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They say that you should never go back. Who ‘they’ are, and why they remain so bloody insistent on keeping me out of SeaWorld is another matter. Suffice it to say that there are only two things that I’ve ever willingly sworn off in life. The first being the city that I attended college in, what with its cig-smoking toddlers, White Ace aficionados and all-pervading stench of sweat. Think ‘sinkhole’, or better yet: U-bend — a town that if were any more inbred could legally be sold as a sandwich.
But enough about that, and of the children stunting their growth and screaming at people. Let’s talk instead about video games… or, more specifically, football video games. Yes folks, FIFA and PES represent my other no-go area — though this wasn’t always so. Truth be told, I’ve just been burned once too many times to even consider coming back. Well, until now that is. Egged on by an ace looking career mode, as well as a resurgent Pro Evo, I recently decided to undo my personal pitchside ban. This is what I learned.
There was a time, would you believe, that I could take even the lowliest of sides to quadruple cup glory — and on the hardest difficulty too. Nowadays however, I find that even the youngest of players can put my old school tactics to shame. I’m too slow, too basic, not to mention lacking in any kind of guile or technique. Lord help me, I am become Wesley Brown, bringer of gaffes.
Of course, none of that has anything to do with why I gave up on the games themselves. Rather, that was just a silly preamble meant to assure you that I do have some small idea of what I’m talking about. I played both series religiously, for years — sometimes alternating, sometimes not, and through it all, in victory and defeat, great instalments and FIFA 08, one thought continually prodded away at me, burrowing into my brain like that John Prescott bug from Starship Troopers: the A.I. in these games cheats. It still does.
Yes, I said it — cheats, deceives, lies, alters the rules to suit itself. If football games were a rock band they’d be Cheap Trick, and no I’m not referring to that cheeky little step-over your cousin learned to annoy you. This is bastardry of the highest order, of the type that I had thought to be sorted by now. How very wrong I was. Instead said issues are right where I left them, all present and correct. From the exocet passes, impossible to predict or prevent, to the proclivity of defenders to part like the red sea just when you need them most. There are other situations, of course — too diverse and monstrous to count, but you get the picture. You’ve been there. You’ve lived it.
People may like to jape that crying “cheat” is just a cop out for poor play, but to that I say nay, not here it’s not! The interesting thing is why: why do the developers continue to allow these maddening instances to occur? Well, maybe it’s because feeling powerless, frustrated, and liable to throttle someone is all part-and-parcel of what makes the real game such an addictive thrill. Sometimes the highest highs are those that come off the back of the lowest lows, like a 3-nil drubbing that turns into a 4-3 victory. Or maybe the ref is corrupt, or that ball did cross the line, or the opposing team are all murderous psychopaths. But, if you can rise above it all, and clinch victory from the jaws of defeat, well then… you’ll be Hamann my son.
Sorry, bad joke, but you get the point. Football revels in such stories, of unbelievable odds, heroes and villains, and dirty players getting their just desserts. By allowing glitches to taint our play, both FIFA and PES are, in a sense, allowing us to get just as invested here too. Do I like being played in this way? Not one bit, but even I have to admit it’s effective. It uses exactly what we as players loathe most in order to fire us up and create real passion. Crafty, eh?
Now in actual fact I can’t say for sure whether this was ever truly intended, though it does bear thinking about. Would we prefer to play a more perfect representation of football, but lose that sense of righteous fury that accompanies said injustices? Of course, real football has thrills and spills of its own, but not quite in the same way. Here it almost feels like there’s a director in charge of deciding every outcome, and you’re just along for the ride. [Insert Mark Clattenberg gag here].
So, what’s to be done? Well, that’s really up to you, and your individual tolerance for nonsense. If football is your passion, and you don’t mind swearing occasionally at the TV, then these titles can provide moments of ecstasy and desolation few other games can match. As for me, I’m happy to return to my self-imposed exile, away from the bright lights, big names and impossible John O’Shea screamers. See you in another five years.