Before I went to university, I remember being reserved. The idea of having to make new friends excited and scared me in equal measure. I was confident and outgoing, but those first few days are tough for anyone. I remember thinking, more than anything, “Please, can just one person in my halls play FIFA. All I need is one great friend to latch on to”. Turns out, everyone played it. Well, the quote unquote lads did anyway.
FIFA in university was a language. It proceeded language, in some cases. I didn’t need to know how to speak Spanish or French, and people didn’t need to know how to speak English. But, if they knew the language of FIFA, they were welcome any time to join me on a 12 minute rollercoaster of emotions in my 3 metre by 3 metre room. 12 minutes was all we needed to have the time of our lives (A line you’re free to steal next time there's a cute guy or girl at the bar).
A frankly heinous amount of hours were spent on the game, drawing disapproving stares and perfectly fair comments from the girls in our halls:
Soon, we started making our own little meta games to spice it up a bit too; not that it ever gets boring, mind you.
We would draft our own teams, taking it in turns to pick players from well-knowns Cristiano Ronaldo to unknowns like Samed Yesil (I loved the underdogs, which actually translates to “an excuse when I lose”), to help turn our friends in to enemies — last minute winners definitely came between me and my pals more than girls or money.
This takes me on to one of my best memories of university actually, which might be sad since it took place buried in my hotbox of a room in front of a tele and not under a midnight sky or in a foreign land. There’s nothing sad about good memories though, and one day we were picking players for our own fictional mega-teams. Matt, a good friend, chose “Toure” as he left the room, probably for his third bottle of Coca Cola, trusting us to put him in.
Maybe it’s more of a you-had-to-be-there kind of story, but we gave him Kolo Toure (An alright defender, which he definitely didn't mean when he said “Toure”) instead of Yaya Toure (Maybe the best midfielder on the game, which he definitely meant when he said “Toure”). Me and a great friend, Danny, were in stitches. When Matt returned, we were falling apart at the seams, trying to keep a straight face and contain what felt like the aftermath of swallowing a cartoon amount of live grenades, with belly laughs trying to tear us apart.
We played it cool though; or cool enough to deceive Matt.
We booted up the team management screen as one of either me or Danny were about to take him on, and we were on edge, waiting for Matt to realise what we’d done.
Upon realising, I don’t even think a syllable had left his lips yet when we exploded in to laughter, as his head and neck jutted back in disbelief that we’d pulled the ol’ Raiders of the Lost Ark on him and given him Kolo Toure. He was pissed, which made it even funnier, and he left the breathless pair of me and Danny to ourselves.
It might seem like I’m rambling, but it’s stories like this that make FIFA so good. I could write essays on them. It’s these stories that make up FIFA more than the game engine or cutting edge player likenesses. I tried for literally years to score a goal where I flick it over my head and volley it first time on the turn; on the final day of the final game of the house me and Danny eventually moved in to, I hit the post with it, with my favourite player. Heart breaking, but even missing that was still more enjoyable than other games.
It’s because of instant gratification. The headlines will tell you we’re living in a culture of it, and that people aren’t anything like the good old days. Terms like ADD will be thrown around because people might be a bit impatient. It’s not to say that FIFA is an ADD-gamers paradise, but maybe “training ground” would be more precise.
I was moved when Ellie stroked the giraffe in The Last of Us, my jaw was literally left swinging (Without the help of any narcotics) at the end of Bioshock Infinite, and I’ve been overwhelmed as I’ve finally beaten that Dark Souls boss.
But it’s so simple with FIFA, and so damn fast.
Why put hours in to a game like Fallout 4 or The Witness, when it takes two seconds to score a free kick that can have me jumping off my chair and broadcasting it to a group chat that is strictly for boss FIFA goals only. I’d never record a two hour long Zelda dungeon and send it to my friends with a fire emoji, but if I score an overhead kick, you’re damn right I’m doing that.
I’m still not sure if the first sentence of the previous paragraph is rhetorical or not. I watch films without expecting them to make me cheer like Whiplash or screech like The Thing, but it’s always in the back of my mind with games.
Time is a currency in today's society. I could spend ten minutes travelling to a town on The Witcher, or have a quick one-on-one on FIFA and probably have ten times as much fun.
…and that’s so insulting to CD Projekt RED (The Witcher 3 developers). That game is unquestionably better designed, prettier, has had more love pumped in to it and isn’t as designed to squeeze as many pennies out of the player as FIFA is or does.
EA have removed whole features from their games to 'improve the experience' of them; all in a vapid effort to leach more money out of their fans, which is insulting to the brand loyalty they continue to show. But, they get away with it anyway.
I feel like a mug that I’m always going back to FIFA for one more hit, and that it’s kept games like The Witcher 3 and Grand Theft Auto V out of my PS4 for so long. I hate it for the way it takes the piss out of the customers, seemingly never offering anything more than slightly improved graphics and a roster update for the new £50 instalment.
But I love that one day, I’ll finally score that goal.
I’ll show it to Daniel, I’ll show it to the group chat, and I’ll show it to myself every time I get a spare ten seconds. In potentially three seconds of gameplay, I could make physical something that I only slightly hate admitting is probably a lifelong ambition of mine. I can save a fake game world from the clutches of Brooding Villain X in fifty hours, or do that in a fraction of it.
Typing this, I also realise FIFA is testament to what can really make games great, and that’s friendships. Video games are why some of my friendships are so damn strong, and there's no shame at all in that. That’s why there will always be people that swear by couch co-op and split screen shooters. It’s masturbation compared to sex with someone you love.
FIFA has ruined gaming for me because it’s both the best gaming experience I’ll ever have, and the reason I can never play anything else. Maybe that’s too much like hating a girl or boy because you used to love them, but now no one else lives up to their standard. They gave you so many good times, so can you blame them for the bad?