Madden on your back
"Playing Madden is like injecting a shot of happiness directly in my veins. And the cost of decreased hygiene and damaged social skills is totally worth it to me."
The inexplicable joy videogames afford their greatest devotees has nothing on Madden. The testimonial above, a random sample of Madden-related Internet postings, only begins to explain the phenomenon. For those who've been in its clutches --- victim to the overwhelming confluence of NFL football, virtual hyperrealism, and off-season withdrawal --- the game's appeal and culture can be captured in two syllables: Madden. Typically spoken with a glassy-eyed reverence. There's no need for explanation.
In the unlikely event you've got no idea what we're talking about, here's a brief summary: EA Sports launched its Madden series of videogames in 1989. It was initially compatible only with PCs, but before long was appearing on almost every home videogame console on the market. By 1993, EA struck a licensing arrangement with the NFL that allowed the franchise to capture the likeness --- and debatable skills --- of the league's rosters. And the namesake, in case you're wondering, is John Madden: the NFL coach-turned-commentator known for his girth and fear of flying.
Madden reverence goes way beyond your living room. True players have made decent livings touring around and competing in Madden tournaments for big money. Websites like MaddenWorldSyndicate.com profile accomplished virtual ballers with names like Big Gene and T-Roy. Articles debate the relative merits of the juke glitch, quarterback draws, no fatigue, and rocket catching.
Madden gets re-released every year in early August, right around the time when NFL junkies are jonesing hardest for the upcoming season. The game has faced criticism for the meager updates and improvements it showcases every year, but EA Sports understands the addict's mentality: If you want your team's latest roster, complete with draft picks and recent free-agent signings, you'd better drop $49.99 or get real creative with last year's create-a-player mode and trade functions. (Yeah, we've been there.)
The annual Madden release also coincides with NFL training camps. And don't think the real-life players aren't among the first in line to snag a copy. Why else would they be carrying such huge TVs into their dorm rooms? And we can only imagine the ribbing that occurs when a player's virtual likeness is given the shaft.
Take reserve Bills tight-end Ryan Neufeld, for instance. Sure, he's basically a slow utility player who comes in handy when the starters go down. But that's no reason to give the poor guy a meager 17 (out of 100) player rating. OK, OK, so EA opted to have Neufeld start the season with some sort of injury --- probably an ankle tweak --- that will keep him out for the first couple of games. But the fact is that Neufeld's perfectly healthy. We saw him just the other week working out with his teammates at St. John Fisher. The bruises on his ego were barely visible.
Perhaps the most amusing Madden phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with game or the geeks who play it. It's the hatred developed in people whose mates are hopeless addicts. They deserve a voice, too. There are several sites dedicated to Madden hatred. Our fave is www.maddenwidow.blogspot.com, mainly because of its host's seething indignation. Feel the love: "My husband does nothing but play this Madden football video game all day long and it drives me nuts. I can't take it any more and I feel like I need to get this off my chest. I'll post my thoughts here and some ridiculous stories about my husband and his idiot friends who he plays Madden with. If you have any comments, email me at MaddenMustGo@aol.com"
--- Chad Oliveiri