Posted by Frosty
Deux Ex Machina (Or, Fifa Soccer 2006): by Matt Morse
You wouldn’t expect Fifa Soccer 2006 to be the key to immortality (I’d always pictured myself having to look for the cup of a carpenter with a hot blonde nazi chick at my side, personally), but I will now exist for all eternity. Or at least until the gaming cartridge degrades….
or Fifa Soccer 2007 comes along….
I am eternal!
EA Sports, the company that dominates the sale of sport games favored by American gamers (including my best friend and brother, several treasured acquaintances, and an apparently heretofore under-mined subculture of jaw-droppingly lovely women-folk) is the maker of Fifa Soccer 2006, a game probably beloved by Europeans and the thriving underground American soccer scene ignored by everyone else.
Soccer’s sort of the bastard child of American sports, one that everyone plays when they’re young and then pretty much abandons. So why should you be interested in Fifa Soccer, when John Madden Football is such sweet, sweet candy?
Well, because it’s a pretty good time. But mostly because it harbors the secret of eternal life.
Were you aware that in Fifa Soccer, you can style a player’s name, appearance, skills, and virtual-personality as you see fit? You probably were. I was not.
Despite my brother’s best efforts, I remain pitifully ignorant of gaming. My idea of a challenging game? Pitfall. The Original Pitfall. That’s embarrassing to admit. I’ve got a basic idea of how far the medium’s come since I spent long afternoons smashing Robby the Nintendo Robot against the cabinets in rage. But I’m kind of a dope about them in all honesty, and I’ve probably played a total of ten hours since childhood.
So when my good friend popped Fifa Soccer in and started transforming one of the players into me, it was something of a mind-fuck.
Granted, I really look nothing like the guy that ended up on the screen. But still. I was in the video game. My name: “MORSE,” written across “my” jersey Hair that did not look entirely unlike mine. I watched as my buddy proceeded to give “little MORSE” the bum right knee that I got playing football. He gave “me” a bit of a temper, and a tendency toward drunken self-reflection (Or he should have, anyway).
There was something weirdly hoodoo-ish about it. The part of me that enjoys John Carpenter and Stephen King started wondering if I was somehow giving life to this thing. If you stuck “little MORSE” with a virtual pin, would I feel it? Do players ever die in these sorts of games? What can I say? My mind goes some strange places.
Have I mentioned that I’m black?
Or that “little MORSE,” my Fifa Soccer 2006 alter-ego is? My friend swears that I’m Caucasian, but he’s clearly wrong. The weird thing is that I have this urge to make “myself” white. That feels offensive to me, somehow. After all, why should I care what color “I” am? And why am I referring to “little MORSE” as “I”?
On the other hand, I’m kinda stoked to be black. I’m enjoying the idea. Be black, “little MORSE.” Black and proud.
I think this says less about my all-encompassing offensiveness than it does about the power of video games to suck us in and make us part and parcel of what we’re experiencing. In a very real sense, we are what we watch and, in this case, play. The more that gaming companies offer you the ability to customize your experience, the more “real” it feels.
This is why my brother stands out in the freezing cold for an entire night just so he can get his greasy mitts on an X-Box. Change one word in the previous sentence, and you’ve got the textbook definition of an intervention-ready junkie. The kind of identification and “reality” that games create doesn’t exist anywhere else but gaming, outside of maybe literature (and even books are usually limited to a straight-forward narrative – excluding Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were kind of dumb). You don’t just experience the plot with your character in games – you can change it. Shape it. Get in there and make it your own. The difference between film and gaming is already enormous. It’s the 21st century equivalent of the leap from radio to television. It opens doors you didn’t know needed opening. Didn’t
That’s why video games are destined to usurp pretty much every other form of entertainment. Why watch an action movie passively when you can participate in one? Why watch a Vivid video when you can live it (provided, of course, that such a game comes equipped with several tablets of Viagra and some Vitamin B)?
Games have a level of intimacy that films can’t touch, and for the people that play them there’s a joy to their talk that tells a lot about how far into the game they go. For someone like me that intimacy, experienced through Fifa Soccer 2006, was pretty swell. But it was also a little unsettling.
“I” sort of suck. This is not easy to admit, and it’s a perfect illustration of the weirdness that took place between the “real” me, the “big Morse” that writes long-winded essays on Soccer games, and the “virtual” me: the “little MORSE” that plays midfield, is not actually me, and CANNOT FUCKING SCORE TO SAVE HIS LITTLE ANIMATED LIFE.
“little MORSE” proved to be, shall we say, exceedingly average on the soccer field.
At first, we set the game to “play itself.” This was bizarrely hypnotic. Gaming has advanced to the point where it was like watching an actual soccer match (This is probably as boring as it sounds. But with a handle of Jack Daniels nearby, pretty much anything becomes more interesting. This is well known to regretful singles who hang around bars at last call).
After staring at the screen for a while watching the two teams kick it back and forth, I started to focus on “little MORSE.” What’s he up to, anyway? How’s he doing?
Not very well, apparently.
He can’t hang onto the ball, for one thing. He missed a perfectly good shot for no apparent reason. Why is the program singling out my guy for mediocrity? Poor “little MORSE.” He is a victim of a cold and unfeeling Watchmaker God.
All (semi)joking aside, I think this is how a lot of us feel in “real” life, at least some of the time. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or an unemployed fry-cook from
“little MORSE” is spared pondering the existence of God when my friend decides to play the game. I’m content to sit back and watch. Like I said, It’s been awhile, and there’s a small but strangely urgent part of me that doesn’t want “little MORSE” doing any worse than he already is.
My friend plays awhile, and “little MORSE’s” game improves, if slightly. I’m left wondering which is better – a game in which the players are guided by their own programming – left to stumble and score by rules that don’t make themselves clear – or one where they receive divine intervention. After all, my friend can’t play both sides. So which is better? A Watchmaker who comes in, sets the universe up, then heads out for eternal beers? A god who takes sides on a whim, one that has little to do with the people on those sides?
Whoa. It’s like a bad Philosophy 101 course in here.
I don’t think I’d realized, prior to the apparent religious experience of Fifa Soccer, the power of identification that video games have. No wonder the U.S. Army is now sponsoring them. If Soccer was this intense for me, how about a game in which I mow down hundreds of human, enemy soldiers in photo-real environments? What the military seems to have keyed into is that video games put you so far into an experience that it can make effective training for actual real-world scenarios. The Enemy in video games is pixilated non-corporeal, and in endless supply. We can eliminate increasingly realistic people without batting an eyelash or losing any sleep. We can get really, really good at it.
That sounds scarier than I’d intended it to.
Fifa Soccer 2006 is a pretty impressive-looking piece of work. It’s also a pretty good time. I ended up giving it a whirl myself, despite my arguably-insane fears about ruining “little MORSE’s” life. If All-thumbs McGee here can handle the game play, the rest of you experienced types should be able to run circles around me. Whether or not you end up enjoying it depends, I’d think, upon whether or not soccer appeals to you innately (the same, I suppose, could be said of this article. Your enjoyment of it is largely dependent on your tolerance for digression, attempted wit, and a thorough lack of knowledge about the subject at hand).
Maybe I’ll have to try a few new games. Have they gotten around to remaking Burger Time yet? Just imagine the possibilities. A first-person shooter pitting your stranded fry-cook against zombified fried eggs. Doom with foodstuffs.