Video games have been accused of making people do all sorts of things: become obese, act antisocially, look to violence to solve problems, etc. While I never emulate most of the behavior I enact in video games they have, however, made me go out and play golf. Badly. Like gut-wrenchingly awfully. Why? Because Tiger Woods PGA 2003 made it looks easy.
While it’s true that anything worth doing is worth doing well, meaning lots of practice, some games make you feel like there will be a shortcut somewhere at fingers reach. And that’s about the same time you find yourself on a golf course wondering where the arrow showing your exact trajectory went, and how to tap vigorously enough to get the ball to spin upon landing. Certain games spoil us with accessible mechanics that, however deep they may be, will never begin to match the difficulty you will have learning a sport as nuanced as golf, or any of these others for that matter…
Bowling – Wii Sports Bowling
Bowling may have some of the least impressive physiques in the land of sports, but there’s no discounting the amount of skill involved. Hurling a weighty sphere at wooden objects is certainly immediately gratifying, and any nine-year-old at a birthday party can happen to get a strike or two sans-bumpers, but throwing consistently is a whole different matter. Professional bowlers spend their whole careers perfecting the same motion hundreds of times, and even then they have bad days. Sometimes the bowling gods frown upon you and wreck your near-perfect game by forcing you to pick up an ugly spare.
Wii Bowling, on the other hand, is so forgiving that I’ve bowled multiple strikes from another room without having to look at the tv. Hell, I’ve even taken my turn while on the toilet (not recommended if it’s someone else’s controller, by the way). The Wiimote’s sensitivity is no match for the complexity of rolling friction, and the subtle movements of hip, arm, and shoulder are all conflated with a single flick of the wrist. It makes bowling a 250+ game without making small mammal sacrifices to the gods of physics possible, a feat any bowling enthusiast may not be able to achieve their entire lives.
Tennis – Mario Tennis
While other games like Topspin do a better job of recreating the challenges of picking and executing a shot, Mario Tennis sticks to a two-button controller layout. While I have in the past expounded on the merits of this control scheme, comparing it to actually playing tennis is, if you pardon the pun, a whole new ballgame.
In real tennis, sustaining a rally for more than five shots will exhaust most amateur players, but having a single set be fought out through multiple deuces and tiebreakers in Mario Tennis is never uncommon. The simplicity of the game emphasizes strategy over reaction speed, making it a much more accessible game than other tennis simulators. It also makes you feel like a joke when you actually get out on the court. At least you can keep up with the kooky scoring system, so if nothing else you’ll know exactly how bad you’re losing.
Golf – Tiger Woods PGA Tour series
I’ve already bemoaned my experience playing golf when I introduced this article, but those short paragraphs don’t begin to give it justice. To understand fully my disappointment in real golf, one must grasp how apathetic I was towards the sport before playing Tiger Woods. Like many, I found golf painfully boring. I couldn’t begin to comprehend why anyone would care about the sport at all, other than as an excuse to spend lots of time and money avoiding your spouse and kids on the weekend.
After playing Tiger Woods 03 for the first time, though, I was hooked. The game made swinging as simple as pulling back and forth on the analog stick. This meant the difficulty curve had more to do with club choice and feeling out percentages than the actual swing. Also, there were helpful mechanics like power shots, spin influence after you’ve swung, and indicators like where your ball would land and how the green breaks.
Real golf? People pay thousands of dollars for swing coaches. Improving your swing takes patience, time, and buttloads of practice. Like bowling, there’s no small amount of occult ritual when it comes to perfecting the coordination of half your musculature and skeletal system. Also, choosing your club doesn’t matter jack shit when you can’t get an accurate swing, so the game becomes less about strategy than experience. Finally, there’s no heads up display identifying the exact wind speed, distance, and power percentage needed. I’ll keep my butt on the couch on weekends, thank you, and save money from green fees towards buying wardrobe that doesn’t designate a first-degree fashion crime.
Skateboarding – Tony Hawks Pro Skater
If there’s any game that’s more responsible for real-life blood and gore I’d be shocked. The Tony Hawk series did manage to make eating pavement look painful, but your character never suffered any career-or-possibly-child-rearing-ending injuries. Also, pressing a single button to ollie or grind could not begin to simulate the complexity in keeping a piece of plywood on wheels from shooting you dong-first into a railing. I, myself, sport a lovely scar on my knee from dragging it across asphalt at unfriendly speeds.
Put simply, most of the bails and crashes in a typical Tony Hawk run would kill a normal human being. The ease of pausing and resetting your run makes one forget all the past abuse you’ve given your character. Also, there’s next to no punishment for getting greedy and adding one more manual to your endless trick combo just to have your character bust ass. In real life you’d be grateful to land a 360 on a vert ramp and keep all your teeth, let alone chain together 30 tricks through grinding and wall jumping.
Like Tiger Woods, the most difficult mechanic of the sport, which in this case would be keeping the damn board under your feet, never becomes a factor. Instead, you are encouraged to engage in risky behavior that would have any professional skater’s family demand a living will be drafted. Rolling slowly down a driveway was difficult enough for me, getting my board to ollie was out of the question, but in my head I still had dreams of kickflipping and wall-jumping my way up buildings to get that secret tape.
Boxing – Punch-Out!!
In all fairness, Punchout was never meant to be an accurate sport simulator. The game mechanics resemble more of a rhythm game than a fighter. Even so, memorizing predictable attack patterns made you feel like a complete badass. After a while, though, you begin to expect perfection. Getting to Mike Tyson without being knocked out once feels great, but if you’ve played the game enough times you can basically do this with your eyes closed.
In real boxing I dare you to close your eyes. One could watch thousands of hours of professional boxing footage and not be able to predict a single attack in the ring. Fighters also get tired and sloppy from taking too many hits. In Punch-Out!! this can be remedied by tapping select between rounds and making it look like Doc Louis is giving Little Mac a friendly below-the-belt handshake. In real life, you’d have some pretty nasty concussions.
There’s something to say about the game, though, despite it’s inaccuracies. Having an opponent perform the exact same algorithm of attacks every time should make the game boring, but it’s exactly what makes it such an endearing classic. The “Nintendo hard” school of memorize, coordinate, and attack was distilled to its essentials in this series. The game punished you for forgetting, and shrank the windows of opportunity against your opponents to next-to-nothing by the time you reached big bad Mike Tyson. Even still, he may be notorious as one of the toughest game bosses around, but stepping into the ring with the real man in his prime would lead to some really one-sided bets. Better to stick to the videogame, you’ll keep both your ears that way.
Jarrod Lipshy is a soon-to-be-graduating B.A. English student who is scared as hell about finding a real job. He collects old video games and lets them convince him to take up new hobbies.
Cover image by Rowan Biddiscombe