Links: Games People Play

by July 29, 2010

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Today, a few words about video games. This has nothing to do with basketball, so skip it if you don’t want to read it.

Almost two weeks ago, just before I left for vacation, EA Sports dropped NCAA Football 11. I know Madden has become the gold standard for sports video games, but the NCAA series is my favorite game, mostly for the dynasty and career modes.

Even though I’m 30-plus, I play a lot of video games. Pretty much every night, once Wifey’s asleep, I fire up the PS3 and just veg out for an hour playing either soccer, football or baseball. Sometimes I’ll play a first-person shooter or an adventure game, but those are almost too intense. One Saturday when I was home alone, I’d spent three or four hours deep in some Tom Clancy game that required a bunch of sneaking around through the dark alleys of a run-down city. I turned off the game and turned on some travel show where the host was walking through dark alleys in a run down city, and I nearly yelled “Watch out!” when the host turned a corner without looking both ways. That was when I realized I probably needed to get out of the apartment for a bit.

The sports games are a little more brainless, requiring less strategy, more reacting. I keep coming back to these games because they’re the most relaxing part of my day. Most days, I spend all day at a computer juggling words and plans and thoughts and ideas. At the end of the day, pretty much every day, I’m fried. So video games have become my palette cleanser, a way to let my dome rest, my thoughts reorganize, new ideas bubble up. For me, video games are a way to temporarily think about nothing so that I can eventually think about something.

With the sports games, I love creating a character, starting at the bottom and trying to work my way to the top. It allows me to have the career playing or coaching that I never had, and gives me a narrative to follow that I can pick up and set down on my own timetable (e.g. pretty much every night). So when the newest version of NCAA dropped, I could barely wait to get home, throw it in and start a new career as a head coach at a low Division 1 school who, through terrific play schemes and shrewd recruiting, would quickly but methodically work my school into a BCS bowl and then leave the small college for a larger school, ultimately seeking my dream job at the University of Georgia, where I would settle down and coach for decades, winning an staggering streak of national championships.

I was about three minutes into my first game as head coach at Tulane when the PS3 suddenly just switched off. Weird, but not without precedent. I’ve had the same PS3 for about 4 years now. Sometimes it would get too hot and a loud exhaust fan would kick in, and occasionally it would freeze up in the middle of a game. But it had never just unilaterally decided to shut itself completely off in the middle of a game. When I tried to flip the PS3 back on, the machine refused, and the power light, which was usually either red (off) or green (on), flashed yellow, a color I didn’t even know it was capable of becoming. More than anything, I was confused by this — it was as if I’d pulled up to a red light in traffic and it turned blue.

Since I was leaving the next day on vacation, I didn’t really sweat it, other than to google “PS3 yellow light” and discovered that eventually some PS3’s die a valiant death. Considering the warranty on my PS3 had run out years ago, I had two choices: 1) Pay $150 to get a refurbished PS3; 2) Buy a new one.

Once I returned from vacation, I copped a new PS3. The was I see it, I had that last one 4 years and it worked like a champ. And I don’t expect much of anything that I buy to last over 4 years. So Tuesday night, I waited for Wifey to go to sleep, then went to the closet and removed the PS3 from where I’d hidden it in the hopes that Wifey wouldn’t noticed I’d dropped a few bills. I disconnected the old one, connected the new one and sat down to play some NCAA 11…only to realize the game disc was trapped inside the broken PS3! I ran and grabbed the broken system and plugged it in (in my kitchen), hoping that it would stay on long enough even to eject the disc. But it wouldn’t. So I went back to 2K10 The Show. (And my folks at EA are replacing my NCAA 11. Thanks!)

You know, I get it. Video games are for losers, for nerds, for kids. Whatever. Trying to relax, some people smoke, some people drink, some people shoot up, some people do all of that stuff. Maybe I’m getting old or something, but I just play video games. And I love ‘em. And I’ll keep playing for as long as I can.

I mentioned earlier how fried my brain gets from work, and a lot of that is because it seems like I’m always working on about 10 different projects at the same time. One thing I’ve tried to help out on a little bit is the magazine Antenna, a quarterly mag which is published by our parent company. I write little essays in each issue about stuff other than sports, and two years ago I wrote an essay (in the guise of a fake news story) about video games…

by Lang Whitaker

Amidst Controversy, Sanders Deleted In Career Prime

NEW YORK CITY (AP) — Video game characters around the world expressed emotions ranging from disappointment to outrage yesterday upon hearing the news that Snake Sanders, one of the most promising “MLB 08 The Show” video game characters of all time, had been deleted by his creator.

Sanders was 28 years old.

“We had a good run, but I felt it was time for us to part ways,” said Sanders’ owner, Lang Whitaker, a writer and video gamer who lives in Manhattan.

Sanders will leave behind a storied “MLB 08 The Show” career. In just his sixth major league season, Sanders, a dynamic second baseman, was leading the Colorado Rockies with a .345 batting average and 15 home runs at the 2017 All-Star break when Whitaker deleted him.

Sanders could not be reached for comment.

The deletion of Sanders wasn’t received well by many of the characters within the video game universe.

“If that Whitaker guy can delete Snake in the prime of his career, what chance do any of the rest of have?” wondered Oakland A’s left fielder Kanye LeBron, who was created as a character in “MLB 08 The Show” by Amarillo, Texas, video gamer Steven Jenkins. “This really sucks. If it can happen to Snake it can happen to anyone.”

In a statement issued by his publicist, Super Mario said, “Speaking on behalf of everyone in the Nintendo world, this seems like a horrific, cruel and unjust decision by Mr. Whitaker. We video game characters will not take this lying down.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Whitaker seemed oddly unaffected by the criticism. “Yeah, I deleted Snake,” he said, chuckling, not seeming to realize the backlash he’d generated. “And I’d do it again, too.”

Speculation amongst the video game characters seemed to suggest Whitaker deleted Sanders because he was simply tired of playing “MLB 08 The Show.”

“Oh yeah, Whitaker had definitely been playing less and less. He’d gone from a few hours every day to a few hours a week,” confirmed LeBron.

Whitaker denied boredom was behind his decision, stating he was curtailing his play of “MLB 08 The Show” because he was increasingly interested in the new release “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.”

Sources close to Whitaker’s wife insisted to the Associated Press that Whitaker had done little else after acquiring “Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.”

Whitaker declined to comment on the allegations except to say: “My personal decisions had nothing to do with the deletion of Snake Sanders.”

Sanders was created by Whitaker in March of 2008, soon after “MLB 08 The Show” was released. While Whitaker claimed he never intended to make Sanders physically resemble himself, Sanders and Whitaker shared the same birth date, hair color, facial hairstyle and height. Sanders did, however, weigh approximately 40 pounds less than Whitaker.

Many characters thought Sanders ended up looking more like actor Jake Gyllenhaal than Whitaker.

“If Whitaker thought he looked at all like Snake, he was insane,” said Sanders’ infield mate, the computer-generated Young-Il Ma. “That just shows you how self-absorbed Whitaker is.”

Whitaker named the character after two of his favorite retired athletes, Ken “Snake” Norman and Deion Sanders.

“I always name my video game characters after athletes I like,” Whitaker said, “or if I’m working on a story at the time, sometimes I’ll name a created character after whomever I’m writing about. Although there was that one stretch I spent playing the college football as Flava Flav. I actually won the Heisman with Flav.”

As an 18-year-old professional baseball rookie, Sanders signed with the Atlanta Braves organization, where he was assigned to the AA team in Mississippi.

Whitaker simulated most of Sanders’ first two seasons in the minor leagues, pausing occasionally to spend accumulated bonus points and increase Sanders’ ratings in offensive categories.

Going into the 2010 season, Whitaker forced Sanders to be re-assigned from the Braves organization to the New York Yankees.

“Even though I’ve been a Braves fan my entire life and would like nothing more than to play second base for the Atlanta Braves, if I had a better chance to play in the majors with another franchise, frankly, I’d have to consider it,” said Whitaker.

After Sanders played with the Yankees throughout spring training, New York declined to offer Sanders a contract.

In 2011, Whitaker sent Sanders to spring training with the Florida Marlins and suffered the same fate.

After sitting out a consecutive seasons, Sanders returned in 2012 with the Colorado Rockies and was offered a minor league contract with the AAA franchise, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

“That was a tough period, for both Snake and myself,” admitted Whitaker. “Neither of us wanted to be out of baseball for two seasons, but Snake was still young enough that we were able to wait for the perfect situation to come along.”

Midway through the 2012 season, Sanders was called up to the majors with the Colorado Rockies. After a brief adjustment period, Sanders shined. Before his deletion, Sanders was approaching 100 career home runs and had played in two major league All-Star games.

“I’m not going to lie to you: Deleting Snake was a load off my shoulders,” stated Whitaker. “I was starting to feel an insane sense of responsibility toward Snake. I needed to take a break, to move on. If I play the game again a few months from now I’ll just create a new player.”

“[Snake] had such a bright future…” said LeBron, his voice crackling with emotion. “It is really inhumane to just delete him like that.”

LeBron later added that the video game characters were talking about unionizing in order to avoid similar future situations.

Despite the vehement criticism, Whitaker was convinced deleting Sanders was the right thing to do.

“I don’t see why this is such a big deal. I mean, these are just video games. Aren’t they?”