Hit Stick Unprofessionalism

I’ve recently returned to playing Madden 10 in Superstar mode. Yes, I’m playing a three year old game that I thought I’d dealt with forever three years ago. But football addictions never really die, and I’m sure I’ll be back at Tecmo again before long. Anyway, I’ve rediscovered my love of Superstar mode unsurprisingly, because of the relationship to making Kicker at the moment. The activity of playing as a single player, as I’ve written in the (deep) past, has all kinds of interesting effects on your relationship to the game. It’s particularly powerful, ironically, in that it heavily encourages me to see myself as a part of a larger puzzle, rather than a superstar.

I’ve been playing as a middle linebacker for most of the time (for the Steelers, for what it’s worth), and playing defense is incredibly team oriented. It’s pretty much always the case that if you just ignore your assignment on a given play – especially if it’s a coverage assignment – you will be a massive liability and probably cost your team a lot of yards or points. So you really do have to play smart and do what you’ve been told. You have to be a professional about it. I love that feeling, of doing my bit, even if I don’t get an official stat or highlight reel for it. Sometimes you just cover a receiver really well so that the quarterback doesn’t pass the ball your way – a rare example of an exciting and satisfying non-event in a video game. Similarly, you might attack a particular hole in the blocking scheme that forces the running back to redirect and be tackled easily by a teammate. Again, no stat, but a job well done.

Which is why it is with considerable pain that I find myself unable to stay off the hit stick. In the Madden series for some time now they’ve given you the option to either go for a safe tackle (by just running into someone), or to go for a big crushing hit (potentially causing a fumble). You do the big crushing hit by flicking the right analog stick when you’re in range and lined up. It’s totally awesome when you get it right. It’s also a massive failure if you mistime it – your player kind of stoops over and stumbles and is effectively out of the play from that point on.

In my playing so far, I find it bordering on impossible not to use the hit stick every time I get near the ball carrier. My thumb just casually flicks it every time, despite the fact that for the last couple of games I have been sternly instructing myself to just make safe tackles. And so my linebacker just kind of waddles past the ball carrier in the wrong direction, another tackle screwed up, another first down not prevented. It’s super embarrassing and goes against everything I said above about the joys of professionalism in the game.

The most surreal element of it, really, is that I can’t seem to make myself stop. It’s like it’s a weird kind of muscle memory now, a conditioned response to being near the ball. Transferred to the fiction of the game, it’s like my linebacker just has some weird football-behavioural issue that he can’t shake, that is endangering his job and competence.

All of which is, frankly, kind of awesome. Linebacker with a behavioural problem? Sign me up!

21 August 2012
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