Cricket videogames November 14, 2009

Cricket and generation Xbox

Lifestyle choices of the urban teenage demographic are being increasingly shaped by the gaming industry, and this also applies to the sports they consume

From Suhas Cadmabi, United States

Cricket video games haven't achieved the popularity of those of other sports © Getty Images

If age were purely a reflection of musical taste, I'd be in my forties. Common reactions to my choice in artists range from amazement ("Man, that's what my dad used to play during his IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] hostel days!"), to outright concern ("Don't you listen to anything contemporary?"). And yet, thanks to the advent of Guitar Hero, a number of teenage cousins suddenly want to engage me in discussions on how Hendrix died young, or whether Mick Jagger was indeed a better frontman than Roger Daltrey. I'm only too happy to indulge them.

The argument here is that lifestyle choices of the urban teenage demographic are being increasingly shaped by the gaming industry, and this also applies to the sports they consume. Take, for example, the schoolkid who aspires to be able to talk football one day with his classmates; he might find the latest edition of EA Sports' FIFA series to be a very handy companion to the live action on the telly. And, going all the way with Manchester United in the virtual world provides the perfect supplement to watching them clinch the Premiership title in the real one.

By the same token, cricket-based games have been rather conspicuous by their inability to make a dent in this market. Could this be a reason for the (perceived) decline in popularity of the game among metropolitan kids, especially in India? An uncle of mine certainly agrees. We were discussing a Cricinfo article in which the author, intrigued by the fact that his fifteen-year-old son should find greater pleasure in watching Thierry Henry and Arsenal than Rahul Dravid and India, observed that cricket appeared to be "reasonably popular, but not cool" among his son's peer group.

I asked my uncle why cricket wasn't being followed by that particular age group, in the way we might expect it to be. He replied: "When we were growing up we used to play a lot of cricket - with a rubber or tennis ball, or even a regular cricket ball. We used to play in the backyard, in the corridors of our apartment buildings, in the garage and on the road. Many of us had access to reasonably large grounds where we could play cricket on full-length pitches. Today's kids do not have this opportunity. "Their experience with sports is mostly second-hand. They either watch them on TV, or play a video-game version. I think the latter significantly determines the games they follow on television; it is easy to enjoy football or basketball on a Playstation, but cricket, especially Test cricket, simply can't be ported to that medium. To me, this lack of a first-hand experience with the game, or even a reasonable second-hand simulation alternative has drawn our kids away from the magic of cricket as we know it. Blame it on the urban jungle."

I remember learning a great deal about Basketball and Ice Hockey thanks to EA Sports' NBA Live and NHL titles, but figuring out the nuances of cricket through a video game would certainly have been a tough ask. The many variables in cricket which might come into effect - pitch conditions, weather, the state of the ball - are best understood by playing in real conditions, and learning from experience. Hitherto, computer games have been unable to capture the feel of the real thing. When I look back at some of the cricket-based games released over the years (EA Sports' Cricket, and Codemasters' Brian Lara Cricket), these observations ring true; the void is yet to be filled.

Perhaps then, cricket might lend itself better to a strategy-based gameplay than the arcade or simulation type, but efforts in that direction have been equally unsuccessful. International Cricket Captain, the game's answer to Football Manager, enjoys a cult following in the UK; I suspect it will remain at that. How many of us would salivate at the thought of leading Sussex to the County Championship?

And, years ago, Anil Kumble teamed up with Ananth Narayan (a contributor to It Figures, the stats blog on Cricinfo) to come out with a strategy game called Googly. It addressed some of these issues in theory but, in the words of Indian blogger Sidin Vadukut, had "graphics reminiscent of a Rohrschach Test and gameplay marginally more engaging than digging one’s nose." I'm not about to suggest that cricket resonates less among the urban youth of today only because it happens to be poorly represented in the gaming market; there are several other possible reasons, but maybe this factor needs to be looked at more closely by the game's fans.

After all, Lalit Modi has made no secret of the fact that the upwardly mobile youngster - who might otherwise be saving up to buy a much-coveted Arsenal jersey or Ferrari jacket - is a major component of the IPL's target audience. If he and his marketing team are serious about wooing this particular segment, they could do worse than investing in a specialised team of cricket-loving game developers, so that they might finally come up with the definitive cricketing video game.