Madden NFL 07 might be the greatest capitalist work of art ever created. On a flimsy videogame disc resides an interactive rendering of the game of football. It's all there: the football stadiums, the football players, the footballs themselves. More importantly, the play is there: gridlocks on the gridiron during which a single heft of my joystick urges a deep grunt out of my onscreen counterpart before he shoulders through a line of defense. With an out-of-the-way button-press, I become the ball carrier, and I book down the field huffing great breaths, leaning the joystick sideways to avoid the linebacker closing in behind me. He tackles me, but with a frantic rush from my finger to the 'sprint' button, I hop free, pivoting on one leg as I twist out of his grasp.
This thing -- this cheap, mass-produced piece of plastic technology -- contains a replica of football. Not just football as it is played in reality (where there are no buttons that stop the ball in midair). Madden's football transcends the television stream (where I can't make my favorite team win). In the simulacra of Madden NFL 07, I experience the complete aesthetic of football. When the game is paused, the screen displays stadium-swooping camera angles that are impossible in reality. They capture the mass of digital sports fans moving in independent waves. When pause is unpaused and time starts and it's time to kick a field goal, I can feel the pressure of an entire stadium upon me.
After the dark gobbly voice of John Madden told me to "come on," I caught a long, lofty pass at the far end of the field. I tucked the ball into my right armpit before dropping my left hand onto the midnight-crested helmet of the St. Louis Rams' Fakhir Brown, who was coming up behind me. I shoved his dreadlocked neck into the turf. The crowd stood. They should: Americans love football.
THE GOOD: Madden NFL 07 contains the full package of football bound together in a single game. After years of adding unnecessary features (last year's role-playingesque "Superstar Mode," for example), EA Sports has improved the most important part of the game: running with the football. Sprinting, eluding, and scoring keep my hands busy on the controller the moment I get the ball. Of course I can still construct a superstar, but now the game actually becomes football-like as soon as I hold the ball in his hands.
THE BAD: The game's overabundance of details results in a clogged stream of counterintuitive menus. It's very hard to figure out what to do other than play football.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Go home, turn on the TV, cancel cable, play Madden.