There are ten seconds left in Super Bowl 46. The crowd is roaring, and much louder than your usual exhibition game. The Patriots are about 35 yards out from the Giants’ end zone and trail by 6. Tom Brady calls for the snap and the final play of the game commences. Brady stays in the pocket while his wide receivers dart towards the end zone. A, B, X, Y and RB icons come up on the screen, Brady throws the ball and it goes soaring towards one of the receivers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a defender plucks the ball out of the air and goes to ground. You sit, starring; trying to figure out what went wrong. Your man was open, victory was a few seconds away but, as you speak, Eli Manning is getting ready to kneel and take the victory. This is the glory of sports-based video games.
Every year, new and (sometimes) improved versions of our favourite sports games come out. FIFA, Madden, NHL, etc. all promise to be the best in the series and are continually trying to be as realistic as possible when it comes to physics and gameplay. Sure, the gameplay is great and the graphics are looking really good these days, but that’s not what I play sports games for. The real reason I play sports games is for the atmosphere and the great moments and experiences I get from them.
This is partly thanks to the career mode developers usually include. Career mode lets you gain control of a team, or player, and take them to the championship of said team’s competition. Be it the Super Bowl, FA Cup final, or the NBA Championship, career mode is more than just another way to play the game; it is a journey, a story even. You experience so many things in career mode that help you grasp how your favourite players and teams feel in certain situations. Maybe you are on a winning streak, only a few weeks out from the finals and trying to keep that form going, maybe even trying to stop a losing streak from going out of hand and keeping your hopes alive. Real players and teams go through these moments and career mode helps us to experience this.
In NBA2k12, I was playing the My Player mode and was in my rookie season. That rookie season had many ups and downs for me as a player and as a member of the New York Knicks. I got promoted to starting point guard and was on fire for a good third of the season. Then, about half way through the season, the whole team started losing momentum. I was the point guard, the guy who makes most of the plays, and I couldn’t seem to get anything going. I was making turnovers, missing shots and playing poor defence. This wasn’t just me though; my whole team was the same way. Carmelo wasn’t making shots, the big men weren’t getting stops or making big baskets, nothing was going right for us. We finally got our act together with about a quarter of the season to go and had to really claw and fight to get back to that 8th spot in the conference. After a long, gruelling season, we managed to clinch the 8th place in the Eastern Conference. It was then revealed that our first round, playoffs match-up would be against the 1st placed, Chicago Bulls. The Bulls were in great form but I was optimistic. We had beaten the Bulls this season, all it would take was a win on the road then we would be able to win our 3 home games and take the series. I think my optimism got the better of me. We put in a great effort in the first game but just could not get the win. I was still confident, “One win, I just need one win, one win and I’ve got a chance.” The second game was all a blur, nothing went right and the game was pretty much a blowout.
The next two games came back to my home ground but the Bulls had momentum on their side and took them both. It was only after the final buzzer rang in the fourth game that the series loss hit me. The series score wasn’t even respectable, a whole season wasted in just four games. All that training, those 82 games, countless press conferences, and the support of all my fans were worth nothing. That’s honestly how I felt after that loss. I know you are thinking, “Gee, all that over a video game.” But it wasn’t just a video game to me; it was hours (82 games x 16 minutes a game, plus drills and press conferences) of finger pressing, concentrating and experience.
That’s the effect sports games can have on people. They help us feel what Lebron, Ronaldo and many others go through. We feel the anxiety of a tight game, trying to keep a lead or trying to stay composed and make that winning play, we feel the highs of winning a championship and the lows of missing out. We even get to experience the atmosphere of important games. Notice the volume of the crowd rise significantly during a playoff game and the commentary can hardly be heard thanks to the roaring crowd. The farther you get into a career mode, the more attached you become to it. Sure, most of us will never truly know what it feels like to hold up that trophy or be under pressure in a tight game, but sports games, with their great gameplay and ability to capture the atmosphere of an occasion, manage to help us experience that feeling.