Send Me In Coach, I Play Video Games

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Let me distract you from the agonies and ecstasies of the political season for a moment to address an interesting tidbit from the land of gaming.

We all know that we live in a video-game-friendly world. And as gaming systems have gotten more powerful and game creation has become more nuanced, we cheery button-crunchers can’t help but sit back and marvel at just how lifelike some of our amusements have actually become. I mean, have you seen the latest Madden NFL game? Plop down on the couch in front of a big screen full of that and it feels almost better than real life.

But here’s the thing: There are a number of folks suggesting that there’s more to these hyper-realistic creations than just good looks—especially when it comes to sports games such as Madden or the newest FIFA soccer titles. These games, they say, do more than just reflect the real-world. They influence it.

Take, for example, what a young soccer player named Alex Iwobi told The New York Times recently. When facing a new opponent, the striker often thinks back over his video game play to figure out how best to match up with him.

“I’d look at his name,” he said, “and then try to remember how good he was on FIFA.”

Now, that’s gotta be some pretty accurate in-game play if this young man’s routine really works. And the influence doesn’t stop there. The article quotes other young players saying that they’ve improved their own on-field skills and technique by watching the digital avatars on screen and then using those animated moves as something of a tutorial.

Think about that for a moment. That suggests that these kids aren’t just challenging themselves to duplicate moves they’ve seen other flesh-and-blood players execute: They’re mimicking moves that they might’ve only seen on some pixelated screen. If that game character can do that, why can’t I? they ask. That’s pretty out-of-body amazing, if you ask me.

I remember reading another article from a few years back that said the same sort of thing was happening in the rough-and-tumble world of American football. It suggested that as the games became more and more technically sound—from an on-the-field football perspective—they were becoming more of a learning tool for young players. And kids coming out of high school and college were benefitting from it. In fact, I’ve heard that more and more high school coaches are encouraging their players to use video games to improve their understanding of football strategy and tactics.

And it’s not just high schoolers, a Men’s Journal article called “How Video Games Are Helping NFL Stars Train” quoted San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates:

The biggest shocker for me is that when you open up the playbooks in Madden, it’s exactly what teams do. I’m pretty sure they modify some things because of the security of offensive coordinators and just keeping everything we actually do private, but when I watch the Patriots playbook, when I watch the Packers and the Texans playbooks, that’s exactly what they do. It’s exactly what Philadelphia does on defense. It’s exactly what Seattle does on defense. Everything is schemed around certain players. You can definitely learn from it.

So even the pros can pick up extra pointers. And it’s all because of a new set of very accurate, very realistic games. That’s pretty cool.

Hey, now all we need are a few well-considered games about … running for president.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

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