Sports games continue to evolve for 2017

In 2009, John Madden retired from an illustrious career as color commentator. Football fans, however, continue to utter his name as if nothing has changed.

Ahead of the new season, “Madden NFL 17” was released Aug. 23. Along with “NHL 17,” and the soon to be released “FIFA 17” and “NBA 2K17,” video game publishers Electronic Arts and 2K Games look to reap millions of dollars this fall from fans wishing to score with their favorite stars and teams.

“I’d definitely say that playing sport video games has served as an outlet for my competitive side,” said Madison Ruppenthal ’16 in an online interview with The Guilfordian. “I’ve played sports all my life, mostly soccer and lacrosse, so playing sport video games gives me an opportunity to maybe not test my physical abilities but definitely my strategic ones.” Ruppenthal, who played both attacker and defender for the women’s lacrosse team in her four years at Guilford, said sports games helped hone her game management skills and bond with teammates.

While sports games help familiarize fans with professional athletes, rules and strategies, their ability to enhance real life skills is limited.

“You’re just pushing buttons on there to make a player do moves,” said senior Codee Catterton. “It helps you say, ‘Hey, maybe I could try that move. Let me try it.’ But it all comes to the mechanics and what you actually go do. Video games just take up your time.”

According to Statista, the market for video games worldwide is valued at over $70 billion. In 2015, sports games accounted for 13.2 percent of U.S. video gaming sales.

In more artistic and narrative corners of the industry, sports games are not highly respected.

“There is this huge divide between sports video games and, I hate to say this, nerd video games,” said senior Ward Sandberg, a member of the Yachting Club.

Sandberg is not much into sports gaming in the traditional sense, but he does play eSports titans like “Defense of the Ancients” and “League of Legends.” In recent years, ESPN and other news outlets have dedicated coverage to these multiplayer online battle arena games.

To Sandberg, sports games based in reality lack the creativity he desires in gaming.

“To be honest, I feel like (sports games) are very repetitive in terms of ‘Madden 2015’ is very similar to ‘Madden 2014,’” said Sandberg. “They tweak things a little bit, but it’s not much of a change.

“It’s not worth my 40 or 60 bucks to spend on that video game.”

The number of big name sports gaming titles has dwindled in recent years.

EA Sports halted its “NCAA Football” series when a lawsuit was filed over the use of player likenesses without permission. 2K Games ceased production of their “Major League Baseball” series due to poor sales. Both publishers abandoned their NCAA basketball titles.

Meanwhile, smaller titles are finding a niche in the market. One popular example, Psyonix’s “Rocket League”, is a vehicular soccer game that fuses arcade aesthetics with competition.

Another growing criticism of sports gaming is the lack of representation of women.

“I think there are so few sport video games with female teams and athletes because, as a specific genre within the video gaming world, it is a particularly male driven one, in the sense that sports games are advertised and expected to appeal to males,” said Ruppenthal.

There have been movements toward gender inclusivity that mirror society’s increasing acknowledgment of women’s athletic achievements.

“FIFA 16” made headlines in 2015 when they licensed and included 12 women’s national teams in the game. In March, ultimate fighter Ronda Rousey appeared on the cover of “EA Sports UFC 2,” and the game has 45 fighters who are women to choose from.

“I would definitely love to see more female representation in this genre,” said Ruppenthal. “When the newest ‘FIFA’ game came out this past year, it gave the option for players to play the women’s cup, and I know that myself and a lot of my female friends loved that idea and played for hours with the women’s teams.”

As sports gaming continues to evolve, the focus for the moment will be on the current crop of games.

Over the summer, forward Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder and signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors. Catterton, who follows Durant, is excited for the release of “NBA 2K17” on Sept. 20.

“I know who I’ll be playing with now,” said Catterton.