Madden NFL 12 a Concussion Teaching Tool?

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For too long, young kids were unaware of the dangers associated with football concussions. If your head got dinged, conventional wisdom favored just toughing it out and getting back in the game. Now it seems concussion awareness is about to reach a whole new level, because education about it is coming to game consoles everywhere.

In the latest edition of the wildly popular, true-to-life Madden football video game, players who sustain a concussion will no longer be able to enter the game. This feature mimics the NFL’s stronger “return-to-play” policies that were installed last season. When a player is sidelined, the game’s announcers, Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth, will then explain why the player is no longer in the game, and warn about the dangers of head injuries. The game will also no longer feature helmet-to-helmet tackles, hits to the heads of defenseless receivers, or headfirst tackling–dangerous techniques the NFL is trying to eradicate from the sport through tougher fines (though many NFL players have vocally objected to these anti-violence rules).

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The importance of these new developments cannot be overstated. Last year’s version of Madden NFL, produced by EA Sports, sold over 5.5 million copies. (The new edition, Madden NFL 12, will be released in August). The NFL and health experts have done plenty of public safety announcements and concussion clinics, but they’ve never reached out to all those millions of Madden fans–in particular, its youngest ones–until now.

“I am excited that EA Sports recognized the unique opportunity they have to educate our youngest athlete on concussions,” said Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Sports Legacy Institute–one of the most prominent concussion education groups in the country–in a statement to Techland. “Whether you see Madden as ‘just a video game’ or not, this is recognition that the concussion crisis is too large to pass on this chance to reach six-year-olds.”

Some gamers are complaining that PSAs in a video game reek of needless political correctness. “The games were more fun when you had two buttons and if you knocked the snot out of someone an ambulance would drive onto the field,” wrote one message board commenter. The comment glosses over a relatively common problem that can result in serious, life-altering health problems. Madden fans should have no trouble acclimating to the new features, and if anything, they bolster the core appeal of the game–it’s realism.

A downside: Thanks to the NFL lockout, not as many kids may be getting the Madden message. If the current labor strife continues into the season and games are cancelled, one analyst predicts that Madden sales may be slashed in half.