The Beautiful Virtual Game

fifa14_ng_it_protect_the_ballIt’s fair to say that FIFA is a cultural phenomenon amongst the student population. Scoring a ‘sweaty goal’ is frowned upon, picking Barcelona is seen as too easy and putting the ball in the back of the net as Emile Heskey is an achievement unlike any other.

But what does this all mean? Is it all just gobbledygook? Well, yes it would be if you were on of the few people who wouldn’t know what FIFA was even if it fell out of the sky and into your front garden, naked and covered in jam. I could pluck any random person out of a crowd and ask them if they prefer the 4-4-2 or the 3-4-3 formation, or if they’d rather play Sturridge up front over Suarez, and it’s a fifty-fifty chance whether I get a blank look, possibly with some air of disdain,  or just a goofy smile and an in-depth tactical pros and cons list.

But ask anyone who plays FIFA about a ‘sweaty goal’ and you’re instantly a part of the gang; you’re cool and you know exactly what’s what in the small world of football gaming.

If you play (and especially if you’re good), it almost feels like you’re invited into a world of people you would never normally mix with. I know, being the weed I am, I wouldn’t share much in common with the LADs who play FIFA in the spaces between sleeping and drinking. But because I can play and I do profess to liking football quite a bit, it’s a great way to insert yourself into a group of new people without all that awkward stuff like ‘talking’ or ‘making eye contact so they don’t think you’re weird’.

FIFA is a great social equaliser. It strips away any awkwardness between strangers and gives you something to talk about, like how high that shot went over or how shit the defence is in the new game (I mean, come on).

fifa-14-falcao-action-shotBut I think the most important thing that comes from playing FIFA is how close it gets to replicating that thrill you get from watching or playing football. The result will not always go your way and even if you have had all the possession and all the shots on target, you can still come unstuck through one defensive error and end up losing. Every touch of the ball counts and every shot matters.

If you miss, you’re throwing away opportunities and inching ever closer to losing. That’s why it is such an incredible game for people to get together and play. It’s why you always get people sat on the very edge of their seats, sweating profusely and swearing every time they sky the ball. You feel every chance you get is a blessing and to waste it would mean the end of the world. People get sucked into a match like no other game I’ve ever seen.

Call of Duty and Halo can’t compete because they require skill to play. You have to be good at first-person shooters to really stand a chance of winning. Certainly not the case with FIFA. I’ve had games where I’ve been playing people who haven’t played it much before and still lost because it doesn’t necessarily matter about your skill level. The only thing that makes a difference is putting that ball in the back of the net by any means necessary.

If I could sum up why FIFA is such a popular game among students in one word, it would have to be ‘social’. It’s a game that only really requires a basic understanding of how football works to get into for the first time and even someone who’s bad at it is accepted because it breeds that kind of friendly atmosphere; games are played not to win but just to entertain and enthrall. It’s easy to see why groups of guys get together with drinks every so often and just sit round playing it; it has the potential to be all things to all people.

Robert Priest


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