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Internet | Media | Sports

October 11, 2015

Breaking Good

SB Nation's Jon Bois breaks 'Madden NFL' to pieces so we can all see what's inside.

David Goldenberg

If the current online journalism world is a pizza, then Jon Bois is the rat incongruously but deftly carrying a hefty slice of it down the subway stairs. Is that because he's repurposing what was once an erudite medium for the pleasure of a baser class of reader? Or is it that he's bringing you familiar concepts in a completely novel way, and understands the power of video to get his message across? Sure. Whatever. I just wanted to make sure I got Pizza Rat in here somewhere.

Jon Bois
"I see this toolbox full of cool shit, and all I want to do is play around."

Jon Bois

Where was I? Oh yeah, Jon Bois. If FiveThirtyEight (which I write for) and weird Twitter had a baby who was exceptionally talented at making videos, he would probably intern for Bois, who has turned his passion for sports, video games, and internet ephemera into a legitimate art form. His Breaking Madden series, an unhinged but hilarious recap of his various attempts to enact justice via videogame manipulation, has basically created an entirely new genre of journalistic comedy.

In the following interview, edited for clarity, Bois tells Gelf why Madden is broken, how punters can still be useful, and why experimentation is the key to creating good content.

Gelf Magazine: You've carved out a very strange niche in sports journalism. You make pretty videos of silly things. How did it come to this?

Jon Bois: I've been writing online since 2002, and I've always made it a priority to experiment, and then pay attention to the experiments people like and don't like. I joined SB Nation a little over six years ago, and thankfully, they've given me all the freedom I need to keep on doing things that way.

Gelf Magazine: In one of your most-recent SB Nation articles, you wrote, "As you may have noticed, we on the Internet are executing a gradual phase-out of written language, and Lord willing, within a few years there will be nothing left to read at all." What do you think will replace the written language?

Jon Bois: Ha, I was half-joking, but I guess ;only half-joking. Mixed-media pieces have blown up on the internet over the last few years, and yet still, my opinion is that there still isn't enough of it. Traditionally, most internet writers have not been terribly ambitious when it comes to supplement their writing with, say, GIFs or fancy charts or videos they put together. And that makes sense, because a writer's job has always been to write.
But now we have access to the stuff we need to make any number of visual accompaniments, and readers have the bandwidth on their end to take it in. Personally, I see this toolbox full of cool shit, and all I want to do is play around and see what I can do with it. There is certainly a learning curve. And, of course, there are plenty of things out there that are best suited for words and words only. But if you never even take a stab at it—especially if you're talking about something as visually spectacular as sports and sports data—I think it's almost like you're working with a hand tied behind your back.

Gelf Magazine: One of your best skills is putting music to Madden clips. What song would you pair with this GIF you created?

Jon Bois: I think I'm gonna go with Kanye's "Bound 2" on this one.

Gelf Magazine: If we got rid of punting, as you suggest, what should we do with punters?

Jon Bois: I would create a new position on each coaching staff for each one of them: "clock management coach." A clock management coach would be in charge of performing simple arithmetic on the fly, and inform the head coach when it does and doesn't make sense to call a timeout. A punter already understands the game and the occasional concession and damage-mitigation it requires, and as football fans know, coaches mess up the math all the time. They could keep their salaries and everything. This would be an invaluable service.

Gelf Magazine: What's your favorite way you've ever broken Madden?

Jon Bois: I think it's still the end of the first Breaking Madden Super Bowl. After a season of messing with the game in every way I could think of, my goal was to rack up 1,000 points in a single game. I didn't get there. After a couple of hundred points, one of the refs called a penalty, and that was weird, because I had disabled penalties. So I went to the instant replay. All the players were missing. Instead, at midfield, there was this weird, semi-faceless, fetus-like alien football player just lying there on the ground. I took that as Madden's signal to me that it was really, really time to stop. So I did, right then and there, and the season was over.

Gelf Magazine: You often mention how little EA seems to care about fixing glitches in the game. Do you think they know about them and don't care? Have you ever talked to them about it?

Jon Bois: They certainly know about at least some of them. I have talked to a couple people at EA, and they're like, "… yeah, we know." I don't think they're sufficiently motivated to care. My guess is that if 2K Sports suddenly started releasing their own NFL game, those things would get fixed in a hurry.
Honestly, the visual, in-game glitches don't bother me. I only experience them after going to considerable lengths and making the game do stuff it wasn't intended to do. The graphics, animations, physics, and artificial intelligence within the actual game itself are spectacular. It's all the stuff that happens in the menus and interface and Franchise mode and whatnot that's so disappointing.

Related in Gelf: Jon Bois spoke to Gelf in 2007 about his work at The Dugout.

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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