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!