Posts Tagged ‘history’

After all, My erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was no love,
Just because it perished?

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

America had a love affair with baseball. It was a slow burning love that lasted generations, a constant companion during hard times. Baseball was there everyday, during the depression, during WWII, during the communist scare, baseball was always there, giving you living legends. Williams, DiMaggio, The Holy Trinity, Koufax, Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx, Rose, Aaron, the list goes on and on.

Of recent vintage, the love affair has cooled as a sleeker, much faster sport has taking it’s place as sports king of America. Football reigns supreme and that’s fine. It’s the hot one. Football gives you collisions and car crashes, but with human bodies. Football gives you the cheap quick entertainment that the twitter generation enjoys so much. It’s the most popular sport in the US by a mile, nothing else really comes close to it.

We’ve forgotten about baseball, and it’s because it strayed away from the one thing that made it personable. We loved baseball, but we loved its players even more. They weren’t steroid infested freaks in the past. The bodies weren’t cartoonish. Ted Williams looked like a butcher at the corner store.

Yep, greatest hitter of all time.

For years you could imagine yourself playing baseball and it wouldn’t look clownshoes ridiculous. You can still kinda do it now, but this was especially true in an era before off-season training and, well, steroids.

I understand the drive to become the greatest player you can be, the drive to make the most money, I really do. While I don’t despise roided up players, I do not like them for the negative contributions they’ve made to a game I adore. The relationship between baseball and it’s fans is fractured. An entire generation of fans is growing up not knowing if their favorite player is a cheater or not. See, this doesn’t matter in football. Those guys are just things in helmets that run into each other for our personal enjoyment. They’re like NASCAR vehicles to us. Their personal health matters little because if it did, we’d outlaw the sport.

Baseball on the other hand is a game that is married to history and context. It’s the only game where you can compare players now to players of a generation ago. George Mikan would get destroyed in the modern NBA. Red Grange would be knocked out on his first snap in the NFL. Babe Ruth would still mash in the modern MLB.

History and relatable stars are the main draws with baseball. The true legends of today are awe inspiring because of the legends that they walk with. Greg Maddux is a living legend, a giant in the historical baseball world. The man has amassed 355 wins, he can hang his hat with legends like Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), Christy Matthewson (373), and Pete Alexander (373). When you think about Maddux, it’ll be in the context of Greatest Players of All Time. His name is intertwined with players from the aughts, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and the fifties and sixties. What other sport does that?

In a roundabout way, that brings me to Ryan Braun.

He did indeed test positive for performance enhancing drugs. He did indeed get off on a technicality. He did not, however, exonerate himself whatsoever from being a steroid cheat. The thing with urine is that it doesn’t magically grow testosterone when it’s refrigerated.

Crazy, I know.

Ryan Braun had a 20:1 ratio, which means whatever it means to you. It was high, but it wasn’t the highest in history as he’ll have you believe. There have been 70:1 positive results in the past. The sample was not tampered with, the seals were intact, and while they did sit in the collector’s fridge over the weekend, the alternative was to have them sit at Fed-Ex for the same amount of time. Again, I have yet to hear of the case where testosterone grew in urine because it was cold.

The crime Ryan Braun committed doesn’t just taint his legacy. The continued use of performance enhancing drugs has driven away fans. Baseball is slowly recovering from the steroids scandal, and it finds itself in an odd place. It is trying very hard to actively eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs, but the athletes themselves are finding exotic ways to cover up the use.

Ryan Braun, baseball is partially at fault for the “Guilty until proven innocent,” stance that the general public has taken in past years. More to blame are the players, however, like yourself and Rafael Palmiero, that use and deny so fervently. Baseball has lost a lot of fan credibility, and that’s unfortunate. Living legends are more difficult to identify, I have no idea who’s clean now. I can make my assumptions, but the last round of “damn he’s juicing too?” was too damn painful to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Yeah, everyone in baseball is guilty until proven innocent. It’s not really safe to point at anyone and say “He’s completely clean.” It’s not the era we live in.

That still doesn’t give players an excuse to use. You’re hurting my game man, and I’d appreciate it if you cut that shit out.

Video games and sports have been close partners since their inception. Throughout the turbulent 80′s and the death of the arcade, the grand times and great triumphs of the game industry, sports games have been there. They entertain the wishes of would be NBA stars who can’t play at a professional level. They fill the void for baseball fans during the off-season who itch for the first pitch thrown in April. Most importantly, they offer hours of entertainment for gamers and casual players alike, and every so often change the nature of the industry. There has not been one single home video game console released that did not have at least one sports title in it’s library of games, if not in it’s launch lineup. Sports games have proven time after time that they can both sell systems and destroy them, introduce new heroes to gamers and bring new markets to the gaming industry, and if not for one specific sports title and the man who created it, video games as we know them may never have existed at all…

…but you’ve read all that twice before.

#1 Tennis For Two

All my life, I’ve had and played video games. I’ve “wasted” a good third of my life playing them and I don’t regret a minute of it. I’ll take a great game over the useless sleep I get any day of the week. I think I feel about video games, the way Mauricio, this site’s fine host, feels about baseball. I’m just lucky enough that there is no gaming season and I can have them all year long. So when I write a list of ten games that I feel are the most important sports games in the history of the gaming industry, understand that each entry in the list has a special place in my heart. This is due to the fact that they have improved my hobby of choice and I am thankful for their respective contributions. That’s why “Tennis For Two” is my number one game on the list.

Tennis For Two has the grand distinction of not only being the very first sports related video game ever, but the very first video game ever, by definition. This being (and no it ain’t Webster’s), a game played entirely within the confines of the display screen purely for amusement. There were electronic computer games before Tennis For Two, but most of them were just glorified performance tests for the computers at the time and few of them used any real or purely visual output. TFT (see what I did there?) is the first and there’s no question about it.

William Higinbotham, the game’s inventor, was a physicist who developed electronic components that were used on the first atomic bomb. Although he spent the rest of his life doing the work he wanted to be remembered for, which was speaking about nuclear arms control, he may well be remembered more for his contributions to the video game industry. He had expressed regret before his death that his memory lives on more in Pong than in a peaceful, nuclear free world, but perhaps he can take solace in the fact that his game led to countless millions’ enjoyment and happiness. That is no small feat.

So sure, it’s pretty much the first video game ever. If that’s the only reason it’s number one, video game elitists would probably have me lynched. There is another reason why I’m rating it so high. Higinbothom never bothered to patent the damn thing. He never made any money from it and even went so far as to testify against Magnavox when they went and sued everyone in the late 70’s and early 80’s for patent infringement when they made better game systems than the stupid Odyssey. (Seriously, read about that thing. It’s dumb as all hell.) Since Higinbothom never patented Tennis For Two, stating that he didn’t think it was a big deal and the US government would have owned the patent anyway, it opened to door for anyone to make similar games. Think about that. Just a second. Think of your favorite video game. Think of all the fun you have or had playing it. Now think of its chances of ever existing if the United States government held sway over the patent it was based on.

Are you getting it yet?

Even though Magnavox won all of their lawsuits, except the one against Atari when they settled out of court, it was too late. Video games had already become such big business that companies could afford the miniscule royalties they were ordered to pay Magnavox. So everyone continued to make games and the industry as we know it survived and flourished, then fell apart, then Nintendo came and saved everyone’s ass but you get my point.

Mr. William Higinbotham

it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society.” -William Higinbothom

William Higinbothom is probably the first true video game developer as well, creating his game solely for the amusement of others. Tennis For Two was meant to be an interactive display at the 1958 Visitors Day at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Higinbothom realized that some people just aren’t satisfied by looking at stuff. So he grabbed an oscilloscope and an analog computer they had laying around and drew up plans for his game. He said it took about two hours to design and a couple weeks for lab technician Bob Dvorak to put it all together with parts that were available. I was, unfortunately, unable to find any specific pricing for the parts used back in 1958, but considering how popular the game was at the time, it has to be a record for the cheapest successful video game ever made even with the high cost of computers in the 50’s.

It was a simple game. Two players held controllers that consisted of a metal box with a knob to control the angle of the ball and a button that allowed you to hit it. Unlike Pong, which was a top view of ping pong, Tennis For Two was viewed from the side of the tennis court with the net upright in the middle of the screen. Check the video.

So there you have it. This simple little game, created solely to amuse visitors at an otherwise static and uneventful display of scientific gadgetry, that the creator didn’t think was any big deal and never bothered to patent is the most important sports video game ever.

Are you surprised?

Higinbothom sure was.

Next week I promise to have some reviews up. In fact, look for a quick overview of the state of sports gaming on your iPhone.