College Football by the Numbers
by Scott Krzych — Colorado College
April 03, 2012 – 00:00
The Electronic Arts NCAA Football (1998 – 2012) videogame series immerses players in the world of college football. The gameplay mechanics and play-calling strategies are similar to other contemporary football simulations, especially the NFL name-brand franchise Madden Football, also by Electronic Arts. The specific lure of NCAA Football, then, is the pinpoint accuracy by which it renders each college’s football program. Every possible detail—uniform colors, stadium layout, fight song, mascot, even marching band formations—provides gamers with the feel of the game-day traditions for their preferred college football team.
Despite the videogame’s emphasis on verisimilitude, NCAA regulations prevent the inclusion of actual player names; consequently, the athlete’s avatars are constituted primarily by their abstracted attributes. For instance, Justin Blackmon, the star wide-receiver for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, appears in the game only by strong numerical and statistical suggestions: the virtual player who occupies his position bears the same uniform number (#81), body type, and skill set recognizable as belonging to the real Blackmon. Game players may then choose the time consuming task of manually entering each player’s name. Thus, instead of a proper name that identifies a unique individual around which a series of attributes, accomplishments, and personal style become associated, a name, here, serves as a retroactive confirmation of an identity already established by number.
For McKenzie Wark, videogames provide theoretical insight into “gamespace,” Wark’s term for reality after the proliferation of digital technology. In the growing consonance between the virtual and the actual, between videogames and “game of life,” signs no longer point to other signs but instead “point to numbers, the numbers to algorithms, and algorithms to allegorithms of everyday life in gamespace, where signs likewise are devalued, arbitrary, but can still stand as allegories of the one thing that still makes sense, for the logic of the digital” (41).
What is NCAA Football if not an allegorithm of a broader digital gamespace in which we are all increasingly reconstituted as digitally numerable subjects? And not just as individuals turned into statistics, but where our activities, translated into algorithms, allow corporations access into our most personal activities (see, “How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did”).