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June 05, 2005

Discussion: Sports books, sports games


Listening to Michael Chabon's Summerland, I felt like I finally got a glimpse at what sports games have never had for me. The book presents an unlikely young hero who puts together a nine from the four worlds and ends up having to save the Universe from the depravities of that Trickster, Coyote. Along the way, there's bits about father-son relationships, a sasquatch, giants, dwarves and fairies. It's an interesting book, told a bit unevenly (it draws on so many myths that the cohesion that exists between a single set of myths is kind of lost), but entertaining nonetheless and full of good lessons about baseball.

Simulated games for me have always missed the ball: they're caught up with stats and the current players and the licenses and the ball physics and all that, and they miss out on why we play them, why baseball remains our national pastime¹. Sports games don't tell stories, at least, not the ones I'm interested in. They don't teach lessons other than the practical lessons available from any simple playbook or a good announcer's patter.

Granted, teaching kids that there is value in a game which is largely about paying attention is probably best left to little leagues and summer leagues and sand lots, but I'll be damned if I have any interest whatsoever in playing a sports game where I'm moving around characters from real life.

Summerland presents a game or two with giants; I don't mean metaphorical giants like Joe Dimaggio or Ted Williams, but actual flesh-and-blood giants. They throw incredible fastballs from a hill which serves as a pitcher's mound, and there are miles between the plate and first. Their reach is enormous. They are easily angered.

Now that's a baseball game I'd like to play, something that makes me feel like I can play on that scale. That'd be heroic, and a story to tell.

Side note: I picked up Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour to try out with the youngsters. I'll let you know if it scratches this particular itch. I like golf, though I play infrequently, and I've never really been able to sustain interest in a golf sim past a hole or two. In fact, the most fun I ever had playing computer golf was with Sid Meier's Sim Golf, which is mostly just quirky humor and lots of just one more greatness.

¹Baseball went through a bit a slump there a few years back, but then Sosa and McGuire came out slugging and put it back to the forefront. Sure, it's a lot more about the hitting right now, but it's going to swing back the other way eventually.

Posted by Brett Douville at June 5, 2005 09:40 PM