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Breaking Madden: RGIII burns down Washington

One of the most exciting quarterbacks of the decade is a third-string quarterback on America's worst sports franchise. They don't deserve to be happy. In this episode, Robert Griffin III plays defensive end for all 16 of Washington's opponents. This is the quest for 0-16.

If I were made owner of Washington's football team, I would immediately move the team to Brooklyn, change the team name and logo, and make the uniforms pink, because I think pink is a great color that is under-represented in sports, and also because it would make dumb guys mad. I would like this franchise to lose every shred of its identity, everything that makes it itself, until the entire franchise is an empty bucket that can be filled with a football team capable of justifying its own existence.

In the, I don't know, ninth-worst thing Washington has ever done, they drafted Robert Griffin III, watched him assemble one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and, as my pal Rodger Sherman neatly lays out here, spent the next couple years effectively ruining him. Upon ruin they've piled indignity: having skipped the second rung altogether, Griffin is now Washington's third-string quarterback. He's playing defense with the scout team, a practice unheard of for a marquee quarterback.

Breaking Madden does not know how to fix, say, institutional racism. It doesn't know how to convince some dumbass white guy in Reston that he doesn't get to play "puppet show" with a millennia-old genocide-suffered society of people for the sake of dotting the i on his tradition. It doesn't know what to say to the person who will show up in the comments below to shout "REDSKINS," a word that person would almost certainly be too chickenshit to say out loud in the company of Native Americans.

But it does know how to simulate Washington's football destruction at the hands of RGIII. It is fiction, and sometimes the dumb guys get to win in the real world, and sometimes fiction is all we've got.

Music: "Maggie's Farm" by Rage Against The Machine

The setup for this one is a three-phase operation.


Washington wants him to play defense, so he'll play defense. We're also cranking all his skill ratings up to 99. Hit power, speed, strength, and every other relevant quality is completely maxed out.


For all 16 games, new Washington starter Kirk Cousins will be staring down the barrel at Robert Griffin III, albeit in a different uniform every week.

I'll be simulating via Madden's franchise mode, which I've tended to avoid in the past. Over the last few years, I've run into all sorts of different bugs in this mode that undid or invalidated large amounts of work. Maybe this year it'll be different? (I am lying. It will not be different, because Electronic Arts is a very small company that cannot afford to fix bugs.)


I'm not out to hassle Washington. I'm out to destroy them. I need Kirk Cousins to have as little time to work as possible. I want a billion interceptions and an 0-16 season.

To that end, I needed the weakest offensive line possible. I needed people who would let down their Cousins. So this is how I recruited y'all:

Y'all had stories. Good God, y'all had stories:

In all, I selected the ten of you who had the most captivating, shameful stories of all. You can pick through the rubble here:



Before we proceed: some of y'all longtime readers might recall that in an episode of Breaking Madden from last year, I gave Washington solid-colored helmets, thereby removing the offensive imagery. That isn't happening this time, and the short explanation is that, in franchise mode with this particular setup, Madden wouldn't let me. Another explanation is that I think we ought to let the Washington Redskins be known for what they are: an organization that proudly -- not just without shame, but with pride -- trots out racist language and imagery that offends a strong majority of Native Americans. They're not just denigrating another culture, they're bringing shame upon themselves, and I can imagine a future in which everyone sees it that way.

Political correctness has crept into your sports content and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. Furthermore, I am taller than you. Time for football!


Throughout this season, I picked up the controller and played as Robert Griffin III for as long the game would let me (more on that later). And y'all, it was a delight.


This is like watching the blasting caps pop off under the Highway 11 Blockbuster, with timing far more precise than it ever deserved. Collingborn got laid out here, and in fact, the entire Washington offensive line was reduced to human finish-line tape.


I've made these hyper-crummy O-lines several times before in Breaking Madden, and I never get tired of it. With each release of Madden, they seem to take on a slightly different character. In Madden NFL 25, they toppled over in tandem, like a picket fence. In Madden NFL 15, they often stumbled and fell of their own accord.

This year, it seems, they're little dummies who completely misunderstand the reason they're there. This game's "Awareness" setting really is what it says on the can. Pull it down to zero, and they fail to understand what football is, who they are, or what they're supposed to be doing. They lack purpose and any sense of object permanence. The artificial intelligence code in their dumb little hearts stops after three lines.



Luke Zimmermann has declined to participate. He is the Alvin York of football, and he isn't alone.


Poor Kirk Cousins, y'all. I don't have anything against Cousins specifically. The real-life Kirk Cousins has a job to do, and he's doing it, and I don't think he's a bad quarterback. He's just Not Robert Griffin III, the dude who spent years electrifying the football world. Remember all the ridiculous things he pulled off at Baylor? Remember his 76-yard touchdown run against the Vikings in 2012? I miss watching him, and Kirk Cousins is not him. KAPOW.

Oh, speaking of! I turned Kirk Cousins' stats way down, because this is a work of fantasy and not simulation. His "Speed" rating is a flat zero.


He runs at walking speed. Madden doesn't have its "walking" animation at the ready in the middle of a play -- why would it? -- so he just makes Cousins run-walk. Note that Griffin, No. 92,  doesn't even have a chance to touch him. His teammates robbed him of lots of sacks. The O-line's resistance was so absent that defenders could usually just charge at Cousins in a straight line.

RGIII still racked up plenty of sacks of his own. But he's never celebrated a sack before, and it shows.



As I noted in this season's premiere, Madden NFL 16 features a lot of new player animations. The folks in that department definitely put the work in. Players do different stuff, tackle in different ways, and just move a little more naturally than they used to.

So I decided to take Washington to the practice field and see what they


what oh god

I didn't do that. Okay? I'm not responsible for that. Cousins ran into one of his offensive linemen and just ... started doing that. Like, for several minutes. The rest of the team literally walked away and these two were still at it after five minutes.

Is this Problematic Football? Eh, I don't know. I'm not in the business of telling y'all what to do.


Do any of y'all remember the computer game Lemonade Stand? It was a business simulation for grade-school kids, which sounds like the worst thing on Earth, but I loved it as a kid. In short, you operated a lemonade stand. You checked the weather, noted the day of the week, attempted to identify patterns in the market, and used that to inform the quantity and quality of lemonade ingredients to buy. It was the best.

I think that's kind of what Madden has been going for with its franchise mode. A few years ago, they introduced the ability to set price points for stadium tickets, concessions, and merchandise. They forgot, however, to provide any sort of meaningful barometer for what works or doesn't. "Potato chips at $4 are a bad value!" the fans say. Okay, let's sell them for $3. "Potato chips at $3 are a good value!" Cool, so is that good? What does it get me? More to the point, what the hell did I just do beyond turning a couple knobs you told me to turn?

It's one of the worst minigames I've ever seen. Madden has kept it around, unchanged, for years.


It's just blind trial-and-error. I suppose I would have thought changing the price of popcorn was neat if I were ten years old, but this "game" is really just a static trial-and-error sequence that doesn't reward creativity or skill, just button-pushing. If this is a game, so are those old Playskool cobbler's benches with the plastic hammer and nails.

But as long as I'm in Franchise mode, then hell, I might as well make life miserable for the e-people of Landover. As you can see above, I've cranked up all the prices as high as the game would let me. What's that yellow dash? Is that an indicator light that indicates "yield"? Is it a minus sign? What is it supposed to communicate? Who gives a shit? Not the people who made this game, and least of all me! I'm just gonna ignore it and price-gouge these assholes into the stratosphere all season long.

And this is where it gets great. Madden furnishes a little social-media feed that lets me read my team's Twitter mentions from all the poor suckers who are paying $140 for mezzanine tickets and $10 for a Coke. Full credit to Electronic Arts here: this is one of the most accurate simulations of the Internet I have ever seen.


I know this person. You probably know this person. It's your high school friend who's carpet-bombing your Facebook feed because they charged a gratuity at the Bennigan's. It's everyone who photographs the name written on their cup of coffee, which they ignorantly misspelled as "Megan" instead of "Mheeeeeehehuggg'eeaahahghgho'ho';hheeahgnn" or whatever. It's the sportswriters who publicly tweet-blast Delta because their magical flying machine was delayed for safety reasons so they would not die. The Internet did not make us dumb and unhappy. We were always like this.

Also, feel free to bask in the artificial glow of a world in which the NFL's #greed is limited to jacking up peanuts a couple bucks, rather than wrangling hundreds of millions from cash-starved governments and leaving inner-city kids to eat ketchup for lunch.


The architects of this minigame forgot to provide alternately-styled variables that read well in other contexts. That is how we end up with Soft Pretzel, the world's worst male escort.


oh god the novelty coffee mug is tweeting


i hate you


i wish you were dead


Well, this one actually kind of makes me feel bad. Not for the kid, who is really coming off as a little shit here, but for this parent, who experienced the regret, and maybe even shame, of lacking the means to buy their kids something nice. Part of me is deathly afraid of ever becoming a parent. I think I'd collapse into emotional goop if I ever felt like I somehow failed them. I suspect that people toughen up upon becoming parents, but until then, I can't even dog-sit for an hour without feeling immense guilt because the dog is bored. I don't know if I have the backbone for parenthood. I guess I'll just dork around with a video game and try to make the dumb football guys fall down until I die and let the government bury me. Next slide.


Oh, good. I realize I'm spending tons of time on these tweets, but y'all really have to get to know Shopmaster, who tweeted at me more than anybody.

The real Shopmaster is a Madden community personality who seems like a cool enough dude. This Shopmaster is the most insufferable person you can imagine: petty, stupid, verbose, and extraordinarily weird. Are you ... is this a compliment? Are you complimenting me for having a new parking lot? Like, the ... like the asphalt is new or something? This is the only nice thing he ever had to say to me: he liked the asphalt.


I like the number 47,398,817,002, but Jesus is a triangle.


well cool, just be sure to log it in your fitbit


On multiple occasions, Shopmaster just blew up my entire feed.

"The Fan Zone is too small and old. It scared my toddler." His two-year-old was frightened by some arbitrary part of the stadium because it was not fancy enough. That doesn't make any-- oh my God, Shopmaster is @dril.



That is an original screenshot that I didn't edit. Just wanted y'all to know that.

I finished this experiment, but I kind of had to stagger through it and adjust my plans. Originally, I wanted Robert Griffin III to sack Kirk Cousins as many times as physically possible over the course of a season. The real-life single-season record is 22.5 sacks. I wanted, like, 300, and I wanted to record them all.

Once I got a few games into the season, Madden NFL 16 started to lock up frequently and unpredictably. By the seventh game, I usually couldn't pull up instant replay without the entire game crashing. If I were making the game do extraordinarily strange things, I could forgive this, but I really wasn't. I made a few user-created characters and switched RGIII to defensive end. That's it. On one occasion, Madden inexplicably saved over my roster file with one that was missing all the user characters and placed RGIII as a linebacker on the Packers, which is something I definitely never did, nor came close to doing. All told, I think the bugs threw 20 or 30 hours of work out the window.

And Hell, I'm used to it. I've encountered the same level of glitch with every Madden game since 2010. Electronic Arts has very plainly demonstrated that it's happy to keep watering this little buggy weed garden they've got. That is the relatively tiny price I pay for getting to do this for my job.

What's rotten, though, is that lots of people play this game and invest tons of their time into it. The worst, most game-ruining bugs in this game all seem to strike in Franchise mode, the one that asks for so much time investment. You can Google the last half-dozen Madden titles with the word "freezes," and you'll find big long threads full of disappointed folks for all of them. It's been years and years. More than half a decade. EA continues to not give a shit and take their money and know that there is no other football game for these people to buy.

I thank them, at least, for tying nicely into this narrative about Washington, a franchise that stubbornly refuses -- on an actual grown-up, important scale -- to change its course and stop wronging the people it's wronging. They won't change their name for the foreseeable future, because that would require a moral imperative, and that part of their engine is missing.

The science fiction of Washington's football team doing the decent thing can only exist in the realm of fantasy. So that's what it will do:

Music: "Wash." by Bon Iver

The previous episode of Breaking Madden is here.
The full archive of the first two seasons of Breaking Madden is here.