Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Football as Madden 07

Jon Schnaars | 24 Oct 2006 12:01
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In Superstar mode, you take control of a player from the very beginning of his career - even going so far as to choose the DNA pool that most adequately fits your vision for your new player. Run him through drills, participate in some interviews and take an I.Q. test before heading to the draft. Perform well and you might work your way into a high selection and a potential role in your team's game plan - otherwise, enjoy your time on the bench.

Superstar mode represents a massive step in the move toward media convergence. In the game space, you inhabit your new player's apartment. Check your cell phone, surf the web for stats and even manipulate your appearance in the mirror - it's all part of the day-to-day life of an NFL player. There are also milestones to achieve, and unlike the goals of traditional season or franchise modes, the goals in Superstar mode are of a personal nature. Sign with an agent, meet specific performance goals, earn playing time. The overall success of the team becomes less important in this regard.

This subjection of the team's performance in favor of the individual marks an important distinction in the grand scheme of the NFL as sports entertainment. If each fan, viewed from the perspective of the NFL and ESPN, is a potential consumer, a major goal of both organizations is to broaden the consumer's interest in the product. Die-hard team loyalists, those most hardcore of the hardcore fans, aren't necessarily the best consumers. If his hometown team tanks over the course of a long season, there's a strong chance that consumer's interest will fade, not to say anything of what could happen if an entire fan base was to become disenchanted over the course of several seasons (I'm looking at you, Cardinal fans). Instead, it is beneficial to create greater market opportunities for football in general.

Superstardom is one of the most palatable ways that happens. We see it with the overemphasis on flashy players like Chad Johnson or in the drowning buildup around certain games (The Manning Bowl, T.O. returns to Philly). These are narratives centered on characters that any fan can appreciate, and they help guarantee that even though Oakland might not win a game, Oakland fans will still tune in to Sportscenter or the NFL Network to see what happened with the story of the week. Because we buy into these stories, we then search out more information as we consume football entertainment via any number of mediums.

This type of entertainment has been evolving for years, but it is only with the proliferation of the web and the strength of end-of-life editions on current consoles that we can truly see the critical role that games like Madden play in the convergence shaping fans' experience. In Madden's Superstar mode, you are challenged with writing an individual player's narrative, always striving for that most glorious of achievements, the Hall of Fame. The feature's very inclusion in the game points to the stake that EA, and by proxy the NFL and ESPN, has in continuing to establish this type of connection with their audience.

Fandom as Football
While the use of Superstar mode as an example may make it seem as if I'm painting these trends in a negative light, the opposite is true. The upsurge in entertainment related to professional football has meant that even the smallest of niche followings are served. Sure, we have to put up with egocentric end zone celebrations and weekly stories about Brett Favre's possible retirement, but this new atmosphere has created new markets for creative corporate and independent content producers. It has led to the proliferation of fantasy leagues, which have brought in their wake entirely new journalism centered on statistics. For every fan, ESPN and the NFL have a story, and if they don't, they're working on one.

Our experiences playing the game help to shape our understanding of football more than any other single medium. As hardware has advanced, so too have the analytic tools we're equipped with when we tune in to Sunday's games. Madden NFL, quite literally, defines not only what we know - formations, route names, game management strategies - but what we need to know about the game. Madden doesn't just set us on a path of discovery across new media, it shows us what exactly we should be looking for.

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