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Latest Madden NFL video game takes concussions seriously

By Alan Schwarz
New York Times / April 3, 2011

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NEW YORK — Madden NFL 12, the coming version of the eerily true-to-life NFL video game played by millions of gamers, will be realistic enough not only to show players receiving concussions, but also to show any player who sustains one being sidelined for the rest of the game, no exceptions.

Beyond that, in the background, the game’s announcers will explain that the player was removed because of the seriousness of head injuries.

Player animations, now sophisticated enough to depict Peyton Manning’s throwing motion and Randy Moss’s distinctive gait, will not display helmet-to-helmet tackles, hits to the heads of defenseless players, or dangerous head-first tackling, said Phil Frazier, the executive producer of Madden 12.

John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach for whom the game is named and who is involved in its development, said that the impetus for the changes was twofold: to further hone the game’s realism, and to teach youngsters to play football more safely.

“Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game,’’ Madden said in a telephone interview. “If you get a concussion, that’s a serious thing and you shouldn’t play,’’ he said. “Or leading with the head, you want to eliminate. We want that message to be strong.’’

Frazier described the game, which will be released in August regardless of any NFL work stoppage, as “a teaching tool.’’

“I wouldn’t say this is a full public-service announcement, but it’s a means to educate,’’ he said.

The Madden changes regarding concussions and tackling will drastically affect how youngsters view head injuries, experts said. Football concussions have been covered heavily in national newspapers and television news programs, and augmented plots on shows like “Law & Order’’ and “Grey’s Anatomy,’’ but not in anything with the reach of the Madden franchise among video game players.

According to industry data, 90 million copies of the video game have been sold in its 22 years, including 5 million of last year’s version.

“It’s a great approach to teach kids in a way that no one else can reach,’’ said Chris Nowinski, the co-director of the Sports Legacy Institute and a former Harvard football player, who speaks at schools and summer camps about the seriousness of concussions.

In November, after a Toyota television advertisement showed a mother worrying about her son playing football and depicted teenage players crashing helmet-to-helmet into one another, the NFL complained to Toyota executives and threatened to revoke the carmaker’s game sponsorship unless the ad was reworked. Toyota capitulated.

The NFL fully supported the changes to Electronic Arts’ Madden video game, league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Forbidding players to play through concussions reflects new NFL protocols regarding head injuries, which in real life bring short- and long-term health risks, and among teenagers occasionally death. It also mirrors many laws that have passed or are being considered by states to protect young athletes.

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