Reality of video games (cont.)
Posted: Monday April 9, 2007 12:57PM; Updated: Monday April 9, 2007 12:57PM
I spend a lot of my time while watching sports second-guessing decisions that are being made: by players, by umpires, but mostly by managers and coaches. The vantage point from which I observe sports does not discriminate. I do not care that Bobby Cox is one of the great managers of all time; I want to know why he had Craig Wilson at the plate on Sunday in a bunting situation. Phil Mickelson may star in Exxon ads, but you don't take a full swing out of the woods when laying up will work just fine. Why doesn't Monta Ellis play 48 minutes a night? Shouldn't Sammy Sosa DH for Texas?
In the realm of actual sports, these are very real rhetorical questions, topics that will be debated endlessly on Internet message boards and sports talk radio (at least on the shows where the hosts allow callers to actually talk). These little issues have become the substance of sports, providing grist to the media mill that feeds on negligible stories and topics in between the actual games and matches. These problems generally have no absolute answers, which allows us to regurgitate them endlessly.
In the realm of video games, these questions are just another choice to make. You want to be Bobby Cox or Phil Mickelson? Just grab that controller right there. Shift Sammy in the lineup? It's all up to you.
Sports video games allow us to be omniscient. We can veto trades, run the same defenses over and over, get the ball to the guy who's hot. We are allowed to set ticket and parking prices and run our favorite franchise the way we believe they should be run. In the cyber world, without the fear of actual economic repercussions, the Hawks can sign Speedy Claxton to a sizeable four-year deal and then easily trade him away if it just doesn't work out. Because even the most outlandish contract signing or transfer offer can be erased with a flick of the reset button.
This omnipotence is the real value of sports video games. The power can be, quite literally, in the hands of the people. And I can't deny that video games can occasionally provide a certain level of procrastination over the more mundane tasks of life, though no more so than with television or music or books. But for the most part, in sports video games we're working toward some virtual goal, be it a championship or turning a profit or rebuilding our organization. That fantasy provides us with an escape from the harsh realities of sports, an escape that, for a moment or two, can feel very real.
What if sports were truly like video games? John Abraham could play 16 games each season without a problem. Kobe Bryant could average 60 points a game (over a 28-game season). I could shoot a 67 at Pebble Beach. My former high school team could win an NBA title. Calls that are missed by the referees would never be overturned by replays. Atlanta Hawks GM Billy Knight could trade a second-round draft pick to Phoenix for Steve Nash without Suns management so much as batting an eye.
Sitting on my couch and pressing a series of buttons in the correct order might be as close as I ever come to actually winning an NBA title or Super Bowl ring. I may never be allowed in a real team's executive suite, but through video games I can definitively prove my personnel acumen and reinforce my intermittent belief that I should be running a real sports franchise.
As it turns out, sports video games are the closest I can come to reality right now. Well, reality as I see it, at least.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.