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What Major League Baseball and Strategy Video Games Have in Common

What Major League Baseball and Strategy Video Games Have in Common: 'Final Fantasy Tactics'

'Final Fantasy Tactics'

As the youngest child and only girl in my family growing up, I idolized my older brothers. They were cool, you know? They were really good at sports and video games (until I learned how to button mash, then nobody could beat me as Katana in Mortal Kombat 2), and were super smart and caring. I wanted to do everything like them. So, when my mom asked me, as a four-year old, whether I wanted to go into dancing or baseball, I picked baseball so I could follow in my brothers’s footsteps (and show them how cool I was, of course).

I played baseball for almost 14 years and harbor a love of it that nowadays only comes out at bars when my friends talk too much about football and I get bored and want to antagonize them. “Yeah, well,” I typically say, “baseball is more of a strategy-type game.” Usually they roll their eyes at me, aware that I’m trolling them out of boredom.

But then something happened: one of them called my bluff with a direct “how so?”

This question got me thinking a lot about how Major League Baseball (MLB) is almost exactly like playing a strategy video game. Beyond baseball, I also developed a love of strategy video games from my brothers. Shining Force was a big one in our household, and it led to an obsession in me games like Final Fantasy: Tactics Advanced, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Valkyria Chronicles. Once I really looked at it, I was surprised just how similar MLB and strategy video games are, despite being vastly different in appearance and goal (and one being a professional sport and the other being an on-the-surface unrelated video game).

Strategy video games employ two basic elements: terrain that shifts and is dynamic, and different types of units that can be deployed on that terrain. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, choosing Pegasus knights and wyvern riders is your best bet in desert levels because of their large movement range. Or selecting archers with long bows is an effective way to cut down the enemy’s flying units from afar. In strategy games, you need to consider both terrain and the enemy unit’s strengths and weaknesses. The terrain and levels are as much of an opponent as the enemy units are, in a way. Just like in MLB stadiums.

In real life, MLB baseball stadiums have these quirky traits, as well. Baseball stadiums aren’t standardized, mostly for historical reasons. These differences appear mostly in the length of the outfield (some stadiums, such as Fenway Park in Boston, have a shorter outfield because of the way the stadium was built between city streets). Meanwhile Denver’s Coors Field has a longer outfield than Fenway Park, but it also has lower air pressure (see the sidebar), allowing balls to be hit farther.

Coors Field (Photo c. Matt Kozlowski)

Coors Field (Photo c. Matt Kozlowski)

In Vaklyria Chronicles, scouts (who can move greater distances due to their higher stamina), work well in levels that require covering a lot of ground fast. The same principle applies when selecting batters in stadiums with longer outfields: who can get the most speed and distance? Coors Field also has a larger foul territory than other stadiums. What this means is that it’s in the Colorado Rockies’ benefit to have pitchers who can cause batters to hit more foul pop-ups.

The lack of standardization in baseball stadiums in real life is what makes the game interesting. There are favourite stadiums because the stadiums have their own characteristics, in the same way fans of strategy games have favourite terrain types (I will only grudgingly play levels set in cities in Valkyria Chronicles; I much prefer to use the cover of trees and hills in outdoor levels).

Beyond this, though, both professional major league baseball games and strategy video games prioritize stats in players and units. In strategy games, especially games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where you are given a range of characters within the same unit, selecting based off stats is paramount. You want soldiers with high HP and Aim, as well as though that have strong stat growth. It’s the same with baseball; you score batters by looking at their stats, such as at bat (AB), batting average (BA), equivalent average (EQA), home runs (HR), runs batted in (RBI).

‘Fire Emblem: Awakening’

Additionally, it’s not just about which character or athlete is the best above all others: it’s about which ones work the best together in specific situations. Both MLB and strategy video games are constantly evolving and require diverse teams composed of differing, but essential individuals.

Now, given how bad most sports video games are these days, isn’t it time we got some kind of baseball-themed strategy game? Maybe changing up the genre entirely isn’t just a solution for wrestling games.


Kaitlin Tremblay is a writer, editor, and gamemaker. You can find her games and writing at her website www.thatmonstergames.com and on Twitter at @kait_zilla.


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