I’ve been playing Madden for nearly 20 years. It was the first game I played on the SEGA Genesis and has followed me throughout my entire life, from Genesis to N64, to PC, to PS2, to PS3, to the current generation, I have been playing EA’s football simulator for as long as I have been playing video games. I’ve pulled all-nighters with friends in pursuit of winning a Super Bowl Championship, I have waited in line at midnight launches during the peak of Madden’s fame. I have sunk hundreds of dollars and hours into the football franchise I have loved my entire life. But last year’s Madden will be the final one I buy for the foreseeable future.
There are many reasons why I can’t buy Madden anymore, but I’ll start with the obvious one: Madden games are historically mediocre. While video game development and distribution has dynamically changed over the last few years, Madden has remained painfully archaic in its production. Every year the people at Tiburon are tasked with the impossible job of creating a video game with high expectations and sharp-eyed critics. And, like clockwork, every year they put out a game which makes fans slap down their $60 with high-stake promises which ultimately leaves people shrugging their shoulders. I don’t mean to say I think Madden is a bad game, but I think you would be hard up to find anyone who thinks Madden actually delivers a unique and interesting product year-to-year.
Imagine if Madden reinvented itself to work like other games with annual release schedules. Games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty offer dynamically different games, varying in quality, but at least providing their fans with a breath of fresh air. They accomplish this by allowing multiple teams to work on their games. Imagine if EA allowed the now-defunct NCAA team to move over to Madden 16 with the instructions to create a game that was incredibly different and unique. That reinvented the football sim. If you like the way Madden 15 was, or were uninterested in change, Madden could sell a DLC roster pack of the 2015 season. I am not saying this is what EA should do, I am saying any sort of change, any sort of revolutionary ideas would be better than simply pumping out the same game every year.
Madden’s stuck-in-the-mud design is not the only reason I am giving a hard pass to the series for the foreseeable future. The problems with Madden run deeper, they run all the way to the NFL who have proven time and time again that their sole interest is in making money. There are a lot of people (myself included) who give video games and other media gruff for its misogynistic tendencies. Scantily clad women, underdeveloped characters, there’s a lot of garbage floating around out there. But the entirety of it hardly compares to the gross inequalities of the NFL.
Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was recently suspended for two games after beating his wife senseless. You can find the video of him dragging his wife’s limp body out of an elevator here, you can find Keith Olbermann’s angry rant on the subject here. The sports media has stood up for Janay Rice the way they should. Olbermann isn’t the only one to speak out against the ridiculous ruling the NFL has handed down. But in the end, Olbermann’s condemnation against Ray Rice doesn’t actually change anything. In four months, if Ray Rice is on track to break the single season rushing record, is Olbermann not going to comment on it? Is Fox Sport, who wrote this damning article, not going to cover it?
Rice’s transgressions aren’t an anomaly in sports. Athletes exhibit abusive behavior constantly, whether it’s Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault, Mike Priefer harassing Chris Kluwe, or Ray Lewis’ involvement in a double homicide. Priefer still has a job, Rice is still the starting running back for the Ravens, and Lewis has cushy job as an analyst for ESPN. When it comes to DUIs, sexual assault, or any other kind of abuse, the NFL has often opted to forgive and forget.
I’m not saying every football players is guilty of abuse just because of a few bad apples. I am saying that the NFL’s actions, when confronted with these awful situations, has been weak at best, neglectful at worst. Millions of Americans (maybe some people all over the world, but predominantly Americans) shovel money to the NFL through watching games on TV or the NFL Sunday Ticket packages, by purchasing jerseys and other paraphernalia, through fantasy football leagues, and video games, the least the NFL could do in return is appropriately discipline their employees when one of them exhibit this all-too-common abusive behavior.
The NFL could also stand to protect its own employees for that matter. Sure, the league has implemented rules to make sure helmet to helmet contact is eliminated (or at least regulated). They have tried to make sure players are kept safe through rule changes and tweaks to the game. But one glance at NFL promotional material tells the real story of the NFL’s violence. Highlight reels still glorify nasty tackles and painful collisions, football players still suffer concussions and injuries on a regular basis, the game can try to regulate its violence all it wants, but it can’t remove the inherent bloodlust that makes football what it is today.
I know, I know, I can hear you saying, “So what does this have to do with video games?” Madden is not only a football simulation, but a marketing tool for the NFL. These days its probably more the latter than the former. Madden dresses up football and presents it in a way that dismisses all of the gross things you don’t like about it. Ray Rice won’t be suspended for two games in Madden and Jerome Simpson won’t receive punishment for his DUI incident, and the game doesn’t investigate the physical and mental damage to players after they have retired. Madden hides the gross parts of football and its culture.
Maybe you don’t agree with all of the points here, that’s fine, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but at least try to think about them the next time you boot up the game. Think of where your money is going and the message it sends to EA, Tiburon, and the NFL. It says, “More! I don’t care about the quality of the game, I don’t care about the quality of the players, and I don’t care about the damage they could do to themselves. I don’t care about anything other than getting more.”
If, by some miracle, a large portion of football fans sat this year out, it might not make a difference. Maybe the games would still be little more than gameplay tweaks and graphic updates, maybe football players will continue to do disgusting things without fear of reprisal. There are plenty of excuses you can use to do nothing. But if you continue to buy Madden this year, you don’t get to complain about the disgusting amount of money football players make, you don’t get to be horrified when they act out, and you don’t get to be upset when this year’s game ends up falling short of expectations. In the end, we empower EA to make a Madden every year, we empower Ray Rice to act like an ass, and we empower the NFL to sit idly by while it all happens, in reality we are the problem.