time, monetizing the deep deep pockets of European middle-aged men? Why does EA only update the roster and cover art and push out a new version of Madden? Why are "visible sweat droplets" the greatest innovation of basketball games in this console generation?
We can do better than this! So let's start doing better. Look at the question marks in the charts! That's unexplored territory, under the fog of war. There's no fast travel here; just... potential.