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Failing the NHL 13 academy


I love sports, but I know next to nothing about hockey. Maybe my lack of NHL love has something to do with my Wisconsin upbringing, a sort of "no-man's land" for professional hockey. The Milwaukee Admirals AHL team doesn't excite me, and picking between the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings is an uncomfortable proposition.

My knowledge of the sport itself is even more limited. Aside from the terms "icing" and "line changes," hockey is alien to me. Joystiq recently ran an editorial discussing how simulation sports games don't do enough to assist people like me in learning the ropes in the sports they feature. To test that theory, I attempted to learn more about hockey through NHL 13.

Gallery: NHL 13 | 15 Photos

People liken hockey to soccer because of the game's consistent flow of offensive and defensive posturing (with goaltenders!). As a soccer fan, I'd hoped the comparison would help me understand the other nuances of hockey.

As I expected, the interactive tutorial in NHL 13 did well to teach me the basics of the game's mechanics and the ways I can replicate certain hockey actions; however, the tutorial neglected to explain the rules of the sport. Even "icing," a term I know as an established rule in hockey was absent.

I still felt lost in the world of hockey after my time with the interactive tutorial, and I wasn't prepared to search Google for "hockey rules" just yet. (Because that would go against the purpose of this experiment.)

I turned to NHL 13's 'Be a Pro' mode – which gives you a single player to control. My feeling was that playing as one man (or, for the first time, woman) on the ice would help me grasp how each component of the team works, before tackling an entire squad.

Failing the NHL 13 academy
'Be a Pro' did less to help me. The issue with this career mode is the amount of off the ice detail that demands your attention. After my first game, I'm given a detailed outline of the mode's XP system, stare down and tweak my player progression, and do things like check stats and ratings. The RPG-like aspects of the 'Be a Pro' mode served as distractions on my quest to learn about hockey.

NHL 13's manual also added to my overall confusion. In it are a laundry list of advanced controls you could ever need to succeed in NHL 13, but the manual doesn't elaborate on the differences between the myriad of passes players can make. In NHL 13's menu, the "rules" section added little explanation to settings for "offside" and "icing," only recommending that new players turn the two rules off (though they were on by default).

It was daunting to stare down all the tools I needed to win in NHL 13 and not understanding what most of them meant. When playing the game, I turned into a helpless button-masher, doing all in my power to stop my opponent from scoring.

While it's not the greatest environment to foster learning about the sport, playing games in NHL 13 helps place certain confusing parts of hockey into perspective during the action. During a few losses in 'Be a Pro' and through regular exhibition games, the game's commentary team of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement offered bits of insight into what happened on the ice. I quickly understood penalties such as "slashing" and how "offside" worked to an extent thanks to the context offered by the commentators. "Line changes" and "power plays" quickly became self-evident.

Still, I didn't find NHL 13 to be a particularly accessible game, as someone attempting to learn about both the series and the sport. Even if you'd question whether any sports sim video game should address newcomers, these games undoubtedly assume some level of experience with the sport. But EA's NHL 13 did help grow the seeds of intrigue I have for the sport of hockey.

I definitely want to learn about hockey now more than any moment before I put the disc in my console to begin with. Scoring my first goal or checking my first opponent into the boards offered hints of what I think I've been missing out on "the coolest game on earth."

In the video game industry, hockey's popularity seems to be growing. NHL 13 landed sixth spot on the September NPD results, despite launching in the middle of the month across two platforms versus the six platforms third-place FIFA 13 has been featured on.

I hate to think of NHL 13 as a $60 motivational tool, but it certainly had that effect for me, and it helps that it's a darn good game to boot. Thanks to EA Sports, I can't wait for the NHL season to commence ... what? There's a lockout? You have to be kidding me.

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