Narratology: Madden’s “Mr. Irrelevant”

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March 1, 2013 by aliymahmed

     In the NFL Draft, the last pick of the draft is given the nickname of “Mr. Irrelevant” because he is the least likely person to make an impact in the NFL. In the same way, the Madden NFL video game series has been the prime example of games in which the ludology supersedes the narratology of the game, making the narratology, “Mr. Irrelevant,” in our analogy. However, narratology is just as important as ludology. In fact, the narratology of Madden NFL offers more to the gameplay experience than does the ludology of the game by giving the game a new sense of strategy and an inspiring motivation to play. (For the sake of simplicity, I have decided to focus on Madden NFL 13 as opposed to analyzing each Madden NFL game).

     The opening cutscene of Madden NFL 13 gives character to the game of football and provides momentum for the player(s) about to play the game. The experience of the cutscene essentially becomes a locker room experience, and the leader of that locker room happens to be future Hall of Fame Linebacker, Ray Lewis. He starts off his motivational speech with the criticism that he had faced throughout his career, which is the same criticism that many people have had to endure. I personally have been told plenty of times that I was not “big enough” or “fast enough,” and I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has been told that. Ray Lewis evokes the voices of legends when he makes references to Hall of Fame Running Back, Walter Payton, and Hall of Fame Wide Receiver, Jerry Rice. In translation, in order to become great, the player can’t be comfortable with being “just good enough.” This speech gives narrative to the player and his/her actions with his/her team by not letting the player play for the sake of playing the game of football on a video game but rather giving him/her motivation to be the greatest in the game. As Ray Lewis commands at the end of the cutscene, “Leave. Your. Mark.”  

     As far as gameplay is concerned, the game of football is very rule-based, which gives ludology a high importance in the game of football. However, the narratives of the teams and players in the NFL enhance the gameplay by making the multiple strategies of the game of football more effective. To demonstrate the importance of narratives for teams, let’s take two teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, as examples. These two teams are division rivals, so players who are fans of either team would take pride in the defeat of the rival team. Now let’s assume that the player was not a fan of either team. How would narrative still serve a purpose in this scenario? Good question. Let’s analyze the Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers’s strengths tend to be in their passing game and are known to have a “pass-first” philosophy while their weaknesses lie in their running game. It is possible to win a game of Madden by passing every play, but then your gameplan becomes predictable, making it harder to score on a consistent basis. The general strategy for this team would be to open up the running game by passing the ball well, preferably deep, and once the defense makes adjustments to defend the deep pass, the running game will be more effective and make the strategy very unpredictable. As for the Minnesota Vikings, the strengths and weaknesses are the exact opposite, so it would be more effective to run the ball first and then use play-action pass plays (fake run plays) to take advantage of a defense not expecting the pass. The narrative of each team defines their coaching philosophies and approaches on how to play the game of football and determines the overall gameplay experience.

     The narratives of the players in Madden NFL 13 guides the strategies of various teams. Since I use the Atlanta Falcons the most out of any team, I will use their players as examples. The Atlanta Falcons’s passing attack is filled with dynamic playmakers, but the running game is a different story. The starting running back is Michael Turner, and if you delve into his narrative, you will find that he is a power running back (meaning that he is heavier and somewhat slower than other running backs), and he is better at getting short yards at the line of scrimmage. The backup running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, is a finesse running back (meaning that he is smaller, quicker, and more agile), and he is best at running to the outside. These two running backs complement each other well and can be used for different scenarios. In terms of defense, it is sometimes better to break away from the ludology of the game. In football, linebackers usually are responsible for covering the tight end, but now that the tight end position is being more utilized in the passing game, it is sometimes better to play a nickel defense and replace one of the linebackers with a cornerback, especially if you are trying to defend San Francisco’s Vernon Davis who is faster than most wide receivers in the NFL. The ludology of football is further broken thanks to the rise of a new breed of quarterback: the running quarterback. The running quarterback breaks away from the ludology of football simply because quarterbacks are not supposed to run the football but rather stay in the pocket and throw the football. Michael Vick is often credited with being the first running quarterback, but others include Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III. Because of this new breed of quarterbacks and the rise of the pistol offense, defenses have had to make drastic adjustments in trying to defend it in the video game as well as in real life.

     The ludology of football is maintained for the most part in Madden, but the narratology accounts for different playing styles and effectively adds to gameplay experience. The narrative of each team defines their coaching philosophies and approaches on how to play the game of football and determines the overall gameplay experience. The narratology of Madden can create scenarios in which simulations can be used to break the magic circle and have real-life implications, something in which the ludology of the game cannot offer.

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2 thoughts on “Narratology: Madden’s “Mr. Irrelevant”

  1. pitak22 says:

    How would you differentiate stats that help develop effective ludology and narrative? It seems like you’re saying that a player’s athletic inclinations act as narratives. Are you implying the past events that developed the player’s abilities are narratives?

  2. aliymahmed says:

    Good question. So yes, I am saying that the player’s athletic inclinations are acting as narratives. The players in the game are based on those in real life with actual height, weight, experience, college, and other stats/facts (and with online updates, those stats are ever more real).

    The ludological stats would be the number out of 100 per stat that determine how the player character functions in the game, but even those stats are based on real life performances, which in a sense tells narrative. So I wouldn’t exactly say that even these stats are entirely ludological but instead have a narrative influence.

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