Monday, February 1, 2010

The Bane of My Existence

Only because it fits no where else, I can't help holding this in any longer: sports video games of the past have NEGATIVE VALUE!

You may consider my usage of all caps in that last sentence a bit extreme when we're speaking of such a trivial concept, but as my daylight alter-ego, Vintage Console Game Scavenger™, I can't help but broadcast this increasingly justified revelation. Of the millions of discarded second-hand console games, a growing number ending up in thrift stores, used game stores, and online auctions, reveal metric shit-tonnes of languishing sports titles. I can only speculate that this is a result of millions of now grown sports-loving, junior-varsity-worshipping, witless-jock-kids-turned-brainless-media-consumers having lost track of their old consoles, and being chucked out or donated to Goodwill by their Moms (along with their old Bo Jackson "Double Trouble" posters and Upper Deck Baseball binders). It's the detritus of an American childhood, reduced to the status another anonymous piece of junk sullying the nation's basements, attics and garages.

There seems a perfectly rational reason why I see so many of these unwanted little bastards on my endless quest to attain classic console perfection, why these games go largely unsold, and eventually taken down, thrown away (and possibly buried under several tons of concrete for future wasteland scavengers to unearth and gaze quizzically at these Enfant terribles from the gaming era). The obvious answer is: no one wants them!

They're like the Freddie Prinze Jr. of the video gaming pantheon; they are distant memories of a by-gone era now looked back upon with ridicule and shame. Now, while saavy cartridge hunters such as myself troll around the back alleys and opium dens of junk stores looking for a forgotten gem (and looking to pay less than 2 dollars for it), you will find that after a grip of console game loot has dropped, the more recognizable goes first (think Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic, Chrono Trigger, etc...), then the obscure (anything by Koei, or with an extremely limited run) and then the absurdly common (Super Mario/Duck Hunt, Top Gun, etc...) and all else are sports. Most shocking about this phenomenon is that it spans all console eras. NFL Madden '08 for PS2 will sit side-by-side with Joe Montana Football for the Genesis; their odiousness is cross-generational.

Perhaps you are thinking that by revealing this obsession I am projecting my distaste and disdain for the whole sports industry. Sure it's just another form of mass entertainment; devoid of any useful knowledge or intellectual stimulation; consisting of pointless and manufactured rivalries; sowing emotional enmity and divisiveness along imaginary and/or arbitrary geographical boundaries; exploiting nationalistic and patriotic gullibility; stoking the fantasies of undereducated teenagers for unattainable fame and success; glorifying a lifestyle of another tier of unworthy celebrity rife with utter banality; draining critical funds from primary and college education; compelling us to remain docile, and fat, and uninformed; all solely for the enrichment and propagation of a small number of corporations and media outlets. But, it also produces worthless video games.

If I can walk into Half Price Books, saunter over to the gaming section, and see a line of Madden NFL games spanning from years '05 to '09 that clearly no one wants to buy, something is wrong. A copy of Super Mario RPG (even without a box or a manual) would last less than a week on the same shelf. Why?

Once the new season of game debuts, simply by virtue of the change in team roster from the previous season to current, the old game becomes obsolete. More shocking is the gullibility of the devout sports-game-playing automaton that finds it acceptable that their Overlords at EA can demand their allegiance of sixty American Dollars (plus tax), just so they can be blessed by being allowed to buy the EXACT SAME GAME AGAIN with some insignificant changes of a few player names and tweaking of some stat numbers.

Now, perhaps you could make the same claim about any number of popular video game genres. You would be correct. Across the continuum of the video game pantheon, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is so similar to Call of Duty can hardly be considered a real divergence. In fact, if you aren't constantly prostrated, in silent devotion for the epoch-shifting, world-shattering, Unicorn-fucking masterpiece that is Wolfenstein 3D, you're doing it wrong.

My disgust for sports games lies in the static nature of the type of gameplay emulated in these games. A football game will forever feature some number of dudes, dressed in identical uniforms, on the same length field, playing under the same rules with the same narrow range of gameplay possibilities. It will always be dudes playing football, in the strictest and most literal construction of the game, and no one will demand otherwise. Sure some extremely fun, geeky variations on these games exist, but they remain unpopular, unappreciated, and largely ignored. In this sense, the continuation of these sports game franchises appears to me, a sad waste of resources and attention, doomed to leave in their wake millions of dejected plastic discs as worthless as the fliers for escorts you throw on the pavement in Vegas.

And just like those heaps of naughty paper, in the end, we assume cost of hauling them away as trash. I would rather that we, instead, demand the creation of games that will have a lasting artistic value, worthy of finding and cherishing, and protecting from oblivion.

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