[21 April 2004]
Editor’s Note: Due to his withdrawal from the MLB Players Association, Barry Bonds has not authorized a single developer to use his likeness and therefore does not appear in any of the MLB video games this year.
Redefining America’s Pastime
America’s pastime is not my past time, even though I have been known to enjoy a Saturday baseball game, especially if a beer is in hand. Yet, I would not call myself a baseball fan, unless we are talking about the virtual world. If I were to choose between watching the Yankees and Red Sox on television or battling with them through MLB 2005, I would slip in the game in a second. Whereas other sports games pale in comparison to their real-life brethren, I much prefer a video game baseball game over watching a Major League baseball contest, even though I likely will not have a beer or peanuts while playing video games. Such is certainly the case with MLB 2005
While I shiver at the prospect of talking about the realism of virtual reality, MLB 2005 is amazingly real. The graphic details of each stadium and the fans in attendance (almost all of whom are white) are quite remarkable. Playing MLB 2005 is, thus, like taking a tour of America’s classic parks, such as Fenway and Wrigley, as well as its newest shrines—Pac Bell, Minute Maid Park (Houston), and Comerica Park. No detail is ignored, with vivid images of the Yankee Hall of Fame and the play areas of Bank One Ball Park. From the privacy of my living room, MLB 2005 enables me to take the vacation across America that I always dreamed about, experiencing a virtual tour of every ball park in America.
Whether a public address announce calling for a parent to meet their lost child, hot dog vendors, game time raffles, or Sammy Sosa’s homerun trot, MLB 2005 brings its players into the contemporary world of Major League Baseball, with all the excitement of America’s national past time.
The strength of the game also resides with its options. As with others sports game, the franchise option is exceptional. The ability to conduct a draft, to go into spring training, develop players, or otherwise improve your team through free agents or trades, renders the game to be a challenge beyond the on-the-field struggles. Your responsibilities within franchise mode move beyond team management toward franchise management. You must oversee stadium facilities, which includes seating additions, parking rates and the hiring/firing of vendors. You are also responsible for guaranteeing player health and satisfaction with maintenance of rehab facilities and transportation amenities. The game, in effect, monitors the progress of your franchise at the playing, financial, and marketing levels. You can borrow money to upgrade the team’s field, or pay for advertising. In fact, marketing is a key element of the game with its emphasis on building fan base. Whether buying media time, or having “bobble head nights,” MLB 2005 provides entry into the entire baseball experience. You are simultaneously owner, general manager, manager and players, providing an ample level of excitement.
The Homerun Derby, which takes place at this year’s All-Star Park, Minute Maid Park (sorry, Enron, corruption leads to a loss of naming rights), is equally cool given the difficulty of a homerun, especially with the park’s lengthy centerfield fence.
Another strength lies with the complexity of the game playability, which is done in a way that does not make the game overly difficult. The number of pitches available to each pitcher, the realism associated with their movement and the subtlety of management of speed/location reflects the realism. More importantly, it makes MLB 2005 as much of a chess match as video game. Unlike other sports games, you are able to get into the mental side of the game, trying to outsmart the pitcher with your batting stance or the batter with a pitch selection. For a former catcher, this part of the game is certainly pleasurable.
As the strength of the game lies with its blurring of the virtual and real, its limitations equally exist within this paradigmatic framework. While certainly reflecting today’s world of global capitalism within baseball, the ubiquitous advertisements are both overwhelming and bothersome. Is it too much to ask for a world without corporate pimping? Just as in the real world of baseball, the pimping of products and reworking of baseball as little more than corporate salesperson for Pepsi, Louisville Slugger, or Network Associates is troubling. From stadium naming rights to advertisements covering every space of the ballpark reflects the demise of the game toward just another capitalist enterprise. What are even more bothersome is the constant signifiers of patriotism with several flags at every stadium and signs of freedom donning outfield walls. The various anthems, flag waving, and displays of military hardware are excessive in real parks, but nothing compares to the patriotic Americanism of virtual baseball. The utilization of baseball in both the real and virtual as sites of patriotic indoctrination and communal unification, especially in the context of the War on Terrorism, necessitates thought and reflection. Despite the global orientation of its players, baseball remains wedded to its American ideologies through the constant display of U.S. signs and symbols.
Another disappointing element lies with the absence of Barry Bonds with MLB 2005. While unrealistic to expect exposes of Balco or scenes of players popping Andro, it is fair to assume that every player would be available upon purchase of MLB 2005. Imagine a golf game without Tiger Woods, a basketball game without Kobe Bryant, or a football game in absence of Michael Vick—the power not just in terms of realism, but also in the enjoyment of the game, would obviously be limited by their absence. Such is certainly the case with Barry Bonds’ absence. The pleasure of the game lies with Ichiro’s speed, Sosa’s power, and Pedro’s fastball, so the absence of the game’s best player severely limits its strength. Every time I pop the game into my console, I am unable to forget that one of my favorite players is not available virtually, because of the corporatization of baseball. 989 Sports, thus, needs a warning label for this game: “Barry Bonds, Not Available; Play at Own Risk.”
I am avid Lakers’ fan—with the exception of family and occasional academic work, there is little that gets in the way of Shaq and Kobe on my television. While reflective of there recent dreadful play, this last week I chose MLB 2005. The ability to run a team is just that fun. While moments of false realism, such as bench clearing brawls without fighting or the absence of players in the dugout, continue to frustrate, my yearning to crush every team in sight, payback my loans, market the A’s better than anyone else, and otherwise elevate my team atop the leagues, propels me to play this game with great regularity.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mlb-2005/