I Play Football By My Own Rules

I’m fully addicted to “superstar mode” in Madden 10 at this point. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, it involves taking control of a single player on a team and basically “following orders” in terms of which plays are called and so on. In my case, this means being a linebacker (with my name, of course) for the Dallas Cowboys. (As a side note, yes, I did have to reload the game endlessly to get the Cowboys, my team, to draft me. Endlessly. It was a game in itself.)

The thing that is most interesting about the superstar mode is that, because you’re only one player (in the normal game you control everyone, although still one at a time), you don’t necessarily influence the outcome of the game especially strongly. This is most notably true when you play on defense. As such, you end up playing a role in the game, rather than simply “playing the game”. In effect, you end up being a team player, where the rest of the team is controlled by the AI.

This leads to an incredibly strong tension – as a player sitting on his couch, my usual experience of a video game is that I call the shots and am, without question, the most important person in the game’s universe (see: Halo, Half-Life 2, or even Tetris). Now, playing Madden, I’m just one of the team’s linebackers. Worse, if I try to play the game “my way” and step out of the instructions laid down by the virtual coach, the results will usually be a disaster. This is partly because I’m playing defense, specifically – you can’t just do what you want. Worse still, on defense it’s very frequently the case that a good result is “nothing happens”. So I’ll painstakingly cover my guy, making sure he doesn’t get the ball, and he doesn’t. That’s not even a statistic to my credit.

As such, I feel, perhaps, some of the pain of real life defensive players – the game simply isn’t geared toward them being recognized and, in fact, doesn’t even keep track of some of their most important efforts (i.e. preventing something from happening). In video game land, this creates a difficulty for me in terms of feeling like I “won”. Obviously the team can win or lose, and that should, in theory, be all I need. But it isn’t.

Instead, I’ve set particular parameters for myself to meet in a game (win or lose), otherwise I play the game again. This means I have a guaranteed “impact” on the game (again, win or lose). For now it’s to either lead the team in tackles (not all that glorious), or get at least one of the “glory stats” (interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks). There’s a sense in which this is the ultimate act of not being a team player: I’d restart a game the team won if I didn’t have my stats, and I’d accept a game they lost if I did have the stats. On the other hand, this is a part of belonging to the team: it allows me to lose a game, something that can be otherwise hard to accept in these kinds of sporting simulations.

In summary, I find it pretty interesting that I have to go through all these convoluted reasons just to play a game in a particular way and, more interesting, that there’s something about the game format that makes me want to play it so much that I’m willing to contort myself and invent rules.

12 April 2010
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