Death, statues and legends

Curator's Note

There are things that cannot be avoided while playing sport video games. Certain stories, that are told over and over again, numbers that tend to be constantly analyzed – scores, statistics or just a numeric representation of an athletes' skills – and bodies or avatars which are pushed to their limits.

More often than not in a game such as basketball or football simulation, we take control of an avatar or a team that we recognize – assuming that we are fans of that particular sport. At the same time, there is always a need to compare the incomparable: players and teams from different eras – often conveniently forgetting that rules, tactics, or views on prototypical players are in constant flux.

Somewhere on the margins of many of those games, are players remembered for their accomplishments and unparalleled skill. What I find fascinating, is how often presence of these legendary figures in sport video games franchises (like FIFA, NBA 2K, PES) seems disjointed. Even if only between names typed inside in game record books and models of the same players in their prime placed on classic teams or edited into modern teams, a link is missing, that could make their in game existence whole.

It is felt the most, when a player has already passed away in real life. The presence of the known deceased changes the game, maybe because the only thing left is their legacy. Not only their avatars do not change from edition to edition, but also since human memory is fallible, we tend forget nowadays how the game was played during their prime and how they played it. Their video game counterparts are moving, jumping, running, passing, shooting – sometimes on the outskirts of other ‘legendary’ rivalries, stories – but not much more.

So what is left is the act of (re)creating statues and monuments – a sort of ode to the movement, caught in a screenshot or a gameplay clip, that is perceived as specific enough to pass as a part of a certain player’s skill set. It is not a way to link to the past – it is rather much closer to mirroring something already set in stone.


This reminds me of baseball fans and how they compare or resist comparing things like home run records across generations. I suppose that the rich history of a sport is part of the allure for fans.

Trying to arrest a moment in a digital medium essentially amounts to a snapshot, quite a different beast from a physical monument. Plenty of sports monuments, particularly statues of players, have been created, but this makes me thinks of game development studios (such as Epic Games or 343 Studios) that have life-size (or sometimes larger) statues of their video game characters in their foyers.

I'm curious about this notion of "monuments," which sort of suggests a kind of stasis or preservation of the past athlete, which is certainly part of the appeal and also a bit uncanny. But I'm wondering about games that integrate these classic players in with the modern day equivalents, especially as most games use canned animations for particular situations. For example, is there a game where Ted Williams is playable, but when he hits a towering home run, he's puppeted by a cocky, bat-flipping animation that he never would have performed in his time. Or, on the other side, what does it mean to include Ty Cobb in your baseball game and not pair him with the kinds of animations that depict his dirty play?

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