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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sports games

I've never understood the appeal of modern sports videogames. Every year, a new edition is released which has, every time, a more powerful graphics engine and updated player stats. And sometimes, there will be some advance in the control so that you can play a more realistic game more easily. Notice anything in common with these updates? They all serve only to bring the game closer to realism, the ultimate goal. I don't know about you, IFs, but to me this seems ridiculous. Why put so much time, money, and effort into the technology that will bring sports a little bit closer to real sports, when we already have real sports without the technology?! Is it so hard to pick up a ball, walk outside, and [gasp] play the real game? The kind of realism you get that way is just astounding. Plus, it's a hell of a lot cheaper. But these imitators continue to sell in outrageous numbers year in, year out, for reasons I cannot fathom. Here is the second greatest and by far the most flexible medium for art in the whole of human history, and it is trapped in an Industry which promotes mimicry over creativity; an Industry thanks which the most successful game form of all is sports games. Pathetic, isn't it?

From a capitalist viewpoint, this is great. The average Joe sportsfan (read: "sucker") seems to be content with getting nothing more than a gimmick for his 50 bucks. Whoever figured this out is a genius at ripping people off. For the uninformed customer the words videogame and gimmick are practically synonymous, so he will be very satisfied by what he is getting. And so he will buy the same game year after year after year, the same game he could play for himself -and probably does- by picking up a ball, with the same athletes he could see for real -and probably does- by turning on his TV. He'll keep buying it over and over, because his expectations for sports games have been defined by the people who are selling him the game, and they don't have anything to gain (except for an insignificant thing called quality) for making those expectations high. If they were to let the consumer know that he'd have more fun if they were less interested in realism and more interested in letting him have fun, then they'd have to be creative, because their consumers would demand it. And if you're the head of a big business in the Game Industry, you feel much safer knowing that all you need to make a big profit each year is copying reality better, and not improving the game.

Once upon a time, there was a company that set out to make good games. While companies on the other side of the world tried to make games as banal, as familiar as possible, they went entirely in the other direction, making games that were first and foremost good games. So I don't know how to take this announcement:
Nintendo® Pennant Chase Baseball brings video game play to a new level of excitement and reality with fan-favorite players and teams... Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball, developed by Exile Interactive and Nintendo, includes players from every Major League Baseball® team. Players will be able to compete in all 30 current Major League™ ballparks, as well as in a few from the past. To ensure a completely authentic experience, the game has been licensed by Major League Baseball Properties, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum®, with statistics and ratings provided by STATS, Inc... Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball will feature new game modes that combine the authenticity of Major League Baseball with the great game play that consumers have come to expect from Nintendo.
Which is it, excitement or reality?! Is this Nintendo selling out, or are they really working to make this, as they claim, "the great game play that consumers have come to expect from Nintendo"? I have extremely mixed feelings on this. For one thing, it is artistically wrong and destroys Nintendo's integrity. But on the other hand, it makes Nintendo money. So there will be one of two possible outcomes: 1. Nintendo will have more money to make the artistically honest games I've come to expect from them. 2. Nintendo will realize that they can make much more money from artistically dishonest games and switch sides. The way Nintendo is positioning the DS has me inclined to believe the latter. So the question on my mind is: Which game is Nintendo playing?



Well, as it happened, this game was never released- Nintendo must have had second thoughts. Good for them.


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