I can’t remember the first football game I saw. I'd love to be able to tell you a story about a magical day when the skies opened up and I was touched by some other-worldly being, blessed with football-watching skills, but I can't. I just know that every Sunday from September through January isn't filled with Ikea trips or church, they're filled with wings, friends, and the heartbreak and/or joy of the NFL.
Now, my first football-related video game memory is easy: I went over to an older cousins’ house and for Christmas he had received a Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a great moment in my life, everything about this machine seemed futuristic. It’s safe to to say that for a 4-month period, until my birthday in April, my new favorite cousin and I spent hours shooting ducks and jumping onto goombas.
So, I love video games and football, and logic would dictate that the combination of my two favorite loves would produce the purest form of obsession, right? Sadly, this is untrue. I've avoided the Madden series of games like the plague upon its annual August releases. The lead up to every Madden is virtually the same: the developers and the PR videochat, blog, and press release me to death, saying things like, "This year is the most realistic ever. We've tried very hard to make the game you play at home identical to the game you watch on TV."
This is where, in my opinion, the amazingly-talented people at Tiburon get it wrong. Trying to accurately capture any sport played by real people is an impossible task. When I sit down to play a game of Madden and the players do anything out of the ordinary I am instantly taken out of the experience. Since my love for a game is based on believing in its fiction, once I'm ripped from that moment I can never get it back.
For me, this only seems to apply to sports games. I've never shot a gun or snowboarded down a hill, even though games of those genres have managed to hold my attention for hours at a time. I allow other games a great deal of space to commit errors. My tie to football is too strong to allow me to bypass a buggy animation or strange glitch. I want Madden to be something I look forward to every year, and in all honesty the developers most likely work long hours to bring us the best game possible, they just can't satisfy my craving for a game that grabs me like the plight of my Philadelphia Eagles do every Sunday.
My case is one that I know is rare. Most years, Madden is a top-selling title. Reviewers mention legacy issues, and fans gripe about player ratings, but everyone who wants to play it, buys it. I just can’t get past all the small exploits and AI mistakes. I want the football I bought an HD TV for; The game that makes me jump out of my seat at an exciting play or dramatic moment, not the game that comes close to recreating that but falls just short.