The Real You
What we see is the real you…
I think it was the great American poet Skee-Lo who once said, “I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller.” With these poignant words sailing off on the breeze of a cool summer day in 1995, Skee opened a Pandora ’s Box that will never be closed. He spoke to the greatest of American tragedies, unrecognized potential.
Now I could write to you as a school teacher and tell you how many times I see students who never realize their true abilities until it is far too late. I could also speak of the countless numbers of teachers who come home and bury their head in their hands wondering why students just don’t get “it.” Unfortunately, this is not the Pandora’s box that was opened with “I Wish.” On the contrary I speak of the scythe that forever cut through normal and redefined sports video games as the modern world will know them. I speak of the create-a-player.
In one foul swoop the average Joes and arm-chair quarterbacks of the world know had a chance to pilot their likeness to victory in all the sporting conquests of which they were never able to be a part. The phrases too short, can’t run, no hands, no vision, and out of shape fell by the wayside. This was the chance all men had waited for. It was the opportunity to create the perfect athlete who would dominate any game in which he played. With this one foul swoop, the sports gaming industry had catered to the plastic surgery craze and found a way to sneak it into the lives of even the most macho of men. This was plastic surgery with a point.
Power! Unlimited Power!
Ok, I appreciate the overly dramatic nature of such a quote, but it harkens to the point at hand. Anakin’s submission to Darth Sidious is firmly rooted in his desire to have an all-worldly power that cannot be contained. It was that same power that was placed in the hands of mere mortals when Electronic Arts first unlocked my imagination.
My first memories of the create-a-player come from my early days in Madden. The only flaw with these early iterations is that they were mistakenly rooted in fairness. You actually had to do training exercises to establish your player’s skills. They actually believed that I wanted to make a mortal. If I wanted to be mortal, I would go outside and try to jump rope and fall flat on my face like I had returned to the playgrounds of Midland Elementary. You do not understand John, I want the power, give me the power!
Even as a twelve-year-old, John Madden could not contain me. I saw a way around it. One drill required you to memorize a pattern, in the nature of a Simon Puzzle, in order to establish your player’s intelligence. The senile Madden never envisioned that my young padawan Dave and I would pick up a piece of paper and a pencil and shatter the intricate code. It was in those early days that I saw what a created player could become. You could actually make a player who would truly dominate the field of play.
Jedi or Sith?
With all this power, what was I to do? In the fifteen years that have passed since I first created a player in my image, the world of video games exploded. It allowed me to make them look exactly like me. I could model the facial details, brow depth, cheek structure, freckles and even the gaining characteristics. In that time, action games saw the promise of an electronic caricature and opened themselves up to the endless possibilities. I cannot forget the hours I spent detailing my face before I began playing Mass Effect. In truth, I spent more time creating my player than I spent engaged in the actual game.
Still, this left players at a crossroads. What would the average player do with all that power? Did I really care about detailing my face to be an exact match, or was it the attributes that drew my attention? I can say, with outright certainty, that every boy, man and elder statesmen was drawn to the intense power that lay in the chance to go full 99.
I debated in my head what phrase to use to encompass the surge of power, but figured any gamer would understand full 99. It is that beautiful joy that comes from smashing the D-pad to the right and jamming all your stats to the full max. In that accelerated ticking each player knows that they are that much closer to the hallowed “God-mode.” But, what does this say about you as a player? Who are you, the full 99 all-star, or the kid who loves to work his way up through the trenches?
It takes great personal strength to resist the temptation to be the ultimate athlete. I had one shining moment in 10th grade where I turned in a triple-double in rec basketball. I actually blocked 11 shots in one game. Clearly, that moment was so important to me, that it stands as my greatest sports accomplishment in my twenty-six years on this Earth. My exploits in the electronic world have far surpassed anything I could do in my corporeal existence. Video games give all people the chance to reach into something that they always yearned to be.
What you see is the real me…
The divisive draw between normal and extra-ordinary does not end with the physical skills of a player. Oh no, it could not end there when a plain clothes office manager finally obtains the chance to be the 6’10” beast of a man tipping the scales at a bristling 290 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. Not only can I be the player I want, but I can have a freakish body? Oh my word, this plastic surgery thing has its merits!
I have rarely created a figure that actually looks like me, what is the fun in that. Sure 6’6” and 235 actually sounds athletic, but then again…have you seen me? That is so pedestrian to just…be me. A part of me thinks that sounds sad. I feel like I should be comfortable in my own skin. I should accept that a 6’6” I could be a semi-athletic banger who does some hard work in the post and tries to become the next DeJaun Blair. Hey man, if he makes the NBA without an ACL in either knee, there is hope that I will become the second Mexican after my boy Eduardo Najera. In truth, I do not care. I love me, but I really love the 7’3” version of myself that throws down power dunks over Dwight Howard.
I currently sit with an “altered” version of myself in every sports game I own. NBA 2K9 sees me shoot the lights out with a version of myself that matches my body height. UFC Undisputed…well that is a whole different story. I am a 6’3 black man with a huge Afro and the Japanese flag tatted cross my chest, turns out THUG LIFE was unavailable. I even named that one Rafik Mohamed in honor of a college Sociology teacher, just because he needed a little air time. I just cannot pass up the Mohawk, or the funny beard, maybe just a head band or two. NCAA Football drove me wild when I could give my linebackers a Luke Skywalker faceguard. That was pure heaven, better than any birthday cake or Red Rider BB gun my parents could ever find.
I have undergone a great deal of personal growth in the last few years. I bought my first car, bought my first home, earned my Master’s and got a great new job. Any of those things could have been the defining moment that I knew I had grown up. Yet, none of them even hold a candle to the moment when I really knew I was an adult.
It came on a blustery, wait I don’t think San Diego has blustery…ah just go with it, so yes, a blustery fall day in late 2008. I sat at the controls of NHL 2K9 trying to figure out what to do with my newest installment of create-a-player. I built a new Nick Nevares. He matched my height and my weight…and somehow I just felt so silly for adhering to the confines of a normal life.
Then, I took it one step further; I chose to be a right wing. Wait…wait, I was not going to play center, I didn’t want the puck on every play? The mere thought of it made me sick to my stomach. I nearly tossed my cookies when I made myself a 78 and decided to work myself through my career. I had crossed a new line, I had grown up.
It was in that moment that I saw a new version of myself. I saw the merits of gritting it out through half a season with the Houston Aeros and clambering for a call up to the big squad. I felt the dingy confines of my hotels on the road, while the multi-million dollar players were already scoring goals and doing Gillette Mach-3 commercials.
I still do not know where the future will take me. I love the chance to drop 100 point games and absolutely demolish every other player on the court. It has its draws, but inside me that freaking Jiminy Cricket just keeps piping up and begging me to let my conscience be my guide. In the end, it will always rest with you. Only you can determine how far the slider moves over when you create your own Thaddius Overdyke or Barnaby Jargelton.
I guess this leaves me to ask, is what we see the real you?