(Technically, the idea for this post was kinda stolen from Sippin' On Purple, but given all the wins Northwestern has stolen from Iowa in recent years, a little turnabout seems fair.)
If you're on this here blog, there's probably a 99% chance that you like sports. (The people here for the other 1% just like the batshit insanity and/or the rampant patriotism, which is also cool by us.) And there's probably a pretty good chance that you also like video games because, well, you just do. So sports are awesome. And video games are awesome. Naturally, sports video games are also pretty damn awesome; sports and video games just go together like chocolate and peanut butter, rum and coke, and Northwestern fans and being douchebags. Some combinations in life are just inherently, undeniably right.
But video games capture and enhance some sports better than others -- like, say, football. Video games capture the rhythm and feel of real football remarkably well, especially as they get increasingly smarter and more advanced in terms of playcalls, audibles, in-game animations and such. In the world of sports video games, there is no series that I've spent as much time, energy, and cold hard cash on than EA's NCAA Football series. The zenith (or nadir) of my NCAA obsession was the 2004 edition, a game I spent untold hours playing. Coincidentally, that edition was also the first one to utilize a new feature that logged how much time you spent playing the game; seven years later, I've forgotten the exact amount of time but it was, um, a frighteningly large figure. Between lazy summer days, a lax senior class schedule, and surgery-induced downtime, I had plenty of time to play the game and from a gameplay standpoint it was the best version yet -- you could run well, you could pass well, you could play solid defense, and the whole thing ran smoothly and looked great. It was easy to lose hours, days, even entire weekends to that game.
But all that time spent playing virtual football doesn't just serve the purpose of killing time until real football returns (though that alone would make it worthwhile, given the interminable wait between real games) -- it also enhances the real thing. There is no better way to learn the depth chart than by laboriously entering in every fake player's real name and playing a few seasons in dynasty mode; I never would have been as familiar with guys like Chigozie Ejiasi and Marcus Schnoor without spending so much time playing the game. And short of getting tutored by real coaches, there's no better way to learn about offensive plays and defensive schemes than than by playing the game (although this has the side effect of making it even easier to be an irritating armchair quarterback -- "Why doesn't KOK run the all verticals out of shotgun-trips or the TE post route out of ace-normal?! Those always work!"). All that extra knowledge only enhances and enriches the experience of watching a real football game. So thank you, video games, and thank you, technology, for making sports even better to watch.