The Reddit Madden League: The Problem with "Cheese"

This article is part of our The Reddit Madden League series.

The Reddit Madden League has a “cheese” problem.

Or rather, RML has a problem with the perception of “cheese.” Truthfully, I think it would be fair to say that any competitive video gamer has a problem with exploitations and perceived cheating. The word cheese in regards to video gaming has always been something that irritates me. And not just an irritation that goes away after a quick scratch – no, like “full-blown multiple mosquito bites in the same general location” type of irritating.

I’m sure it has something to do with creating a mental stain for one of my most beloved foods. And perhaps my frustrations with the word can also be attributed to the fact that calling someone “cheesy” just isn’t creative. After all, the video game definition of the word “cheese” has been around since the early 1990’s according to a handful of random sites that I found after a simple Google search. But I think my biggest gripe with calling something “cheesy” in video games is that there isn’t one set definition – anything could technically be deemed “cheesy” depending on how whiny the individual is about a given successful strategy (cause nothing will ever be considered “cheese” if it doesn’t work).

Take for example, my selection of John Ross as my first pick in the RML Fantasy League. For those of you illiterate in the football realm, John (we are on a first name basis), a rookie wide receiver this season, broke the record for the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, running a blistering 4.22. That alone would earn him a 98 speed rating on Madden, the highest of any player in the game. Given my typical Madden offense, which is essentially a glorified version of the Alex Smith-led Chiefs attack pre-this year, a wide receiver with immense speed and moderate catching skills takes precedent over just about anything else for me, so it was a natural choice to take Ross ahead of guys like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., both of which I was ridiculed for passing up.

However in the wrong hands, John could essentially be the video-game version of an Infinity Stone, a player solely capable of wreaking havoc on a league by simply telling him to run a streak or vertical route, with painfully slow CPU players unable to keep up with the immense speed of Ross.

To some extent, I get it. The RML is meant to be simulation style league, meaning statistics, player personnel, and owner conduct are supposed to be representative of the things you see in the NFL. In no world would I ever take John Ross over guys like Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones when building a real NFL team. But the real world doesn’t put as much emphasis on speed compared to the video game. Add in the fact that our league does not allow you to bump up speed more than two points from the original rating, and there’s even more of an emphasis on getting fast guys, particularly in my (mostly unsuccessful) scheme.

The usage of the word “cheese” didn’t stop there, as Week 1 would see an entertaining game between Bears and Falcons end with a final score of 64-59, with 1,071 combined yards between the two teams. Yet again, whispers of alleged unfairness began to surface as a handful of users perhaps jokingly mentioned there could be some collusion, with a bounty of statistics critical to the all-valuable experience used to upgrade a given roster. In reality, it was just a dreadfully played defensive performance by two teams who have sub .500 records as we approach the midway point of the inaugural season.

The league has since gone on to see two or three other instances of “cheese” occurring in the eyes of the beholder, with each incident getting more annoyingly repetitive than the past.

Last year in Madden 17 it was that the Cover 2 defense was broken, with the CPU acting like the second-coming of Deion Sanders anytime you attempted to attack any parts of the supposed “real life” weaknesses of the defense. And if you talk to my friends, the cheese was also evident when “swerving” while running – essentially de-accelerating and then weaving around defenders with a handful of crafty stick maneuvers.

Forget Madden for the moment, go back and look at any of your favorite competitive games – what makes them “cheesy” in your mind? Is it the exploitation of the CPU, or a tactic which takes advantage of helpless users who are ill-prepared for the maneuver? Is it a glitch in the programming, a debilitating side effect that would have otherwise never been discovered save for some overzealous competitor?

I suspect the rise in “cheese” is rampant across all video games, with the ever-increasing role of content creators within video games drawing out some of the less-than-desired features within a given game. But I also suspect the increase in “perceived cheese" is even higher, as the rise of a well-rounded and well-versed video game audience also creates a more nuanced understanding of the way you, the individual, believes something should be played. To coin a term from WWE, another group of obsessively passionate fans, there’s the regular fan who enjoys the entertainment on its surface level, and then there is a smark, who researches, consumes and discusses the behind-the-scenes “stuff” that also goes into professional wrestling. To me, we are witnessing the beginning stages of a gamer version of that concept (and because I’m terrible at naming things, I’ll let someone else create it). No longer just a catch-all word for simply being “bad” at stopping a given action in a game, “cheese” and everything it entails has suddenly grown to mean something entirely else.

But, just as most people are dismissive of know-it-all personalities, the same can be said for the over-reliance on the word “cheese”. It’s an annoying byproduct of an increased persistence to make games “social” and one I believe must end. How to make it end is another matter entirely, as the more intelligent we become in a given game, the more “cheese” is likely to surface. It’s a dicey proposition, but in my mind the only way to put a merciful end to a long outdated phrase would be to simply….not use it. Mention your frustrations regarding the specifics of the catastrophic strategy, explain the issues that you may have, real or imagined. Just don’t say it’s “cheese”, because in 2018, that word has gained way more meaning than what I want on my Butterburger (trademark Culvers).

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