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Video games make sports a virtual reality

December 22, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

All I want for Christmas is to be a 6-foot-9 power forward with three-point range and mad hops.

Or a left-hander with a 95-mph heater, a wicked slider and a changeup that could make Manny Ramirez look like Bob Uecker.

Or a hybrid of Chad Johnson and Hines Ward - tall and fast enough to be a deep threat, tough enough to catch a 10-yarder over the middle on 3rd-and-8 and hold on while absorbing the middle linebacker's shot.

All these things fit under the Christmas tree, right?

Well, sort of.

Thank goodness for video games!

Video games are perfect for haven't-quite-grown-up-yet 25-year-olds like me ... and all those kids who actually haven't grown up yet. The create-a-player mode is the perfect way to live vicariously.

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What can I say? I grew up as part of the video-game generation. In Christmas of 1986, I unwrapped a Nintendo, and that was the beginning of a long courtship that is a major reason why I'm 25 going on 10. Without question, I've received more video games as gifts (both for Christmas and birthdays) than anything else.

Follow me down Memory Lane:

The Nintendo Era: First there was Tecmo Bowl (awesome!) and Tecmo Super Bowl (The jump from four plays to eight was revolutionary to an 8-year old). My brother and I would race to try to get Chicago's team first, because Walter Payton was untackleable.

(That was a theme of Tecmo Bowl, unstoppable players. Jerry Rice, Bo Jackson and Lawrence Taylor fit this bill. Taylor still gives me nightmares.)

There was Excitebike, Jaleco Baseball, Blades of Steel (hockey) and that track and field game with the floor pad you'd have to run in place on (being the lazy bum I am, I got bored with that quickly).

But without question, the highlight of the Nintendo era was Mike Tyson's Punch Out. It's been at least 15 years since I played that game, and I still remember most of the patterns I used to beat it. It's like the Contra code for 30 lives (up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start). Some things in life are too important to forget.

(This from a guy who routinely forgets birthdays and even once forgot Valentine's Day. Yeah, my priorities are in order. Kids, don't grow up to be like me.)

The Sega Genesis Era: This is where most of the EA Sports titles started, which was the beginning of the end for most backyard swing sets and jungle gyms. I'm not quite sure how youth sports survived. All a pre-teen boy wanted to do back then was play Sega for 10 hours a day.

There was one undisputed king of sports video games in this era. It may well be the greatest video game ever produced -- EA Sports NHL '94, the game that kept millions of homework assignments from being completed on time, if at all.

NHL '94 was sleek. It had great graphics (for the time). It was fun and easy to play. It had one-timers. It had season mode (by far the most important advancement in sports games to this day).

But what made it truly awesome were the fights, body checks and injuries. Injuries!

That was the goal of every game my friends and I played, to take out the other team's star player as fast as possible and leave him lying in a spreading pool of blood. What 14-year-old testosterone-fueled boy doesn't like that? Nothing matched watching Pavel Bure wiggle around a crippled man.

(The decay of civilization started here, I imagine ...)

Honestly, the period from about 1996 to 2003 is a blur to me. That's what happens during those final steps from childhood to adulthood (whatever that is ... I have yet to figure it out).

All I know is, my PS2 has games with graphics so real it boggles my mind, and the sports games (especially the NCAA Football and Madden titles) are so complex, with hundreds of plays and realistic game-play, it really is quite astonishing. Nowadays, even coaches use these games to help with game-planning. Suggesting such a thing 10 years ago would have led to being laughed at.

This year, NCAA March Madness 2006 is on my Christmas list.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a video game on there.

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