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Posted by GoranP

In this post, “outsider” refers to a video game player that does not play sports games and does not follow game-specific sports.

Having 2 teams of 11 men or women chase and kick a ball is an art to some. To others, it’s boring. Fucking boring. These people would prefer to see grass grow or to watch paint dry. Maybe they sometimes live on the edge and catch a final here and there. So can this type of video game fan enjoy sports games? This is your lucky day if you’re a lazy bastard because here is the short answer: it is possible to enjoy sports games without enjoying the sport they are based on.

I think the chances of an outsider picking up the latest copy of FIFA or Madden for the heck of it is minimal at best. There needs to be some sort of external force, good or bad. In my experience, this force is typically a friend of the outsider. If an outsider is going to extract any enjoyment from a sports game, there needs to be some sort of an incentive or guide. Duh. I should point that I will be focusing on “complicated” sports games. I will not be discussing pick-up-and play titles such as NBA Jam, they’re a different kind of beast.

Scenario A: Top Spin 4

I’m a big fan of tennis, and the Top Spin franchise is by far the best and most realistic simulation of the sport. Needless to say (yet here I am saying it), Top Spin 4 is complicated. You have to worry about a bajillion factors for every single shot; this isn’t your cousin’s Mario Tennis. Mamma mia.

Enter Young Nick, an outsider friend of mine. I recommended the demo to him and he felt that he could enjoy it if he knew what was going on. It wasn’t easy for him at first though. I had to teach him complicated gameplay mechanics and basic tennis theory. Furthermore, he tends to whine a lot so it was extra difficult for both parties (love ya Nick, but not really). Did TS 4 catch on though?


We successfully backhanded the learning curve and soon spent countless hours playing together. We lost sleep, we laughed, he cried/whined (a lot), and we generally had a great time with Top Spin 4. Nick went from liking the idea of hitting balls with a racquet to understanding the core concepts of the gameplay and tennis overall.

Scenario B: FIFA Street

FIFA Street is like a fighting game in some ways. The moves at your disposal are simple to do, but the theory of when you should do what is tricky. Like a fighting game, people which don’t really know anything about Street can pick it up and have a good time, and like a fighting game, those people get absolutely destroyed by the more in-depth players.

Enter Sean, another outsider friend of mine. He doesn’t give two shits about sweaty dudes playing with balls, but he likes video games. Crazy, I know. Nick (!) and I recommended the demo to him, and he decided to give it ago. What happened next was pretty crazy.


Sean was completely hooked on the game, spending hours and hours on the demo alone. Street became a day 1 purchase (complete with pre-order bonus… yaaaaaay). The game immediately found its way in our regular multiplayer rotation. I play with him, Nick, and my buddy Abhishek (not an outsider) all the time. I gave everyone a few pointers and it took some time to gel as a team, but the co-op experience is awesome. Except for when Nick fucks up. Damn it, Nick.

Oh by the way, as of this writing Sean is a top 50 international player and about to break into the top 10 on the national leaderboards.


This is in no way a comprehensive study. The evidence is qualitative as well as anecdotal, and I definitely can’t just magically generalize my findings. However, these two dudes suggest that it is indeed possible to enjoy sports games without bothering with the sport that they are based on. It takes a catalyst in the form of a friend to kick start or guide the experience though. I can't imagine people like my friends make up the majority, but they are present nonetheless. Regardless of the sporting aspect, solid gameplay and fun prevails in the end. And that kids is the magic of them vidja games!

Have you had any experiences with sports games?

This article is slightly adapted from my new blog, but I'm interested in seeing what the GB community has to say on this topic. I have no dignity or sense of shame, so here is a link to it if that's your thing!

Posted by FluxWaveZ
Posted by Video_Game_King

@GoranP said:

I had to teach him complicated gameplay mechanics and basic tennis theory.

What? There's theory to tennis? Like music theory or art theory? I must now find a tennis game to find out how much of a disaster my experience would become, regardless of the game's actual quality.

Posted by BionicRadd

I think I understand your question, but it kind of reads like "Would a person who doesn't like fighting games enjoy Street Fighter IV?"

The majority of the time, the answer is going to be no, but this has nothing to do with whether the person knows minute details about the genre in question. I know jack squat about Tennis, but I picked up Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast for a song, once and ended losing hours of my life playing that. Hand someone that doesn't like RPGs a copy of Skyrim and they probably won't get too far past the opening sequence.

Also, to @Video_Game_King: of course there is tennis theory. Like any competitive sport, there is an art to making your opponent screw up, allowing you to score.

Posted by crusader8463

Back in the SNES days sports games were some of my favourite games going. These days I couldn't care less though, because they only make them for people who are super into sports stat tracking, player data and stuff like that. I have been meaning to just randomly pick up some two or three year old sports game just to see if I can get any kind of enjoyment out of them these days, but I never get around to it.

I would love a modernized remake of that old SNES baseball game with the robots. Loved the hell out of that game as a kid.

Posted by hermes

Yes, especially if you introduce them with the most arcade and "simple" side of sports games. Virtua Tennis over Grand Slam, Fifa Street over Pro Evolution, NBA Jam over NBA 2K12 and UFC over Street Fighter...

Posted by UberExplodey

@GoranP said:

Damn it, Nick.
Posted by fuzzybunny566

basewars 2012

Posted by JasonR86

I think an outsider could enjoy Madden if they could get into the strategy that is employed. Half of Madden comes down to your skill at playing the game. The other half involves picking good plays for the offense or defense you expect, changing the play at the line if you see you picked wrong initially, and understanding the scenario. In a lot of ways Madden is a bit like a strategy game especially at higher difficulties.

Posted by GunstarRed

I have absolutely no interest in sports and sports games unless they have a silly/fantasy/magical element to them I was a fan of both NBA Jam and Mutant League Football as a kid and I recently bought SSX, but the idea of playing a game based on a sport I see on tv as boring will probably never appeal to me.

Posted by mosespippy

@Video_Game_King said:

@GoranP said:

I had to teach him complicated gameplay mechanics and basic tennis theory.

What? There's theory to tennis? Like music theory or art theory? I must now find a tennis game to find out how much of a disaster my experience would become, regardless of the game's actual quality.

From the definition of a game (from the economics field of game theory) a game requires 4 things: players, strategies, a strategy profile and outcomes. In this case tennis theory is just the different strategies that could be used. Stuff like where to position yourself, where to place your shot, what kind of shot to take, etc.

In 2007 I played the PSP demo of MLB The Show after not having watched a baseball game since 1997. Basically I played it because the PSP had just started getting demos and there wasn't really any other demos out except LocoRoco and a Japanese version of Blokus. I've played the demo of The Show every year since. I intended to get it in 2010 but my PS3 broke and I didn't replace it till 2011 was almost out. Then I didn't like the new pitching system for 2011 so I didn't get it. This year I'm unemployed so I still don't have it. I did start watching baseball again last season though since my Rangers made it to the World Series in the last two seasons.

Posted by GoranP

@Video_Game_King: Yep, others in the thread has pretty much covered the answer.

@FluxWaveZ said:

Sure, Super Mario Strikers is pretty fun.

I love that game!

@crusader8463: If you end up picking something up, I recommend the 2009 releases and above (so the "10" games).

Thanks to everyone that shared their sports game stories so far, there are some interesting differences.

@UberExplodey said:

@GoranP said:

Damn it, Nick.

This cannot be emphasized enough.

Posted by crusader8463

@GoranP: Will keep that in mind. Thanks for the tip.

Posted by SuicidalSnowman

Here is another anecdote for your theory:

Madden's multi user leagues are awesome if you have the right ingredients, which means at least 5 total participants who are all in close proximity to the home machine with the league save, such as a college dorm. I participated in an 8 player, full fantasy draft league all through college. One of the roommates, we shall call him Matt, was the nerd stereotype, overweight, unathletic, and generally lacking in social skills. He neither watched sports, nor played them, nor played sports games, but wanted to get in on the Madden action. We taught him the game, and eventually he actually got better than most of us.

The problem was, he still didn't care or know about football. He just reduced the game to button prompts, and used his superior gaming skills. He generally called passing plays with 5 receivers, because he could ALWAYS get the ball to an open guy. This was the first year the "passing cone" was introduced, and if you remember it was very complicated and generally awful. On defense he pretty much let the computer run it. I don't know if he even liked playing the game, outside of that we often bet beer on the outcomes and he rarely lost. Too this day he still is the worst person to watch a game with, because he still has no concept of the flow of the game.