EA’s football sim reminds us of the social power of games
Generally speaking, if someone is male, above the age of eight and owns or has owned a games console; they have played a version of FIFA. The franchise, which is about to move onto its 22nd instalment in a few months, has been a necessity for any lad looking to fit into the footballing social circle since the 90s. For good reason too, FIFA triumphs over other football simulators (managing or playing) with consistently fluid and technical gameplay, a great use of official kits and likenesses, and, above all, a social prominence that no other footie game could ever dream of.
First and foremost is FIFA’s grand translation of the beautiful game. From stadium to screen, the excitement and brutality of football is carried successfully. It is a blessing and a curse; leading to the satisfaction of scoring an overhead kick from eighteen yards or the incredible frustration when mistiming a through-ball on the break. But while you may spend hours of practice perfecting the craft, mastering the likes of Ronaldo and Ibrahimović, the true pleasure from playing the series is with the multiplayer. Scoring an added-minute winner and seeing your friend dangerously close to freak out, cursing you and your player’s name profusely…well, there is no better feeling. Funnily enough, FIFA often proves more exhilarating than real football.
For anyone well versed in football or sport games in general, FIFA remains king with every annual update. The menus are always stylish and accessible, EA’s servers hold up year after year, and its gameplay allows players to implement their various play styles and tactics freely. It remains the most attractive football game to date, with its broadcast-style presentation, pumping you up for each individual game with the animation of a skilful striker. The crowds may still look like lobotomized clones, forced to do the same eccentric celebration over and over, but FIFA is undisputable eye candy.
While it’s technical and artistic merit is something to be marvelled, we must also look at FIFA’s place within culture – especially British culture. Being a young Englishman myself, I’ve seen first-hand the wonders of FIFA as a social unifier and ice breaker. It sits cosily in our hearts, warm with that nostalgic feeling of getting beaten over and over again by your elder sibling (you bastards) or in turn beating your younger sibling over and over again. From kids’ sleep overs to university halls across the country, an instalment of the series can be found being played relentlessly and very, very emotionally. Bridges have been built and bonds have been broken through the excitement and cruelty of the franchise but it remains a solid pick up for any guy trying to make some new friends. Whether you’re betting cans of coke or shots of tequila, FIFA is a solid social force.
And let’s not forget Ultimate Team. The massive popularity of this single game mode drives countless sales year after year. It is one of the most addictive and rewarding game modes ever to be played. You buy, trade, and sell the best players as rated on their real life performances and use them in-game to build teams around the way you like to play with your favourite footballers. It is fantasy football on a whole other level.
Now, while boasting about a game’s graphical superiorities and social potency might bring us some delight, it does not sufficiently answer the question of why FIFA remains at the top. Other football franchises such as PES could simply employ a bigger budget and the most talented designers, programmers and sport advisors to match and break EA’s grip on the sports game market. It is relevance which gifts FIFA the throne. The eponymous football organization supports the franchise, providing it with leagues, players and teams to give it that edge.
FIFA is a gift that keeps on giving. From technical mastery in reflecting real life football to its cultural and social establishment within the young male audience, it is a key piece of ammunition in the social armoury of the young lad. It is a franchise that has been accused of repetition, in the same vein as Call of Duty and Battlefield, especially with the annual release scheme, but its real life relevance is what justifies its market and place within the gaming verse, and our continuous love.
Images; Electronic Arts