For years, videogames have tried to emulate the real action and strategy of sports, but for the first time we are witnessing real life football players learning from playing the videogame versions of themselves.
It was an amazing play. The football was thrown far down field, tipped up, and then snagged by a receiver who ran 40 yards to the end zone. But that wasn't the amazing part. Just as he was about to score, Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley cut right and ran along the end zone line, eating up the last precious seconds of the game. It was a move right out of any Madden players book; never give the opponent time for a comeback. The truly crazy part about the play was that Stokley admitted that he took it right from playing the videogame.
"It definitely is," Stokley replied. "I think everybody who's played those games has done that" - run around the field for a while at the end of the game to shave a few precious seconds off the clock. Stokley said he had performed that maneuver in a videogame "probably hundreds of times" before doing it in a real NFL game. "I don't know if subconsciously it made me do it or not," he said.
Stokley is not alone. When asked how many NFL players play Madden, he replied, "Everybody." And it's not only played for fun, some players and coaches have been using the videogame to memorize playbooks or practice recognizing defenses.
"These games nowadays are just so technically sound that they're a learning tool," said Tim Grunhard, who was on the Kansas City Chiefs in the 90s and is now a high school coach. "Back when I was playing football, we didn't realize what a near or a far formation was, we didn't really understand what trips meant, we didn't understand what cover 2, cover 3, and cover zero meant."
I don't know what those are either, but the fact that I could if I played Madden means that gamers have a complex set of real football strategy at their fingertips. NFL players who play Madden have more situational awareness than previous generations because they have such a complex simulation tool available to them. Plus, it's fun.
Regardless of what you think of sports games, we have reached a point in history where life is imitating the videogame and not the other way around.
And that's pretty cool.