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Like real life football, the Madden NFL community contains players with diversity of competitiveness and experience. Pitting players of varied levels together in a single arena presents challenges developers seek solutions for annually. The equation of how to create enjoyable Madden experiences for new and old players alike without alienating either has variables that are ever shifting? Much of a player's enjoyment relies on his attitudes toward his own development.  How can we play together in harmony?

In our article, titled "Chess or Cheese?" we discussed the types of Madden NFL players seeking to play competitively and placed them into four categories. Now we discuss what these players should expect from one another each time we play online.
If we make a quick scan of Madden NFL communities, we will no doubt find references to terms that are foreign to football.  Rocket Catching, Nano Blitzing, Jetpacking, or Making it Rain can even make football savvy players scratch their heads as they discern what these terms mean. The effect of the odd terms skew the perception of some of football's most basic concepts. The nicknames of the Madden community make some of the age old football techniques and tactics of the game seem cheap and unethical. The phenomenon of giving the most basic actions kooky names leads communities to adopt even more potentially confusing terms like STR8, SIM, TOURNEY, and FREESTYLE that befuddle the masses to describe players and styles. With all the nicknames, it obscures one of the most realistic differences between playing football and watching it - RESPONSIBILITY.

Responsibility in Madden means facing the consequences of our decisions: Good, Bad, and Ugly. It means staying in games that are not going our way, accepting the heat for questionable play calls, and working toward becoming more competitive. After all, the thrill of competition tends to override the fun factor whenever scores are kept. To maintain the idea of simulation, players must accept responsibility.

In real life, everyone in the stadium has a responsibility. What we watch on the field is actually the result of years of preparation by highly trained athletes. These athletes drill for hours in the hot sun, learn 100's of plays, and stretch their bodies to the limits to produce 3-hours of football they hope they can be proud of at game's end.  A player's position with the team depends on his preparation and his ability to adapt mentally and perform physically.  It's a players responsibility to come to camp in shape and ready to play football.  Players must be responsible for their performance. 

Players aren't the only ones who have to show ready at game time. By the time we see a game, coaches have slept in their offices, stressed over how to replace players, and pared their playbooks down to the few plays their team has practiced and is able to execute against a specific opponent.  Coaches are responsible for remaining flexible and responding to contingencies could potentially occur during a game. The coach's ability to prepare his team to win is what earns, protects, and safeguards his position with the team.  Coaches must be responsible for their players and themselves. 

Even fans at the stadium have a responsibility at game time. They must be aware of the effect of their voices, and use them to help propel their team to victory. Crowds must know when cheering disrupts opponents communications and when quiet allows their team to operate.  Hyped players get an extra burst of adrenaline when fans charge the stadium with energy. It's a fans responsibility to know how and when their cheers will best help their team.

Madden players have responsibilities too. Because they split the duties of coach, player, and fan; they assume the responsibilities of each. That means it's up to the player to prepare himself, both mentally and physically, to prepare for the rigors of playing Madden.  Madden players must be aware of the personnel, assignments, and timing of each play they call.  Madden players are responsible for making necessary pre-snap adjustments on every play.  Madden players are responsible for charting tendencies and responding with the appropriate strategies and tactics to keep their opponents guessing.  Madden NFL players are also responsible for performing physically on the field.  They must train their thumbs to instinctively react to ever changing on field action. 

Winning isn't the only thing on the line. The character of their Madden experience depends on their responsibility.  Players that fail to accept their responsibility to prepare will undoubtedly face stiff opposition that could potentially soil their Madden experience beyond repair, create mistrust between players, and inspire ire toward developers.

For years, we continue to debate whether any of the 'realism' players seek can be found in Madden.  Many see unconventional tactics as an attack on the game's artificial intelligence (AI).  Others see those same tactics as age old football concepts applied in a different way. While some players simulate truly aggressive tactics, others shy away from them as a matter of honor.  The result is a level of confusion that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to draw the line between one player cheating and another simply being unprepared.

One thing is sure, attempting to simulate realistic NFL play can't happen without practice. If an NFL team shared the same philosophy on practice and preparation as many in the Madden community, they would face embarrassing defeats. Similarly to the way Pop Warner players learning the game are not pit to play against NFL players, Madden pros should not be pit against Madden newbies - ESPECIALLY IN ONLINE RANKED GAMES. The level of responsibility between players simply does not lend itself to creating an equal playing field. The experience factor creates imbalance between players, but not more than the responsibility factor. Simply put: Players that take responsibility for improving their own play win more games.

Time is one excuse players use to escape their responsibility to improve. As players age, life responsibilities have a way of bumping Madden as a priority. Jobs and home demands can sap players of the practice time they need to be competitive. With so many things on their schedules, it can become tough to devote the necessary hours to developing as a Madden player.  In those instances, Madden players must find ways to maximize the little practice time that is available. 

Perspective is another reason players don't take their responsibility to improve seriously. With Madden selling over 5 million copies annually, it stands to reason that many Madden players who may have watched football for years might not have any experience playing football. Their idea of what "real football" is comes from what they have witnessed on the field.  They have not considered the effort that goes into something as simple as the quarterback and center perfecting the snap, because they don't see it on television. Madden strategies outside of their spectator-style view of the game are deemed unconventional regardless of whether the style has been used in the NFL or not. Many Madden strategies derived from lesser used NFL tactics are considered to be outside the realm of simulation, especially if they are effective.

Some may ask, "How can I practice when I'm so busy?" Many who share this query are too pressed for time to raise their Madden skills. Strategy guides are available for those who invest money to trim their preparation time. Other sources offer live practice sessions with tournament tested players, designed to focus on the most important skills. The remainder go it alone to ratchet up their performance.  Oddly, the players that are too busy to accept their responsibility to practice still have time to play. 

The truth is neither football nor Madden is for the faint of heart; although many players who are faint of heart buy and play Madden every year.  Ultimately, it comes down to dedication. Much like football, Madden is a game for those that are consistently persistent. A game best experienced by players who get up after being knocked down. A Madden player's enjoyment is directly proportional to their dedication and the level of responsibility they commit to becoming a better player. 

Players set on having a fun experience must recognize that to have fun, they must have success - and success comes at a price. Success may cost time, pride, and sometimes even the fun we desire to have.  Before we develop into the players we can be, each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and our opponents to develop. Even slow plodding development of skills is better than no improvement. With emphasis on learning new lessons, even the newest most unprepared players can find some joy in discovery of techniques that may help them succeed in future games.

Once we embrace our responsibility to ourselves and our opponents, the true nature of simulation becomes apparent. It is not the end result that makes a technique simulation or not, but the processes that combine to lead to that result.  Without the desire to simulate practice habits to get prepared for games, players have not done their due diligence and fail in their responsibility. Without the drive to practice and improve, little about a player's experience will simulate the NFL experience.  Preparation and responsibility are the key to the simulation most of us crave.

In conclusion, players are affected by their perspective of simulation.  Spectators may not have factored in the sheer amount of preparation that goes into the simplest of plays, while those who are serious about Madden pursue greatness with their whole heart. For Madden to be a true simulation it must be approached from the field up, not the stands down. Players that treat Madden like it is 'just a game' that should be more fun than challenging, are soon to be embarrassed. Players that practice like pros play like pros. Each will find success equal to their level of dedication. Taking responsibility is merely the first stepping stone on the journey to success.

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