EA shouldn't celebrate the ugly side of football, argues Brett Phipps.
EA's decision to include Kinect functionality in FIFA 13 seems like an inevitable transition for the franchise. Considering Microsoft's eager push to make major franchises "Better With Kinect", it wouldn't be long before the world's biggest games publishers started using the peripheral. Yet the way EA has chosen to integrate Kinect into FIFA 13 goes against the sport of football and the FIFA organisation itself.
For those who don't know, Kinect voice functionality allows players to swear at referees during matches. While this may seem humorous at first, or just a bit of harmless fun, allowing this kind of behaviour sends a horrible message to players, particularly young football fans.
A few years ago, FIFA launched the "Respect the Ref" campaign, with the aim to clamp down on professional players using foul and abusive language toward match officials. Referees were advised to issue yellow cards to players for dissent as soon as they began acting aggressively towards referees, with the hope of eradicating this ugly side of football.
The campaign still exists in 2012, and so too does the abuse of referees. Anyone who has watched a Premier League match will have seen close-ups of players silent but clearly visible choice words as they receive their punishment. This is without the torrent of abuse officials get from the stands by us, the fans.
Now, EA has decided to allow this dark side of the sport to exist in the official game of the world governing body for football. David Rutter once told me that diving isn't in FIFA because EA doesn't want players to outright cheat in their efforts to win. Considering that the FIFA series is supposed to represent football at its very best, to include one of the worst aspects of the modern game is bemusing. What do they hope to gain from this addition? How does it benefit our playing experience? All it does is acknowledge a player's outbursts of frustration.
I know what most people are thinking: it's just a game. That's the wrong approach - EA's FIFA series is more than that. What players experience in the game will carry over into how they perceive real football, and if young players consider it acceptable to swear at match officials, especially as swearing will go unpunished in FIFA 13, why wouldn't they continue this behaviour with real football?
Sports fans are some of the most passionate people there are. I know this because I have seen them cheer their teams on valiantly from the stands. I also know this because I have been punched, kicked, and thrown to the dirt by a large number of them at a children's football match.
I have been to countless Premier League football matches, and heard the vile abuse aimed at players and referees alike for the minute errors they inevitably make. I've also played, coached, and refereed amateur football, and experienced the abuse first-hand. This abuse starts with words, but can very quickly turn into physical violence.
Whilst coaching a group of 11 year-olds one Sunday, a group of dozens of overly passionate and aggressive parents were screaming at the referee for his decision-making. One parent was particularly intimidating and aggressive towards both our team and the referee. When his son was on the end of what he perceived to be an incorrect decision, a series of angry shouts began to pour from his mouth. Despite attempts to calm him down, he decided to the only way his son would understand the 'true passion' of football was by throwing me to the ground. I was then kicked repeatedly by a group of angry parents, all in the name of football.
I have experienced the best and worst sides of the sport, and its a shame that now the abuse of referees has become so normal that its part of the videogame franchise. Players abusing referees in FIFA 13 without punishment runs the risk of creating an attitude of words without consequences, one that can easily be carried into competitive football. I hope in the future we spend more time talking about the brilliance of a player's hands and feet than the harshness of a player's mouth.