Breaking Balls: Baseball video games need improvement

Back in the day, ColecoVision Super Action Baseball was so super-action you felt like the players were right there in your living room … in a bit-mappy, neon AstroTurf, alien infielders kinda way.

Maybe the best thing about writing a column is having a public forum to discuss matters that are important to me and to bring certain things to light I feel have been overlooked by society. These can be any number of things that affect us all on a global scale or even some local difficulty that, with some awareness, can finally be addressed.

In the baseball world, with the season really having just begun, everything is moving along pretty slowly, and there’s no real way to know whether any team’s hot or cold start is actually a reflection of how that team will end up for the year. Last year, the Indians started off hot and then disappeared just as quickly. Also last year, the Red Sox started off with a terrible 0-6 record, but everything worked out fine for them in the end. [(Editor’s note: “In the end” the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs after one of the most horrific collapses in the history of baseball.) (Note to Editor: Jon, I thought I made it very clear to you when we talked on the phone after last season that you were never to mention that ever again.) (Editor’s note: Is that what you were saying? It was hard to decipher through all the crying.)]

With the technological advances being made in the world today, it is quite staggering what we can do now that in the past would have seemed to be some sort of black magic. And with each advancement, the previous “miracle” becomes old news, and now we have to be outraged that our hand-held mobile communications device has a “weak signal.” Oh well! I guess you’ll just have to listen to music or take pictures or play video games on that very same device that you can fit in your pocket.

In a world where technology is advancing at a rapid pace, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out new and exciting ways to disconnect and challenge themselves in the real world. Enter escape rooms, the perfect way to put your problem-solving skills to the test and immerse yourself in a fun and interactive experience. Not only do escape rooms provide an opportunity to disconnect from technology, but they also offer a chance to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as well as the dynamics of teamwork. So the next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the latest technological advancements, why not take a break and try an escape room instead? You may just learn more about yourself and your capabilities than you ever thought possible.

So, in the spirit of this sort of shortsighted criticism, today I’m going to talk to you about baseball video games. Yeah, that’s right. I don’t care if you’re not a video gamer. Are any of my columns ever really about what I say they’re going to be about? Good, then keep reading. You will learn something about life, I assure you. And when you get your own column, you can use it as a forum to address the things that concern you.

First, I don’t want to complain too much about modern baseball video games. I’m a realist. I can see the advancements that have been made. Back at the beginning, it was just little blips on a screen that had a small dot moving around representing the baseball. Of course, before that we actually had to “go outside” and “move around” with “other people” if we wanted to play baseball. Thank God that’s over!

My friend Cowger (one of the only people I have ever called by their last name – once, when there too many Mikes, we started calling one of them “Leon,” but when the other Mikes started going away, we called him “Mike” again) – boy, that’s just shabby writing. I should probably make that parenthetical it’s own sentence, right? If you’ve read anything of mine before, you know I’m not going to delete it – no matter how useless the information is.

Anyway, my friend Cowger used to have this baseball game on a ColecoVision or Intellivision – pretty sure it was one the “-vision” systems – where if you pulled back on the joystick when you were batting, it was a guaranteed home run. Why would a game have this as a feature? That led to a lot of “rules” about when you can use the pull-back method – basically never. Of course, one of us “accidentally” pulled it back pretty often, especially when we were losing. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, I swear I won’t do it again.” (Not until the next time!)

Compared to those baseball games, the modern video games are vastly improved. They are quite realistic with players that look like human beings and stadiums that look almost identical to the ballparks they represent. Wrigley Field has ivy on its walls. Fenway Park has the Green Monster in left field. And the crowd at Yankee Stadium has a bunch of douchebags.

All the movements of pitchers, batters, fielders and baserunners are so much like the real thing that toward the end of his career, San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn had to swear off playing them because he felt it was affecting his real-life at bats. The games also added complex general manager functions where you could try to turn any team into a World Series winner with trades, free agents and player drafting.

Pete Rose Baseball, circa 1988 — that must be Pete at the plate, Eddie Gaedal catching and Frogger umping.

“But, Jed, these sound great. What the hell is your problem?”

I think the main problem is that these games achieved all of the above over a decade ago. Tony Gwynn retired in 2001. So why have these games plateaued? Why aren’t these games being enhanced? Maybe it’s because they don’t have to. Baseball video games are not the best-selling sports games – those are football and basketball. Also EA Sports, the leader in sports video games, was booted out of the baseball game world by an exclusivity contract. So, without much competition for the last seven years, there’s really no need to invest in making the game much better.

With my smart phone, I can take a video of something and immediately email it to anyone in the world, while I’m checking out how my stocks are doing and whether the Red Sox scored in the top of the fifth inning. I want a baseball game that matches this level of technology. The iPhone and Android are constantly trying to improve themselves and be better than the other and avoid the fate of the flip-phone or the Razr.

I don’t know what the advancements in game play should be. I’m not a video game designer. I’m a writer. And, you know what, it’s not even that these games aren’t advancing. They also have glitches. How can these games have glitches when they don’t change anything? Shouldn’t they hire someone who knows video games and baseball and have that person play the game for a couple hundred hours? The glitches would be found and removed. And I don’t have to be annoyed when my second baseman bobbles every ground ball hit to him. It’s second base!

I’m not volunteering to be the tester. Okay, maybe I am. Sometimes life is about one person making a sacrifice to save the many.

One thing these games have that can be helpful is adjustable settings. Yay! Great! But they’re almost always On/Off settings – instead of allowing a variety of different possibilities with varying levels of On-ness and Off-ness. Like the “game speed” setting. Baseball is a slow sport. The game doesn’t need to be slow, so they let you do a “fast” version. But I want an “even faster” version where the batters show up right away after the last out. Come on! My wife wants to go out to dinner tonight and I can squeeze in one more game while she’s doing her make-up and I don’t need to see Matt Kemp jogging in from the outfield.

I remember one baseball video game a few years ago that had a “generated count” setting for pitchers. You could turn this on and every better would start his at-bat with a ball or a strike or even a couple balls or strikes – depending on how good the batter and pitcher were. These games would go by so wonderfully fast. Yes, when I’m at the ballpark I want the game to move along at a nice, even pace so I can take it all in with my son. No, I don’t really have a son. (Yes, Mom, I am working on it. The books you gave us have been very helpful.) But now this feature isn’t on any of the games. That’s what is called a de-provement.

Video games can be a fun way to take a break from your troubles and immerse yourself in a different world where maybe things aren’t so bad – or a world that’s much, much worse if it’s one of those zombie apocalypse games. And this is true in all sports games where we get to live out our childhood fantasies of the World Series-winning home run in baseball or the Super Bowl-winning touchdown in football or the Fluorescent Green Summer Dress-winning goal in soccer.

So, if you know someone who designs these games, send them the link to this article. I am just one person. I can only do so much. But if we gather our collective strength, we can start a movement and really make a difference in the lives of people throughout the world.

Except my wife – let’s skip making a difference in her life with all this. And, as a matter of fact, if you happen to see her, it would be totally cool if you don’t mention any of this.

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