When good vibrations led to touchdowns

I remember it well, that electrifying experience of watching 22 plastic players vibrate on the field as my brother and I screamed at our players to do anything even remotely resembling what occurs in real gridiron football. If you were offense, you screamed even louder, wishing against all wishes, hoping against all hope that your team would make a coordinated and vibrated effort to move the ball closer to the end zone.

Truthfully, there wasn’t any coordination, but there was plenty of loud buzzing as your 11 team members vibrated wildly down the field—or up the field or across the field or in tight circles anywhere on the field, depending on the unpredictable characteristics of the shiny metal turf. Would there be a touchdown this time? Please, let there be a touchdown, just this once!

I’m talking about Electric Football. My brother and I were having fun with this game sometime in the mid-1960s, long enough ago that today’s gamers with their Madden NFL 15 or other digital football games might find it hard to imagine that little plastic men in undistinguishable uniforms could be propelled to glory by an electrical charge.

 Although we had options like punting or kicking field goals, they were just as likely to fail as was the man with the little felt football that was on a vibrating path that hopefully ended in the promised land. The right promised land, that is.

And speaking of field goals, in Electric Football, each team included a plastic phenom with a catapult leg that was capable of “kicking” the puny pigskin through the goal posts, and even way beyond the boundaries of the stadium. But unless you were lucky or highly skilled with these kickers, the only play resembling an actual field goal would be my brother or me flicking a player through the goal posts out of frustration because the ball carrier vibrated up the field for a touchback when he should have vibrated down the field for a touchdown. I remember there being a lot of touchbacks, but far fewer than there were players just vibrating off the field as if they’d lost their desire to play.

Times have changed, of course. Mine and my brother’s Electric Football game is long gone (though you can still find versions of it for sale on eBay). Consider that early versions of Electric Football used solid-color plastic players to represent whatever team you favored. That worked great, as long as you didn’t mind an all-yellow team). Yesterday’s teams were comprised of 3D unknowns without statistics or college pedigree. Today’s games emulate the actions of professional athletes. In fact, Madden NFL 15 pulls game updates throughout the real NFL season and updates player ratings in the game.

But maybe times haven’t changed as much as technology has. Sure, with Madden NFL 15 games can be saved in the cloud and synced to other devices, but it’s still just a game. Win or lose, it can be a lot of fun. And it allows us to compete in a game whose outcome can never be fully predicted. Likewise, it allows us to keep things in perspective, unlike the old days when you could flick a player across the field and through the goalposts for an extra point.

Be sure to read Mozy’s blog next week. It will feature an infographic about the progression of the football video game. From plastic and metal to LED blips, to trackball to showboating and even late hits, we can still enjoy the game without turning on the TV.