- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

For the legion of control-pad jockeys who have made “MaddenNFL” both an annual best-seller and a pop-culture phenomenon, Tuesday’s arrival of the franchise’s newest iteration had the makings of an unofficial national holiday: late-Monday-night purchasing lines outside electronics stores, a surge in online excitement and competitive trash talk, and a rash of dubious sick-day call-ins to work.

Now in its 23rd year, the “Madden” football video game has become nearly as much of a national obsession as the sport it simulates, with cumulative sales exceeding 70 million copies, a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a branded ESPN television series and numerous NFL players among the title’s devoted followers. Nevertheless, within the gaming community, there are hundreds - maybe thousands - of dissidents, united by a rejection of all things “MaddenNFL.”

“I didn’t even know the game was coming out this week,” said Anthony Orenga, a 25-year-old software developer from Madison, Wis.

Within the fast-evolving, “New-New-Thing” worlds of pop culture and consumer electronics, such recalcitrance is downright bizarre.

Do movie buffs cling to VHS players? When was the last time you saw a Walkman at the gym?

“It’s like the guy walking around with a big old Gordon Gekko cellphone that you snap into a shoulder case,” said Shawn Drotar, editor of the online sports gaming blog 5WGaming.com. “The people holding out, they’re a little entrenched.”

Don’t get the wrong idea: Like many men his age, Mr. Orenga plays video games. He loves professional football, too.

Yet while other avid football gamers spent Monday evening eagerly awaiting the release of “MaddenNFL 12” - Christmas Eve in August - Mr. Orenga unwound with “Tecmo Bowl,” a football game that came out two decades ago. This relic features archaic two-button controls and crude, pixilated graphics that are to “MaddenNFL‘s” complex, eight-button scheme and high-definition, photo-realistic glory what a Sopwith Camel is to an F-117 Stealth Fighter.

Why hold out?

For some “Madden” refuseniks, the answer lies in nostalgia, the same gauzy impulse that informs both Proust and the ongoing popularity of retro-style, 1980s cartoon character T-shirts.

Mr. Orenga, for instance, was born in 1986 and grew up controlling virtual versions of gridiron stars Bo Jackson and Jerry Rice in “Tecmo Bowl” on the Nintendo Entertainment System - the dominant video-game console of the Reagan era, home to “Super Mario Bros.” and “Duck Hunt.”

While later attending Penn State University, Mr. Orenga was surprised and delighted to discover a website, TecmoBowl.org, where a community of gamers was still playing an approximated version of his favorite childhood game, complete with leagues, tournaments and reprogrammed team rosters that featured the names and stats of current pro football players.

A Facebook page devoted to “Tecmo Bowl” has about 9,000 members, while roughly 200 gamers regularly participate in online leagues, said Matt Knobbe, a technology consultant from Lincoln, Neb., who runs TecmoBowl.org.

Yearly “Tecmo Bowl” tournaments held in Madison, New York City and other locations around the country draw between 32 and 144 gamers. Most participants, Mr. Knobbe said, are in their 20s or 30s.

MaddenNFL” tournament and online play can be a competitive hothouse, with thousands of gamers - many of them teenagers - going head-to-head for cash, bragging rights and the opportunity to play in professional video-game leagues.

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