presses a button and a bomb drops from a clear sky. Boom!
Randy Moss, the
ball light in his hands, races up the sideline for a touchdown. Boom!
computer-generated crowd roars.
Welcome to the
boom times of the Madden Nation. As Maddenites everywhere know, Aug. 22 is this
year's release date for Madden NFL 07, the Grand Mac Daddy of video pro
football and one of the best-selling video games anywhere. With $250 million
earned for EA Sports last year on something north of six million units sold,
the weirdly lifelike simulation named for, and refined by, former coach and
ubiquitous broadcaster and pitchman John Madden has brought in more than $1.5
billion since it debuted in 1989.
Add to this the
collection of trademarks and copyrights that are the All-Madden Team?, the
Madden Bowl?, the Madden Nation? and the Madden Challenge?--to say nothing of
his bus, turducken, catchphrase and induction into the Hall of Fame two weeks
ago--and it becomes clear that in football America, you are never far from the
Madden? crowd. In fact, you'll be stepping over their sleeping bags this
weekend on your way into your local big box retailer.
adaptable, has even been airing on pay-per-view Inside Madden NFL 07, a $19.95
tutorial on the game's new features. It's a high-water mark in advertising: a
one-hour commercial you have to pay to see. That football is a simulation of
warfare, and Madden 07 a simulation of football, and the pay-per-view a
simulation of Madden--therefore the simulation of a simulation of a
simulation--means you could research your master's thesis on postmodern
theories of cultural regress for only 20 bucks. Or you could just cop some
sweet tips for better stickwork.
mechanics of the game remain the same--L1 or R1 to juke the ballcarrier left or
right, for example, ? to sprint and ? to jump--it seems that opportunities to
portray the broader truths of the NFL are still being missed. To satisfy
die-hard fans, in owner mode the combination RIGHT ANALOG STICK�+ ? + L2
should result in a 63-year-old billionaire passing out from the pain of a
kidney stone while lighting a Cohiba with a C note on the 1st tee at Pebble
Beach. For some reason, it does not. Nor does ?+ D BUTTON�+ L3 cause your
head coach to miss his daughter's Thanksgiving pageant for the fifth year in a
row. Thus, his third wife's virtual divorce attorney can't yet put a lien on
his 401(k) either.
All of this is
being accompanied by a national ad campaign that began as a sportswriter's
joke, then became a viral marketing insurgency--the idea that the Madden NFL
release date be celebrated as a national holiday so gamers could take the day
off to play. With his tailgater's girth and his jolly appeal, the coach frankly
lends himself to it. "Merry Maddenoliday!?" the commercials carol, and
remember to check your online Maddvent? calendars! Maddenoliday? seems an
unwieldy construction, though. Why didn't the EA marketeers use Madden Gras,
say, or Maddeween? Cinco de Madden too ethnic?
Certainly the most
lyrical fit would be RaMadden, but given the current state of human affairs
here on Planet Madden, one can see why this didn't get much love in the pitch
In his book
Everything Bad Is Good for You, author Steven Johnson suggests that video
games, rather than dumbing us down, actually make us smarter by honing our
problem-solving skills in the virtual world. This is only half true. Without
real-world consequences, video games make us no smarter emotionally, and
intellect unleavened by empathy is the empty triumph of the technocrat.