July 19, 2006

Game Dork

Games For CEOs

My date was late, so I decided to play video games until she came over. Usually, games are just for fun. But for a columnist, they're also a job. When my date did arrive, she looked puzzled, and she asked, "Are you're . . . playing video games?" Not convincingly, I said, "I'm working." She looked great, and I thought, "I work too much."

It was fitting that the game on my agenda that night felt more like work than play. In "NFL Head Coach," I don't get to throw 40-yard touchdowns and sack quarterbacks. Instead, I'm the coach. I hire players and other coaches. I design plays and watch them unfold.

I start in the coach's office. I surf my "Head Coach" computer for news about players to draft. I read emails.

Don't I play games to get away from emails?

I meet with the owner of the team. He says he wants the men on the team to score more touchdowns this season. Duh. I say OK. What else am I going to say?

I attend staff meetings where people say things — or more accurately, their words appear as captions on the TV screen — like, "Joe Chapman has experience in the defensive line coach position . . . He makes bad choices under pressure."

Don't I play games to avoid meetings like this?

Inspirational quotes from Hall of Fame coaches emerge on the screen. Don Shula says, "Get the job done."

The day after my date, I toiled with Shula and these chores for four hours; four hours of laboriously pitching salary proposals to unrestricted free agents, answering phones from players' agents and listening to stupid advice from underling coaches.

Finally, I thought, I can't handle all this work and I gave up on "Head Coach." I moved onto another game that could also appeal to CEO types. "GameTrak" (it's $70; "Head Coach" is $40) not only lets me play virtual golf on my Xbox or PlayStation 2, it's interactive.

"GameTrak" is the ultimate outing on the links for people who want to practice their swings at home. It's a contraption. It comes with gloves that are connected by wires to a bulky but unimposing box that sits at my feet. I swing the plastic golf club, and the wires read my swing very well.

On the TV, I see how my swing plays out. If I swing askew, I hook and slice the ball. If I swing correctly, I hit the ball perfectly down the fairway. I shoot about a 95. That's what I score on a real golf course, which is terrible.

It contrasts well with "Head Coach." There are no golf meetings with executives. No buying balls. Just golf.

It makes me wonder what kinds of gamers would be attracted to "NFL Head Coach." I don't mean that in a cruel way. "Head Coach" is clever. It's semi-intriguing. I just don't want to be a powerful, desk-jockeying, manipulator of beefy athletes.

I'd rather choose interactive activities, which is why I turned off "Head Coach" as soon as my date got this look on her face, like, "Do I really want to be in the same room with you?"

("GameTrak" — Plays fun. Looks good. Challenging. Rated "E." Four stars out of four.)

("NFL Head Coach" — Plays like you're working at an office. Looks OK. Easy. Rated "E." Two stars.)


"Call of Duty 2: Big Red One" is one of the more thrilling action games of the past year. You get to go to battle in Africa, Italy and other World War II locales. It's splendid to look at and shoot through. It's also selling for less than $20 in used-game stores. It's available for Xbox, PS 2 and GCube. It's rated "T" for blood, mild language and violence.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+"

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