I’m so bored of bashing your face in.

I’ve been playing UFC Undisputed 2010 for the last couple of days, getting the hang of the controls and progressing my way through some of the Career Mode that it offers. That is, you make a fighter, set up their skills, and then train and fight toward becoming the best. The best!

Right now I’m just a low level fighter, though I’m 6-0 in my fights so far with a lot of early round knock-outs. Even though, in theory, that’s a pretty exciting life, I’m already feeling the dread tendrils of boredom clinging to my very soul. Why can’t sports games do story properly?

In general, I find that sports games are pretty great at the individual stories of matches/bouts/games, they capture the excitement and intensity of a contest, be it on the football field or inside the blood-stained octagon. Whenever they try to string things into a more coherent experience over time, however, they seem to fall flat. UFC Undisputed 2010 is, so far, a really terrible game when you’re not fighting, and this makes the fighting itself feel pointless.

When you’re not actually engaged in fighting in the game, you’re training. Training means selecting different menu items to go up levels. You can, if you want to, do the training in the ring, which means repeating moves over and over, except without any of the intensity of an actual mano-a-mano bloodsport. You just punch foam mitts and so on. Thus, training is a massive snooze-fest and I’ve tended to rush through it as efficiently as possible. The problem this creates, though, is that each fight feels more or less like an isolated incident, rather than the progression of a young man’s violent career in professional fighting. There’s no build up or sense that I have any kind of life other than in the very video-game setting of the fight. The rest of the time I’m incapable of any expression.

I used to quite like some of the things that NCAA Football 09 managed to do, with the different awards that could be won, but particularly with the newspaper articles that would sometimes mention you by name as a contributor to the team. So far the best that UFC Undisputed has offered in that vein was the world’s most stilted video interview between my guy and the head of the UFC when he invited me to fight in his league. Sadly, using the game engine and a user-selected voice to run through these things makes me feel less attached to my character. Using newspapers was more effective because it was sufficiently non-representational that my imagination could engage with the fiction.

Not that NCAA Football was totally amazing or anything, but it did pull off at least the first stage of supporting a personal sporting narrative. When will stage two come to us sports fans? Or is it already in a game I’m just unaware of?

17 December 2010
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