I was lost. Seriously lost. And homesick.
The first part of this series is available here: Play ball, sports fans!
You know that feeling you get when you step off the plane in a foreign country, make your way past the slavering jackals in immigration, step outside for the first time and get punched in the gut by the humidity, stare at all the signs written in strange, sometimes moving sigils for twenty minutes until you finally get accosted by a bizarre man wearing spectacles who’s waving some yellow paper in hand and trying to drag you into a three-wheeled trike with a donkey in the back, and, amidst all the chaotic raucous, you pause and ask yourself what the hell you were thinking in the first place?
Yeah, that was me about fifteen minutes after loading up MLB 09: The Show.
I mean, I got baseball; or at least, I thought I did. I knew the bases, I knew who the shortstop was, I even understood the broad difference between a knuckleball and a slider. I even once pulled a hamstring sliding into first. Apparently though, that doesn’t mean much in the wonderful world of competitive sports – loading up MLB 09: The Show was like being dropped into another world, one where every subtlety is a given and language differences aren’t just an expected entry cost, they’re an outright barrier.
Much like your average RPG, actually. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
What really blew me away was the level of assumed knowledge – as almost every baseball fan already knows (as I do now), baseball is a game of statistics. That’s cool and all, given I’m a statistician, but much like advanced maths, none of the basics are actually defined anywhere; it’s just assumed you know them well enough to play by ear. MLB 09: The Show is the first game I’ve played in a long time that’s built on an interface I couldn’t make head nor tails of. The first thing you see after starting the game is a collection of acronyms: GPA, BA, SO, L, FP … if you’re keen and have ten minutes to spare, there’s an entire page on Wikipedia devoted to them. There’s even a measure called the ‘Pythagorean expectation’ – I mean seriously, what the hell? The mathematician in me knows why it’s called that, but does that make it accessible? I don’t think so.
Here’s the really insane bit – as far as I can work out, there isn’t a single piece of documentation included anywhere with the game that explains any of these. At least, not as far as this simpleton could tell. I kid you not – my game prep involved printing out twenty or so pages of baseball information from a variety of non-Sony sites on the net, multiple pages of pitching styles and two dimensional representations of ball flights, setting these up in giant piles around me, and cross-referencing and memorising as I played; Wikipedia and I had a very brief love affair over this game.
This shit required independent research. Debatable, more than parts of my thesis back when I was at Uni, and that was on the contestability of incumbent telcos given network externalities.
Look, I’ll be blunt; this is wrong. It’s wrong on many levels and, more importantly, it’s one of the defining reasons why the Wii took off, why games are still seen as niche by the press, and why, unless things change, ‘hardcore’ games and gamers will simply become irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.