Delayo: The inclusive legacy of the Backyard Baseball video game

From Mike Delayo at The Hardball Times on May 10, 2019:

Sports video games wouldn’t be much of anything without their athletes. The closest we could otherwise get to the genre that has captivated fans for decades might be the PC classic Hot Dog Stand: The Works, a game with no actual athletic competition (but one that does feature an iconic theme song). Fortunately, that is not a world we have to live in. The most polished and popular games of the 21st century have the luxury of licensing, and therefore feature increasingly impressive recreations of the the world’s best professional athletes, and do so to great effect. But despite the large shadow these games cast, most of the world’s baseball playing is not done at the professional level; some games account for this in their design.

For most people, baseball begins as a kid’s game, and that is exactly what Humongous Entertainment’s 1997 release Backyard Baseball aimed to capture with its 30-character cast of children. Over two dozen sequels, which branch into various sports, have ensured the game became a cultural touchstone for its generation of players. What isn’t immediately obvious even to the most devoted fans is that the original cast exudes a level of diversity, inclusion, and equality that, even two decades after the game’s initial release, remains inexplicably rare in the world of sports media.

One way this is achieved is through the races of the available players. For perhaps the first time in the (shockingly lengthy) history of baseball video games, white players do not account for a majority of the roster. Though the 13 available white players (43.3 percent of the total) still constitute a group larger than that of any other race, Humongous Entertainment’s decision to include 17 total players of color is one that not only distinguishes the game from its sports-centric peers, but from baseball’s most prominent platform: Major League Baseball.

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Originally published: May 10, 2019. Last Updated: May 10, 2019.