On Running Backs and Thimbles

Jake Karlsruher

When my friends and I first got to high school we were plagued with the Freshman Curse; the girls we hung out with in junior high ditched us for the cooler, more mature seniors. Dejected, we turned to the only comfort we had left: Madden ’06. We logged countless hours in my buddy’s basement, sitting on his torn corduroy couch, mashing the Xbox controller until our fingers hurt. We talked very little; instead, we let the 40-yard dash, fantasy draft, and franchise mode engulf us. Being good at Madden became a necessity in our social circle. If you couldn’t play well, your Friday night consisted of watching someone else play and waiting anxiously for your turn. Because of our competitive nature, the game couldn’t be confined to the basement. It seeped into our school lives and our cafeteria conversations. “You’re done tonight, I have a new team” was usually met with “Yeaaah rigght, I twenty-one O’d (21-0) you last week”. I distinctly remember a heated argument that arose when someone proposed ranking each other for an upcoming tournament (you are not better than me). It was about that time that we laid down the controllers and started to enjoy high school.

While we played a lot of Madden, we experimented with other mediums too, namely Monopoly. Every once in a while, a friend of mine would bust out Deluxe Edition and we’d kill time by playing for a while. We chatted about how the Phillies were playing, what homework we had to do, or what girls we liked. It was a social experience; we joked, laughed and ate microwave pizza. Usually we would get bored before we finished and rarely completed the game. I enjoyed the time I spent playing Monopoly, but it was clearly a different experience than playing Madden. Both Madden and Monopoly are strongly based on rules. They both can be classified as emergence games — games in which altering a strategy or game play style produces a wide range of outcomes — so why did I feel little emotional attachment to our Monopoly games but see Madden as a way of life?

In my last blog post, I commented on the importance of a viewer being able to relate to a character in a film. The phenomenon is transmedial. In games, as well as films, the person who seeks entertainment wants to connect to their subject, to feel what their subjects feel. Madden offers a first person option in which the player can see the field through a running back’s eyes. The rumble feature literally lets the player feel a chop block or a devastating hit-stick. It is much harder to relate to the Thimble as it builds its commercial empire, investing in properties up and down the Jersey Shore. Perhaps my friends and I took little interest in Monopoly because we couldn’t connect with it.

In class we discussed categories of games and assigned each genre a ratio of emergence to progression. One game might be 25% emergence and 75% progression while another might be a 50-50 split. I consider Monopoly to be more emergence based than Madden. With a console sports game, one can choose to play through thirty seasons of a franchise or turn a rookie into a superstar.  Monopoly had more emergence qualities, but we were less immersed in the game. My group’s preference was a game with more choice and progression. That being said, we never truly did reach the endgame of Monopoly. The game takes too long. Perhaps the desire for completion, the aspect of winning and losing that drives our competitive egos, is what kept us away from board games. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be that our collective generation has lost the patience for board games? I like my Blackberry and my Internet and I’m used to instant gratification. At some point, reaching down and physically pushing Thimble to Reading Railroad became obsolete. I don’t have time for that.

My friends and I spent more time playing console games than board games. Monopoly Deluxe was enjoyable, but Madden ’06 engulfed us entirely. However, all good things have to end and eventually we had to move on… to Madden ’07.

-Kar-El

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