Why do sports video games constantly get ignored in "Best of" video game lists?
After a recently curated “Best 100 Video Games” piece in GQ Magazine, which boasts input from several prominent people in the video game sphere yet again ignored the genre of sports video games, I can’t stay silent anymore. It’s been a recurring problem— or even a stigma— for years, and it’s unfortunate.
There are sports video games that are familiar to almost every video game player: NBA JAM. Tecmo Super Bowl. NHL ‘94. RBI Baseball. MVP Baseball 2005. ESPN NFL 2K5. Those who engage in video gaming know what these titles are, even if some are not the biggest sports fans in general. Modifications are still made by fans to many of these games today, years and even decades after their initial releases. Rosters are updated. Gameplay is sometimes tweaked.
Of the 100 games mentioned in the piece mentioned above, exactly ONE is a sports game— and it’s not even a traditional one. While Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is one of the best, if not THE best “extreme” or skateboarding video games out there… it’s not at all representative of the genre on the whole.
If you’re an aggregator for a list like this, you have to see the lack of representation of a genre that the masses enjoy— but apparently the “experts” don’t. It is, very much, an aggregation problem… but it goes deeper than that. Sports games— and the people who enjoy them— have been the target of ridicule and snark by “hardcore gamers” and gaming media “experts” for decades. This bias continually leads to lowering representation.
What context is “best” used in? What are the criteria being satisfied?
Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s a list. One person’s list or one outlet’s list is going to be different than mine, or yours. My gripe here goes beyond one list. It’s a recurring theme.
Sports video games, despite their popularity, continually get overlooked— especially when considering a broader scope of aggregation. I understand that the best days of sports video gaming may arguably be past, but there are games in the genre that absolutely bear consideration for lists like these and often get ignored.
How can we continue to overlook the success of NBA JAM, and how it ignited the sub-genre of arcade sports video games? The game itself was a massive success, and that’s before the sequels, offshoots, and the list of games it inspired. How can we look past the appeal of the game, its pick-up-and-play nature, and its strength in building interest in the NBA with a new demographic? Are we arguing that things like rubber band AI or not enough content depth keep it from being elite? I struggle to understand the logic.
ESPN NFL 2K5 still remains as the NFL video game with the best presentation. And this is nearly 20 years later. It is the result of years of honing and perfecting an upstart football game that put Madden on notice. There’s a reason players still flock to their Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles after all this time and pop this disc in. There’s a reason why players are still urging the NFL to shift its official license to Take-Two in order to resurrect the franchise. It’s not simply a “Madden sucks now, we want 2K” explanation. It’s deeper than that.
NHL ‘94 and Tecmo Super Bowl are each more than a quarter of a century old, but both games still see lively tournament schedules and plenty of coverage on sports media outlets. NHL ‘94 remains THE game in EA’s long-running series that gets the most attention. Tecmo Super Bowl predates NFL Blitz as the predominant arcade-style football game that anyone could play, while still feeling somewhat like an authentic experience. In fact, Tecmo Super Bowl is probably closer to the real thing than Blitz, despite both games being so beloved by fans.
I can make case after case, but my position is clear. It’s beyond time for sports video games to start getting a bit more respect in historical circles, when it comes to discussing the video games medium. Continuing to ignore them not only misrepresents what a wide swath of video game players enjoy, but also ignores video game history itself.