Every fourth summer, more than a billion people from around the world gather in front of their televisions to witness athletes perform at the highest level of competition. The Summer Olympics are special.
But, as with every quadrennial sporting event, it isn't without its faults.
Fortunately, the Olympics come with a virtual companion. “London 2012” from Sega allows the masses to experience a slightly different version of the Summer Games -- perhaps, dare we say, a better version.
It might sound blasphemous, but here are five ways that “London 2012” is better than the actual Olympics (and ways to make it more like the real deal):
1. No tape delay
One of the biggest complaints from American viewers is NBC's decision to tape-delay the events. Viewers know if Michael Phelps won another gold medal long before his performance in the pool is aired in the U.S. All to often, you'll be watching the qualifying round while the results from the final are coming in through Twitter or SportsCenter or a text alert.
But in “London 2012” there are no tape delays, outside of the occasional loading screen. When you play an event, it’s in real time. The results are instantaneous, and no one can spoil who won via Twitter.
Make it more realistic: Have your friend play an event while you’re in another room, and make sure he tells you the results. Then, later on, come back and watch the event using the game's replay feature.
2. No scandals
The 2012 Olympics include the biggest scandal in badminton history, as teams were throwing matches in order to earn a more favorable seeding. Well, there's no cheating in “London 2012.” You determine your opponents' skill level. So if you want to make the competition easy, you select it from a menu. If you want a challenge, make it hard. That's not cheating, that's part of just about every video game. Ultimately, it's your skill with the controller that determines whether or not you're medal-worthy.
Make it more realistic: When playing with a friend, gain an unfair advantage by bumping against them, waving your hand in front of their face or unplugging their controller.
3. The events you want, when you want them
“London 2012” doesn’t match the pure breadth of events offered by the real Olympics. Still, it manages to offer up more than 30 events (not counting duplicates for men's and women's events) that span everything from rapid pistol-firing to pingpong. Granted, if you're a fan of the sailing or fencing, you're out of luck, and for the most part, there's a good mix of events. And the best thing is that you can experience them at your leisure. The only schedule is the one you set for yourself.
Make it more realistic: Take a look at the actual Olympic schedule and play the video game events at the exact same time.
4. Become your own U.N.
The Olympics have some nagging rules, such as requiring that you play for the country of your citizenship. Perhaps you're a U.S.-born gamer who has always dreamed of living in Italy? It's not that you don't love your own country, but, you know, Italy has really good gelato. “London 2012” allows you to pick any country you want. And while going against your own country may be questionable, you may just want to show the power and might of your great-grandfather's homeland. That choice is yours to make without any judgment or need for special considerations.
Make it more realistic: All you need is citizenship granted from another country to take up its flag in the Olympics. If your great-grandfather was from Belgium, you can always petition the government for dual citizenship, which is what Olympic athletes sometimes do. Once you have legal citizenship in your chosen country, you can have a more authentic Olympic experience playing for it in “London 2012.”
5. You are the star
None of the real Olympic athletes are in “London 2012,” which might seem like a bad thing at first. But consider that this is really your one and only chance to win Olympic gold. Sure, it's not real, but it's as close as you'll get, and in this game you can be the star of every Olympic event. When your avatar is up on the podium listening to the national anthem as he or she hoists a gold medal, know that it was all your hard work, dedication and skill.
Make it more realistic: You can edit every athlete in “London 2012,” giving them real names to boot. Want Michael Phelps in the pool? Change an athlete's name and then choose one of about a dozen looks to get a close approximation to Phelps. Squint when your virtual athlete is on the medal stand and you might even think it's the real deal.