I’ve been falling behind lately, and I all but missed the Super Bowl.  Between school and Monday Night Combat (which, I guess is a bit of a sport), I just haven’t had the time.

Today, I’m going to include a little something that I wrote a while back for “Sports Month” on gaming on a budget.  It’s just my little thought on sports games, and on playing against the computer.  Since I am in college-report-writing mode, I’ll start with my thesis:

Sports games should be played with other players, and not alone.

Sports games are inherently social.  Unlike adventure or role playing games, which pit you or your small group against the world, sports games almost always involve direct competition between two or more opponents.  With that in mind, I see three main reasons why it is better to play with another player than alone.

First, you will grow by leaps and bounds as a player if you play with other players.  Human players tend to develop obscure, meta-game driven strategies, and these strategies will constantly broaden your horizons and sharpen your game.

Second, human deficiencies are generally not offset by artificial balancing mechanisms.  AI’s are generally not as good as flesh-and-blood opponents.  Unless you are playing against Deep Blue or Watson (and maybe not even then), you are not going to find an AI  that can think up new strategies and new counters on the fly.  In order to compensate for the limitations of the AI, designers often set varying difficulty levels and or degrees of rubber-band effect, and give the AI what would otherwise be unfair advantages.   Mortal Kombat II, for example,  had fighters with near perfect anticipation of your attacks.  In NFL Blitz, if you are more than one touchdown ahead, you can expect two things:  your offensive line will be nothing but bowling pins to your opponent’s bowling ball (this is accentuated by the actual bowling pin sound effect), and your receivers will NEVER catch a pass.  In fact, they will usually bobble the pass directly into your opponent’s hand for an interception.  Needless to say, this is incredibly annoying, but there is little else that the designers can do if they want to create a close, intense game with limited AI capabilities.

Third, and possibly most important, the joy of trash talking is wasted on a machine.  Regardless of how hard you try, you will never get your X-Box 360 to well up and cry like a little girl with a skinned knee.

There is only one reason that I can think of to play a sports game against the computer:  you can learn which strategies work against the computer, so that you can avoid those strategies when playing against other players.  The fact is that most people will not take my advice and WILL play against the computer.  When they do, their game play and meta-game perspective will be shaped by this experience, and they will take those strategies with them into their multiplayer games.  Of course, nearly every other player has done the same.  As a result, the lesser known strategies that often do not work against the Ay I will work against them.

If you want to broaden your abilities as a sports gamer, improve the fairness of the game, and share the joy of trash talking, then play with a friend.

With the increased connectivity that we see in today’s games, it is becoming easier to find flesh and blood opponents online.  As you play with your friends, you will bond and create little meta-game microcosms.  As you play with strangers, you will each be exposed to new strategies that you can bring into your own meta-games, and each game will be a mutually beneficial transaction of knowledge.