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NFL Donates $30 Million to Federal Brain Research in Exchange for Removal of "Concussion" Feature from Madden '13 Video Game

UCSD Researcher: "We need the money more than the game needs that level of reality."


LIGHTING A CANDLE IN FRONT OF FRAMED JUNIOR SEAU JERSEY IN THE DEN - The reviews are in: Madden '13 delivers a more realistic pro football gameplay experience than any of the famed video game's previous incarnations. Raves Ross Edwards of the Sentinel & Enterprise, "Gone are the rigid, preset tackling animations of years past. When hulking NFL behemoths collide, they now react much more realistically, a fundamental change that drastically improves the flow of each game...The collision system improves every aspect of the on-field action...Yes, the new physics make for some hilariously unrealistic moments. Players sometimes ragdoll ridiculously on contact, limbs contorting in gruesome ways, before popping up ready for the next snap..."

What Edwards does not mention, however, is that a Beta version of Madden '13, recently obtained by SD on the QT, offered some moments that were far from "hilariously unrealistic." Gamers were given the option to turn on a "concussion mode," which meant that certain types of tackles and blocks were liable to leave a player lying unconscious on the ground instead of "popping up ready for the next snap." Depending on the severity of the hit, a player could be sidelined for the remainder of the half, or even the entire game. And given enough such injuries, a player could be removed from the team's roster altogether.

"Everything about the game is getting amped up more and more each season," said a designer for Madden '13, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Backs and receivers are laying themselves out, making themselves more vulnerable to crushing hits for the sake of an extra yard at the end of a run. Linebackers are hurling themselves against linemen who are not only bigger than lineman have ever been, but faster and stronger, too. The risk of injury is increasing exponentially, and we felt that the most realistic football video game on the market should reflect that. Plus, you know, the whole Junior thing. That left a lot of us here pretty shaken up."

Surprisingly, NFL executives were less than thrilled when they were shown the new feature, and demanded that it be removed. When EA Games pushed back, saying that a concussion-free football game was like a death-free Call of Duty ("A level of fantasy that even gamers might not tolerate," according to the designer), the League offered to cut a deal. They would donate $30 million for brain injury research, and Madden '13 would ship without "concussion mode." In the end, EA accepted, on the grounds that real, physical good trumped virtual physical danger.

"Still," said the designer, "the whole thing leaves me with a bad feeling. I almost wish I was back working on God of War. Sure, it was bloodier, but it depicted a world of obvious make-believe. With Madden '13, it's still make-believe. The problem is, it's not obvious."

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