2 Cents to Play: Sports Games and Male Bonding

Originally published on The Daily Iowan Arts Blog 9/20/2009

My earliest video game memory comes from when I found an old Intellivision in my grandparents basement. Despite its archaic graphics, I was able to convince my parents to let me take it home with us. There were only two games left with the system; a Space Invaders rip-off and a baseball game. The latter of which lived in the system. My dad and I spent hours in our den adding to the bitter rivalry between the Red Team and the Blue Team. It became more about the bonding experience than anything else.

Sports and video games are a perfect marriage. Both feature competition and add to the traditional gamer demographic – the adolescent male. Furthermore, they allow sports fans to live out fantasies beyond their skill level which makes it a no brainer that the Madden series is not only the most popular sports game series but also one of the most popular franchises period. If you don’t believe me check out this brilliant piece of marketing:

Madden 08 “Field Generals.”

It’s amazing these games cause players to look past any socio-economic differences. Unfortunately, other sports games get left under the radar, namely EA Sports’ NHL series. Some of this is due to Hockey’s status as one of the least popular sports in the U.S., behind only soccer. However, there isn’t one gamer over 18 who without fond memories of late night marathon sessions of NHL ’94-’97. The series is a staple in male culture, it’s even made appearances in male oriented comedies like Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Swingers.

Last year’s NHL 09 is one of, if not the, best sports game ever made. It is the one game I can say I played with my roommates from the its release last year, to last Monday night, less than eight before the 2010 version came out. This is just subjective experience either. The game garnered twelve “Sports Game of the Year” awards, according the NHL 10 box; a feat any current generation Madden entry has yet to accomplish.
What’s more is these games are a great way to introduce gamers to sports they wouldn’t seek out otherwise. During the 2006 World Cup, my friends and I started playing FIFA World Cup 2006. We then followed the real life tournament with more interest as we knew at least one player from all the major countries. On the same note, I wouldn’t be able to name more than two Chicago Blackhawks if it wasn’t for NHL 10.

If football wasn’t as popular as it is, the Madden series wouldn’t be the pop culture phenomenon that it is. Football games make for a slower experience than hockey and if you ever go back to a Madden entry on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo, you’ll see what I mean. On the other hand, any NHL game from the same era still holds up as well today as it did upon its release.

As the new Madden 10 faces less than spectacular sales, gamers are clearly looking for new sports to fix the twitch in their thumbs.

-Tyler Lyon


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