Eugenics in Pop Culture: Madden

Madden is a weird franchise when you really think about it named after a football coach who retired in the seventies after winning one Super Bowl but remained relevant as a broadcaster. It is a franchise that has gone on to not just define what a sports game is but monopolize the most popular sport in America on a professional level at least.

Now many complaints could be lobbied at Madden from its pay-to-win mechanics and microtransactions to its let’s say less than interested stance with regards to improving the game. Madden as a franchise is remarkable. In fact, one of the most beloved games of all time and often lauded as one of the best if not the best Madden of all time is Madden 07 and that’s really interesting because it’s one of the Madden games with eugenics.

What is Eugenics?

Eugenics

The term eugenics has roots dating back to the late 1800s, with it being a combination of the words eu – for good and gen – for birth roughly translating into “well-bred” or “good – stock”.

Eugenics has been utilized by people all across the globe though usually in service of right-wing ideologies in the name of “improving” the people of a nation. This can be seen in the ways it negatively impacted disparate groups. It has a long history as a justification for all manner of human rights violations such as sterilization whether in America targeting Black people or in Germany targeting the neuro-divergent and sexual minorities.

But Eugenics isn’t always used to limit the births of some groups, it is also used to promote the births in select groups. Positive Eugenics, while having a similar goal to negative eugenics that is, improving the gene pool, seeks not to limit births from dysgenic (poor-born) groups but to instead increase the births of “well-bred” people.

Georgia

What this meant in the real world was numerous campaigns across the world of the “undesirables” being sterilized, many without being informed or actively against their will.

As a tool of some of history’s greatest monsters, eugenics oddly enough has a large cultural cache in the West. Many people in the history of the West were noted and vocal advocates for eugenics, from civil rights activists Hellen Keller to W.E.B Dubois, to historical monsters Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler.

Eugenics is at its core something that despite being debunked time and time again scientifically and ethically is still a common enough idea that it bypasses those realms and lodges itself as “common sense”. Perhaps that’s how Marv Marinovich came to believe in it, and how it led to his son’s rise and fall.

The Tale of Todd Marinovich

Ethics notwithstanding, the popularity of eugenic thought is a curious trend. Tying this back to the premise of the article, eugenics and football aren’t such strange bedfellows.

One extremely notable case is that of the quarterback Todd Marinovich, who was raised from birth to get into the NFL. His father, Marvin Marinovich was a former NFL player, specifically a lineman. Marvin, for whatever reason pushed his body to its limit and ended up washing out of the NFL because his body couldn’t take it anymore, but the lesson he took from that wasn’t to calm down, it was instead to try again with his progeny.

Through what many would deem child abuse, raised his son to be an NFL prospect. From the moment his wife was pregnant with Todd, Marv limited her diet. He raised Todd on a strict training and diet regimen. He famously couldn’t eat his own birthday cake. He attracted national news with his training style and his son was viewed from high school as a potential NFL Quarterback. Sure enough, it did work, technically.

Todd did make it to the NFL. He was drafted in the first round, which is a high honor for a quarterback. However, the results were far less than expected. Todd’s career fizzled out due to his drug use and Marinovich ended up becoming a bit of a tragic cautionary tale for other prospects. It turns out raising a kid to be the “Robo QB”, the “perfect QB”, can get you to the NFL. It just destroys who you are and once you get there, it becomes harder to say.

The notion of making a child with the goal from birth to play in the NFL is as much a thing of fantasy as science fiction. While technically possible, the ethical quandaries alone would probably dissuade most.

Roll for parents

Madden

Eugenics is debunked and reviled in real life but it’s noticeable how people don’t pay attention to how easily the ideology of Eugenics is spread. This ideology of good breeding is reinforced in Madden 07 by way of selective breeding.

As you create a character you have the ability to re-roll for your mother and more importantly for the game, your father.

If you want a scrambling quarterback you better have a scrambling dad and if your dad was not a scrambling quarterback, good luck you’re going to be slower than dirt covered in molasses.

Madden

If you want the best start for your character you want your parents to be NFL Hall of Famer and Olympian respectively. This is contrary to history as while many players do have some legacy in their families very few players match their Hall of Fame fathers. Many don’t even play the same position, such as Tony and Anthony Dorsett, a Hall of Fame running back father and his son, who played defensive back. Many Hall of Famers come from families without any parental ties to the NFL, let alone Hall of Famers.

Of the cases of a Hall of Fame player having an even All-Pro level child in the NFL, it is extremely rare. In fact, of the 52 players in NFL history with lineage, most are aberrations to the otherwise uniform conclusion that your son will never be as good as you in football if you are in the NFL your child may make it, but according to Madden if you are a Hall of Famer your child is genetically better than any other character that can be produced at start and this does have demonstrable effects on gameplay you can grind in Madden it is a true RPG in that regard but the amount of points that it takes to grind your character up to even being playable if you don’t start with a Hall of Fame father is ridiculous.

Now this isn’t to bemoan Madden. It would be hard to argue that Madden is intentionally eugenicist propaganda. Madden isn’t saying, “Hey if you are not born of a good father and mother you should not be an NFL player.” That is not what is meant by this article. Instead, it is to look at how easily eugenicist ideology infiltrates popular media and popular culture.

Athlete fathers and their sons

LeBron

One of the most famous athletes in the world is LeBron James and it is widely known that he wants to play with his son Bronnie James who is almost universally seen as not an NBA prospect (yet).

And that is fine.

The majority of people are not NBA prospects the vast majority aren’t. Even though his father is LeBron James. Bronny was given the lifestyle of being the child of LeBron James, but crucially that doesn’t mean that he is going to be the second coming of LeBron James. You are your own person after all. LeBron James’s father wasn’t Lebron James. Lebron James is an aberration. Michael Jordan was an aberration. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an aberration. Tom Brady was an aberration. Lamar Jackson is an aberration.

These players are not bred to be these players. They probably have some athleticism in their family but the idea of you having A Hall of Fame father making you a Hall of Fame player is ridiculous. Which makes it so strange how prominent it was in Madden’s Superstar Mode. You can no more be bred for the Hall of Fame than Todd Marovich and it was seen what happened with him it’s not a way to raise a kid.

Again, this is not meant to say that Madden is intentionally pushing eugenics It is instead meant to look at how eugenics and dysgenics ideology infiltrate the common understanding of the world

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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She/They Black Queer writer currently living abroad. Working on games and making art.
Edited by Siothrún.

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46 Comments

  1. Siothrún

    Interesting article, which was a pleasure to edit! Great job and looking forward to what you write next!

    • Sunni Rashad

      Thanks so much. I debated doing a series of articles in this lens with the prevalence of Eugenics in video games. For example, the competitive Pokemon scene is notorious for selective breeding your Pokemon to get the best Pokemon and it leads to some “problematic” practices.

  2. Scott
    2

    What are other games with themes connected to eugenics?

    • Sunni Rashad

      Thinking about going over some in later articles.

    • Frey
      1

      Pokemon.

    • Edwin
      1

      Crusader Kings II can be described as this.

      • Reece
        1

        Definately. Players meticulously manage their dynasties, selecting spouses and producing heirs with desirable traits to ensure the prosperity and dominance of their lineage

    • Arias
      1

      These games emphasize the importance of genetic traits: Massive Chalice and the Fallout mobile game.

      • Dillon
        1

        Yeah, all the Fallout games, except for New Vegas, revolve around eugenics themes—whether it’s thwarting a plan to turn everyone into genetic mutants or attempting to eliminate all existing mutants.

    • Hadley
      1

      In Freaking Meatbags, genetics plays a big role in the game. Besides being a tower defense game, you can breed humans and aliens to create better workers, like more efficient miners.

    • Greer
      0

      PSVita title named Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. The entire gameplay revolves around managing and improving your bloodline.

      • Kaitlin
        0

        I love this one. It’s a unique and thought-provoking exploration of eugenics.

    • Savanah
      0

      “Victoria II” game is a global white mans’ burden and eugenics simulator.

    • shield
      0

      Monster Hunter Stories 2 does a fantastic job with that. It’s similar to Pokémon, but with a twist: you can transfer the genes of the monsters you capture to another monster you own. And if the genes match up well, your monster gets a synergy bonus.

  3. Xzavier
    1

    Much of eugenic theory is a convenient myth that exists to support an ideology. Much ideology exists in order to justify and legitimise extreme inequality.

  4. Isla
    1

    Eugenics, racism, bigotry, sexism, prejudice, and bias are all real things and in many ways it makes sense that they would exist in a video game.

  5. Manning
    1

    Never heard of eugenics.

  6. Branch
    2

    I’m making my own RPG game. Would it be racist creating a super race in the game?

    • Sunni Rashad

      That is actually a well-debated topic. I personally think fantasy racism can be interesting as long as it’s handle well. As far as creating a super race, what would be the motivation?

      • Erick
        1

        Well, the problem with eugenics isn’t that positive qualities are selected for, it’s that the big fans of it tend to think they’re already the perfect specimen and how they treat those who ain’t.

    • Rich
      0

      Yes, it is fine to have elements that are evil in fictional work.

      • Kolton
        0

        The problem lies in the challenge of making it clear that you’re actually criticizing it, if that’s what you are doing. Additionally, some people might not grasp the satire and could even feel encouraged by it. There’s only a limited amount of effort you can put into preventing this, I guess the tough part is coming to terms with it.

    • Joseph
      0

      The issue with eugenics (aside from faulty ideas about what traits were heritable) is you have to believe it’s moral to breed humans like cattle.

    • Bryant
      0

      Creating a super race in your story isn’t racist. It’s been done many times in different settings from LotR (Uruks are basically a super race of goblins) to Halo (Spartans).

      But framing it as a good, morally acceptable idea is racist as it reeks of eugenics.

  7. Damarion
    1

    Sports games were never my thing.

  8. Uriah
    1

    Does this exist in the newer Madden games?

  9. Hahn
    1

    Have you heard about the game “One Hour One Life”? It’s pretty cool. You basically live an entire life in just one hour of gameplay. So, for every minute in real life, it’s like a year in the game. You start as a baby and need another player to take care of you, but once you’re grown up, you can help your community by doing different tasks. It’s like a continuous cycle of life and death, where you start over again after your hour is up. There’s no genetics involved, but your actions help your community grow and evolve.

  10. Are you aware if Marvin Marinovich decided to marry his wife/have a child with her because of how he perceived her genetics?

    • Sunni Rashad

      I don’t have a hard source on that but I believe it was speculated that that was the reason that he and his wife got together.

  11. Stark
    1

    Eugenics never met the criteria to be science.

  12. Gross
    1

    The problem is that denying any genetic basis whatsoever for any human characteristics that tend towards success or failure, leads to the wrong kind of support being offered during attempts to level up.

  13. Diamond
    1

    I’ve heard that Siralim 2 is packed with a crazy amount of this kind of content.

  14. Kadyn
    2

    Not Madden, but Starters Orders 6 is a horse racing game that lets you race and breed horses. Fairly detailed and involves inheritance.

  15. Ellis
    1

    So goodbye Madden then?

    • Sunni Rashad

      “Now this isn’t to bemoan Madden. It would be hard to argue that Madden is intentionally eugenicist propaganda. Madden isn’t saying, “Hey if you are not born of a good father and mother you should not be an NFL player.” That is not what is meant by this article. Instead, it is to look at how easily eugenicist ideology infiltrates popular media and popular culture.”

  16. Cole
    1

    Humans beings are animals, and we breed other animals for certain characteristics, so it is understandable that people thought we could in theory do the same for ourselves. The problem, of course, is that – psuedo-science or not – it is all but impossible to find morally acceptable solutions to the ethical quetions raised, and it was anyway only used for abhorrent political reasons.

  17. Rangel
    1

    Madden has become an evolution simulation. 😀

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