How To Turn Game Geeks Into Sport Dorks


Posted October 21, 2010 - By Mike D'Alonzo

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Starting with Pong, evolving through Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One On One and Madden, and arriving at the wide array of choices available to today's gamer, sports games have been a significant and historic part of the industry. Without them, we wouldn't likely have seen the boom in overall gaming that we see today. However, even with that type of pedigree, sports games often get short shrift among hardcore gamers, though sales numbers show that Average Joe and his friends are playing them with more frequent fervor than ever before.

If that's the case, then where is the disconnect between the two? It's easy to say that people who play games aren't necessarily those who are inclined to like sports, but there's more of a crossover than you might think. There's also a stigma attached to sports games and sports gamers, coloring them as somehow casual or inept. All you need to do is get schooled by someone who really knows these very complicated games to know that they're anything but casual.

So, what's left? Perhaps all that needs to happen is to create a paradigm shift for hardcore players to understand how sports games relate to the games they're used to playing. Well, as a public service, I'd like to introduce said hardcore gamers to the world of sports games through a prism of tropes they're used to. In other words, to show them that there are equivalent sports gaming experiences to the games they're already used to playing and loving. And so, without further adieu, here's a look at how to view sports games through their mechanics, and not necessarily through their subject matter.

First Person/Third Person Shooters: Timing and positioning are everything for the hardcore FPS fan, and these are elements that lend themselves to a great many sports games. The best example of which can be found in FIFA 11, where, with a little camera jiggling, you can receive a pass and navigate through a line of defenders who are attacking agressively as you weave your way toward the goal, all in a familiar 3PS style. You'll have a split second to line up and take the shot, and scoring a goal can be just as satisfying as any headshot you've ever taken, especially if it's a gamewinner or a Golden Goal. 

FIFA 10 E3 First Hands-On Preview

Role Playing Games: Elements of RPGs are rife in the sports gaming world. If you're the type to enjoy the micromanagement of a game such as the first Mass Effect, then, by all means, try coaching your way through a Madden game or two. You'll load up and prepare for a number of different variables and situations that you need to react to on the fly. Certain "weapons" will only work in certain situations, and each defense you face is different than the one before.

Of course, if you're more drawn to the plot and character devices of an RPG, then you'll be better served by playing WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2011, which will allow you to make moral and character-based decisions backstage, complete with dialogue trees, before you get in the ring to face down your enemies. Also, you inhabit your character for the entire balance of your wrestling life, which means that what you say and do backstage informs your entire experience.

Hardcore Sports

Real Time Strategy Games: If you think about it, football is the ultimate RTS. You're constantly planning counters and defending against advances, and then going on the offensive to try and gain ground. It's even, philosophically, turn based. Once again, Madden is a perfect illustration of this concept. Set your defense against a specialized set of weapons, and then use your own weapons to try and gain ground and eventually score. Sure, there is an element of explosiveness in football, but, in the end, a methodical approach is the one that will serve you best, just as is the case with any good RTS game.

First Madden NFL 10 Screenshot

MMO Games: Grind, level up, grind, fight, grind again. For MMO fans, the long seasons of both the MLB and NBA should be a comfort. There's nothing like playing 162 games (in baseball) or 82 games (in basketball) to slowly tweak and level up your team. In addition, you can train and drill in certain aspects of the game to literally level up your characters as you trod through a long season.

In this respect, NBA 2K11 is your hucklebuck. It's super deep and super complicated, and you can play either online or in a single-player campaign that is truly epic. Mastery of this game will take a long time, and the replay value is off the charts. Also, the ability to put Michael Jordan on your roster and play him as if he were a rookie in 2010 is akin to using a high-level rare drop in a mid-level raid.

NBA 2K11 Preview

Platformers: Jump or die. You're familiar. Well, nowhere does this ethic better apply to sports gaming than in NBA Jam where, if you're not constantly dodging obstacles and jumping at the rignt time, you're going to get wasted by the Golden State Warriors, which is not something you ever want to have happen. If you're good at timing, however, the game opens up to you and you're slamming and jamming all over the place.

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Rhythm Games: Complex button sequences and timing rituals are the hallmark of the rhythm game, and, if you have a real enjoyment of that kind of gameplay, nothing will sate your hunger quite like Fight Night. In this boxing game, you'll need to be able to use your superior timing to dodge punches and put together combinations to defeat your opponent. Also a comer in this respect is EA's new MMA game, which depends on much of the same timing and combos to win each bout.

The best part of this, rhthym gamer, is that when you put together the right combinations, you have the visceral joy that comes with beating your opponent to a pulp, which is, in the world of sports, just about as rock n' roll as it gets.

Fight Night Round 4

Fighting Games: Of course, Fight Night and MMA work particularly well for this type of hardcore gamer, as well. A less obvious choice here, however, would be NHL 11, which mounts the tension of a hockey game as you stickcheck and poke your opponent until you goad him into a fight. Once the gloves drop, you'll be right at home using button combinations to knock them about until one or both of you end up in the penalty box.

NHL 11

Puzzle Games: Believe it or not, puzzlers, there's an internal logic involved in a lot of sporting games that lends itself to your analytical mind. Whether you're trying to out-anticipate a batter in MLB 2K10 by throwing him a combination of pitches that cause him to become completely confused and miss the ball, or trying to crack the codes in some complex defenses in NBA 2K11, FIFA 11, or NHL 11, you'll be solving for constantly-changing patterns to try and advance. Also, it's rare that yoiu get to celebrate solving a puzzle by throwing off your shirt and sliding on the grass while being tackled by 10 of your exhuberant teammates.

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Action/Adventure Games: In almost every sports game, or at least the ones that are coming out these days, there exists an option for you to create and customize a player that will eventually be a hero. What could fit the action/adventure mold more snugly than bringing up a football or basketball player through the combine and the draft and having them join a band of gallant warriors to eventually deliver the glittering prize to your home city?

If you're a loner, the same ethic applies to a game like SmackDown vs. Raw or Fight Night, where you custom create a singular warrior to battle through ever-difficult classes of others to get to the top of the mountain. What could be more adventurous than that?

'NCAA Football 10' Create-a-School Impressions

Survival Horror: In EA Sports MMA, you will often find yourself pinned beneath the thighs of a truly terrifying looking meathead while he's either trying to break your neck, arm, legs, or choke you out. I don't know about you, but I can't think of something that's more palpably horrific than that. Surviving such an assault will make you feel just as good about yourself as taking out a horde of zombies, this I can tell you for sure.

EA Sports MMA

In the end, what I'm hoping that you will have learned from this piece is that those who play sports games are just as hardcore as those who spend endless hours playing Halo: Reach. If you're not inclined to play them, at least admit to yourself that it's a matter of taste, and not a class war. In the end, if you're having fun playing the game, is there really any difference between playing as Marcus Fenix or Brett Favre? Other than the fact that Marcus Fenix isn't likely to send you pictures of his junk. Well, maybe his chainsaw.

Furthermore, if you're the kind of person to decry sports games as somehow inferior, you should remember that a game is a game because it's fun, and you shouldn't get down on other people because their version of fun is different than your version of fun. After all, we're all gamers, aren't we?

How To Turn Game Geeks Into Sport Dorks


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