An entire generation of young football fanatics have logged countless hours playing Madden NFL video games. Over the years, Madden enabled these players to learn the in’s and out’s of football in a safe virtual environment (i.e. they learned to play the quarterback position without the threat of concussions). This made complicated and high-paced offensive playbooks more common at the high school and college levels, which is now bubbling up to the NFL.
As a result, the Madden series has influenced how football is played in real life. Gone are the days of “three yards and a cloud of dust“.
A recent Wired article explores the topic:
These games nowadays are just so technically sound that they’re a learning tool,” says Tim Grunhard, an All-Pro center for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s who now coaches high school football in the Kansas City area, where he encourages his players to use Madden to improve their knowledge of football strategy and tactics. “Back when I was playing football, we didn’t realize what a near or a far formation was, we didn’t really understand what trips meant, we didn’t understand what cover 2, cover 3, and cover zero meant,” Grunhard says, charging through jargon that’s comprehensible only to Madden players and football obsessives.
According to Wired, one youth football coach programmed his playbook into the Madden NFL game, allowing his team of 11-year olds to learn 30 offensive plays. An NPR story describes how Amobi Okoye, a 2007 first round draft pick, learned the rules of football by playing Madden after immigrating from Nigeria. As Patrick Dunn writes, games like Madden NFL are powerful learning tools because they:
- Provide motivation
- Offer varying degrees of simulation
- Tie experience together through narration
Different types of games place more emphasis on different characteristics. Using Patrick Dunn’s model, Madden NFL might look like this:
While a casual game (e.g. Enspire Learning’s Celebrity Calamity) might look more like this:
Back to the Wired article:
If you’re, say, an All-American quarterback at a top college program, odds are that you’ve been training on a very sophisticated, off-the-shelf simulator — a cross between a football tutorial and a real-time documentary, drizzled with addictive Skinnerian action-reward mechanics — for as long as you can remember. The many hundreds — even thousands — of hours that athletes put into videogame football give them more game experience… than Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, or Joe Montana were able to log in previous eras. And there’s the possibility, too, that all this electronic play is changing the structure of their brains, at least in some ways, for the better.
For more than 30 years, sports videogames have been focused on simulating real-life athletics more and more perfectly. But over the past decade, games have moved beyond just imitating the action on the field. Now they’re changing it.
If a video game could change the way football is played, imagine the possibilities of games in other arenas. Jane McGonigal believes that games can change the world.
As McGonigal says, we become the “best versions of ourselves” while playing games. We are more likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes. Whether we’re learning to play quarterback, demolish rickety structures with birds, or live without oil, we are motivated to get up and try again after failure. If that’s so, why would anyone prefer to deploy a training program in the form of a narrated PowerPoint presentation rather than a game?