I have been thinking recently about the relationship between television broadcasts of sporting events and the televisual design of modern sports videogames. I am gathering resources for a longer, more formal paper on the relationship between the two media forms, but along the way I’ve discovered some interesting things, including the lack of so-called first person perspectives in sports videogames.
I replayed NFL 2k5‘s first person football feature a bit. It is hard. At first I thought that it was hard in a way similar to training in play of a sport physically is, that certain skills require significant practice and mechanical study to fine tune. In reality, I think sports leverage some known aspects of our human physicality that we perform all the time without thinking about them. For example, consider looking for an open receiver as a quarterback in football. Obviously game factors like the confusion of the play, the angles for vision and the collapse of the pocket will have an effect on visibility, and certainly training in certain mechanics will improve one’s ability to see receivers and to conceptualize the play unfolding before one’s eyes. But fundamentally, turning one’s head or using peripheral vision are functions that humans, by the time they are just toddlers even, have had significant practice at from simply living in the world (blindness excluded, of course). Mapping turning one’s head and looking to a thumbstick, while logical and perhaps even second nature for some FPS players, was clumsy and confusing while trying to play football.
That said, the ease with which a trained FPS player navigates through space is impressive. Players with many hours logged playing games with the known control schemes and interface design can operate their camera and their digital bodies with fluidity. It seems then, that the challenge of a first person sports videogame has more to do with the conformity of design standards, and cultural expectations. Because sports videogames are, and have been, predominantly played with a 3rd person “televisual” design aesthetic, the first person interface feels awkward and alien.
There are many reasons why sports videogames have been designed to reflect television broadcasts, not the least of which is the fact that sports videogames are created and consumed as parts of a broader sports context in which television remains the dominant medium of communication. However, it is fun to speculate on how sports videogames might be different today if Madden ’93 were more like Doom and less like Monday Night Football.