The Lure of the Madden 2012 Video Game

The technology is better than it was a decade ago, but I don't have as much time to play

Last night at midnight, thousands of grown men went to strip malls, shopping centers and department stores across the country. They weren’t buying supplies to repair damages from Hurricane Irene. They weren’t buying diapers or picking up this year’s Tickle Me Elmo for their children. No, they were out picking up Madden 2012.

Madden—the only football video game worth owning—has been around since the late ‘80s. Originally, it was known as John Madden Football and has since morphed into a cultural phenomenon marked by celebrity tournaments and television shows. EA Sports has peddled the franchise to the tune of $2 billion since 1989 and the Madden Curse even gives the game some superstitious folklore (i.e. Donovan McNabb circa 2005). The game has long ingrained American culture and played a reasonably significant role in the creation and cultivation of many friendships over the past two decades.

In 1997 I was nine years old. I spent most of my time practicing sports, watching Boy Meets World and playing Manhunt with my friends. I also probably had Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” stuck in my head. That year, I had Madden 1997 for PC and I used to play my friends over an AOL dial-up Internet connection. Looking back, the gameplay was garbage and the graphics were marginal. If you took Barry Sanders and ran back to your own goal line, the defenders were too slow to catch him as you ran from sideline to sideline so you could score a touchdown on literally every play.

Years—and what seems like technological light-years—later, Madden’s release date became like the last hurrah of every summer. My friends and I would hole up in someone’s basement like we were preparing for Y2K—except instead of stockpiling canned goods and batteries we hoarded Mountain Dew and Doritos. We’d play the game until our thumbs ached and then log another three days’ worth.

I remember explaining to my high-school girlfriend that the second week in August (historically the game’s release date—this year we had to wait an extra two weeks; thanks for everything Lockout) was probably going to be a bit of a struggle for us. I’d wake up for cross-country camp, head to our morning workout, come home and play until I had to go back for the evening run. Then come home and game until I passed out and do it all over again. In college we turned it into a drinking game. Every time you gave up a touchdown or turned the ball over you did a shot. Things didn’t usually go well if you fell behind early.

Now, in 2011, the gameplay is so sophisticated and complex that many of my friends have stopped playing it because they don’t have the time to learn the intricacies. Additionally, a 10-hour-a-day PS3 habit doesn’t exactly nurture the career aspirations of recent college graduates. So chances are some of us will pick up the game and we’ll play each other online before bed a couple of times a week. There won’t be any more franchise-mode marathons, round-robin tournaments or semester-long series recorded on dormitory dry-erase boards.

But, that doesn’t mean I’ll forget putting Michael Robinson in for Frank Gore and posting six scores and more than 400 all-purpose yards on my buddy at school right after the QB/RB/Special Teamer went pro. Unfortunately, I won’t forget losing a game on a last-second kick return because a friend put Michael Vick—then with the Falcons—back deep or how I slammed the controller when the quarterback took my squib kick to the house.

Madden is among the best 60 bucks I spend every year and 2011 shouldn’t be an exception. Now I just have to hope that with working, commuting, training for the Philly half-marathon and leading a reasonable social life that my hurry-up offense’s effectiveness doesn’t suffer dramatically.