‘Go outside and get some fresh air’ is a directive that every parent has given to their child at some point. For me growing up, it was repeatedly issued while I was sitting on the family computer playing Oregon Trail. Now, in the times of the coronavirus and self-isolation, staying indoors and playing video games is an activity much more likely to be tolerated, even encouraged, by the strictest of parents.

Video games are also where my love of sports blossomed as a teenager. The ability to take my favorite teams, players and sports, and control the action completely, fired up my imagination and turned me into a full-on sports maniac.

Back in the day, my go-to sports games were: Madden ‘98 (and then subsequent editions), Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (the Game Boy version), and Cruisin’ USA (we had two N64 copies of this one, I guess in case one broke?).

Video games and sports have both changed a lot since I was in my video game playing hey-day, so here’s a list of modern games and sims to scratch your sports itch while still observing social distancing, broken down by sport.

Baseball

Ever since one fateful beach trip as a child, I’ve been addicted to baseball simulations. No other sport is as easy or fun to emulate as baseball. My parents would typically bribe me with some sort of reward if I agreed to go to the beach (are we seeing a theme here?), and this trip to Narragansett Beach came with a new baseball game that was played by rolling a die to determine the outcome of every at-bat. The name of the game is lost to history, but I loved being able to collect the cards of my favorite players and become their ‘manager’ any time I forced my poor father to play with me.

Out of the Park Baseball

That feeling I got on the beach that day is probably why I love the OOTP series so much. These games are for hardcore baseball fans. The graphics aren’t great, and you can’t directly control a player. What the games do allow you to do, is become a baseball manager/GM. You can take any team from history, or create a completely fictional league with computer-generated players, and try and guide them to the Fall Classic.

The latest iteration of the series was just released (OOTP 20), but pretty much any of the recent releases are worth the time of serious baseball fans. I personally play OOTP 19.

MLB The Show

This PS4-exclusive baseball series is the go-to for those who just want to play some baseball. I got hooked on last year’s release (MLB The Show 19) and it’s ‘Road to the Show’ mode. The game allows you to create a custom character and work your way up from AA all the way to the ‘show’.

My created character is currently in spring training with the Kansas City Royals. If this pandemic goes on any longer, he’ll be a 20-year vet before you know it.

Backyard Baseball

Probably the least serious game about a serious sport. This was a childhood-staple and still holds up today. If you know, you know. Pablo Sanchez should be in Cooperstown.

Racing

A close second in my book for sport that translates best to the screen. NASCAR and Formula 1 competitors have already spent a chunk of their isolation time ‘racing’ each other online. Cancelled events are being recreated in virtual worlds.

iRacing

Never personally dipped into this one, but it’s the OOTP of the racing world. The aforementioned virtuale events are all taking place inside this game. It comes with a $7/month price tag, but I’m told there’s no better way to get your racing fix.

Forza Horizon 4

If you’re looking for something more casual, this is a great bet. Only available on PC and Xbox One, this stylish racer lets you scoot around a fictionalized version of Great Britain. There’s plenty to do, and the game looks great, graphically speaking.

Project Cars II

A happy middle ground between the Forzas and iRacings of the world. If you’re into virtual racing enough to have your own wheel, but are put-off by the hardcore aspects of iRacing, this is where you’ll land.

Football

The pandemic hasn’t affected football (yet), but it’s completely normal to be hankering for some smash mouth action.

Madden

The gold standard. I haven’t picked up a copy in a least a few years, but it’s always a good time when I grab my latest copy off my shelf and play a few games.

NFL Blitz

Another N64 staple back in the day. Throw realism out the window and up the violence to 11, and you get NFL Blitz. I still remember getting mad at my cousin for tackling all my receivers at the line of scrimmage. The most recent version came out in 2012 and can be played on PS3/Xbox 360.

Soccer

Another sport that fits right into the sim world. An entire generation of Americans became soccer fans, large in part due to being able to play soccer virtually.

FIFA

The Madden of the soccer world. I’ve always been partial to the Ultimate Team mode. Earn players as you go, and create your own squad from scratch. For a soccer luddite, this mode taught me a lot about soccer formations and got me interested in international leagues.

Football Manager

This one makes OOTP look like a child’s game. Football Manager is the original sports sim, and is so well-regarded that teams will actually use the game to scout real players. There have been multiple documentaries made on this game. 

One player even helped make soccer history: through playing the game, he realized that Phil and James Younghusband were eligible to play for the Philippines in international competition. He tipped them off, and Phil is now the leading goal-scorer in team history.

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