Taken on its face, football is a bad game. An NFL football game has 60 minutes of “play.” It takes roughly 3 hours to complete this period of competition. And in that time, only 11 minutes of actual football are played. If you were forced to play games with such unfavorable numbers, the equivalent would be sentenced to an eight player game of Talisman, always and forever.
On top of that, you have a host of obscure rules and minutia that are so draining, they aren’t even announced to the audience. For a game partially based on throwing and catching a ball, the rules don’t permit the same players to catch the ball on different plays. Of course, there are numerous exceptions. And penalties for failing to adhere to the rule Enforcement of the biggest elements of the game, from catching/interfering with passes, are highly codified yet enforcement is consistently mystifying to even students of the game. Many of the rules of the game are assumed to be understood by the viewing audience. No tutorials are offered until controversy strikes in the middle of the game.
Even accurately observing the game and all of its elements during those precious eleven minutes is virtually impossible. Teams are broken up into discrete units that each perform entirely different tasks. There’s a whole subgame of kicking the ball, but only two players on a roster of over fifty ever bother to engage in this element of the sport. Can you absorb five different individual sumo battles between massive lineman, receivers running precise routes against opposition in different coverage schemes, all while a person with a freakish ability to hurl things dances around the chaos? Oh yeah, and that doesn’t even account for running plays, where no ball is thrown, and most of the action is opening up tiny gaps for someone holding the ball to dart through. How do you even appreciate it all?
You probably can’t. Yet, we love it. As I highlighted previously, much of my inspiration for my novels arose from my interest in games, including the NFL and fantasy football.
I have even come to appreciate the sagging weight that not playing football has on the NFL and the game as a whole. Owners say dumb things. Players are arrested. The NFL’s management blunders into a host of public relations nightmares. Players are drafted by teams in a weird socialist ritual that also involves measuring the physical attributes of young men with an uncomfortable similarity to a sordid era of our nation’s past. Increasingly, there is incontrovertible evidence of the danger of the game. Even so, the popularity never ebbs.
And that’s just the actual game of football. Then there’s the element of fantasy football that adds another layer of bad games thriving. Whereas the sport is played by individuals on teams, private people all over the world draft the individuals on those teams, compare individual production of their assembled personages against their friends, and fight in pitched stat-battle warfare on a weekly basis. Imagine a sub-game of Magic: The Gathering where all you do is pick pro players to do well on the pro tour.
Keep in mind, of the the myriad of players on the field, only the players with easily measured metrics are drafted and assembled for statistical battles. You almost never have individual defenders on your team. On offense, roughly half of team is equally unusable (even if they’re perhaps the most important players on the field!). The game elements of it (picking people you think will do well in another game of which you have no control) are unlike most other game I’ve played. There’s strategy to drafting a roster, and managing it, against other members of the league, but that’s it. The game transpires without any actual game player from fantasy football players. Fantasy football links me socially with non-gaming friends, across states and timezones, in a way that no other shared activity has quite managed. It’s a game I play and endlessly dissect (don’t even get me started on my Byzantine keeper league) even though I fundamentally think fantasy football is generously mediocre.
So what makes this all so special? There’s something compelling about the NFL and its ancillary activities as a mammoth cultural touchstone. The Super Bowl is so culturally important that the paid advertisements are marquee events for non-football fans. Somehow, the very thing that’s killing the rest of live broadcasts is a draw when the NFL engages in its annual spectacle. That’s bananas! The myriad of problems don’t detract from pro football’s role in modern America. The same could be said about baseball in an earlier time in America, or soccer overseas. Sometimes I wonder if all the NFL’s problems somehow add to its brand.
And that’s where my serial novel comes in. There’s something about slicing and dicing these sporting and cultural elements that fascinates me. Gaming is baked into my understanding of the world. The nature of gaming itself is something I unpack and experiment with in my serial novel The Great Game. With my interlocking short stories, I try to examine life and games in a way unique to my experience, but relatable to everyone.