I was 5 years old when I got my first game system, a Game Boy Advance. It came with a few games like “Mario,” but there was one game that I got on it that I played religiously: “Backyard Baseball 2006.”
Featuring all of my favorite players as kids as well, with fun power-ups, a season mode and tons of unlockables, I spent hours after kindergarten playing that game, making sure I got the new version every year it came out, including a poor iOS version in 2015. There is a lot of nostalgia for the “Backyard Sports” series, and it is all warranted.
For starters, these games introduced many great athletes to children’s minds. From these games I learned about players like Ichiro in baseball and Calvin Johnson in football, and it made me want to learn more about the athletes and the sports as well. I would always mash-up teams with real athletes and characters made with the game and see how much I could score, often getting unreal numbers. I liked playing in stadiums that were just makeshift places where kids would play, like backyards and movie theaters, making the games feel more relatable to me.
One of the things that has aged especially well about these games is the representation of different groups from different backgrounds. Not only were these created characters, but they all had different unique personalities that made them more fun to play with. Some characters would only play well with siblings and friends, while others would play horribly with some players, adding strategy to a game often aimed at kids while inadvertently helping kids understand communication with each other.
The best player was Pablo Sanchez, who was smaller and only spoke Spanish, but was overpowered to the extreme. One player that I particularly liked was Kenny Kawaguchi, a Japanese American boy who was in a wheelchair and liked to DJ. Even then I thought it was cool to see a kid in a wheelchair in the game, since I had never seen that in a sports game, and now, I understand how important characters like that are in order for kids with disabilities to understand their worth and their potential.
These were the games of my childhood and it is often when looking through nostalgic lenses, things are not always as good as they once seemed. That is not the case with the “Backyard Sports” series. This was a series that led to a love of sports and games for a ton of children, myself included. With the inclusion of professional athletes, it introduced kids to idols they may have never heard of and people to look up to when they are playing these sports. With the regular characters, not only was their representation of multiple groups and cultures, but there were family rivalries and friendships that the kids had that made the game feel more admursive while also adding some strategy to it. “Backyard Sports” was one of the gems of video game history and it is a shame that they are not made anymore.