As someone born post 1980 I’m fairly hedonistic, but recently I’ve come to despise an aspect of my bourgeoisie behaviour, and how easily it has transcended reasonable moderation.
My intentions were benign; to have more options available to me when gaming (it’s a way of unwinding). Plus, it had, to my astonishment, been ten years since I’d last played a footie game, the legendary Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on the PC. This unintentional exile provoked an additional curiosity – just how and how well had football games evolved during the past ten years?
To answer the question, the FIFA franchise has evolved the genre into an infuriating, exasperating and piss boiling experience. EA have concocted a game mode so cynical that it makes you question whether the act of going out and punching a wheelchair user has less in common with society’s most regressive and destructive impulses than engaging (this is a euphemism in the truest sense) with FUT – an abbreviation for FIFA Ultimate Team – does.
Before we get to how FIFA 17 extorts many of its players it’s important to understand why it can. Despite its flaws and mendacious intent, this can be an enjoyable game. It is of course a given that all 4K graphics are terrific, so blathering on about its excellent graphics and player likenesses is a waste of bandwidth.
Online play against other players is terrific fun, when there’s no lag of course. It’s the unpredictability and variety, which the non-online game modes and playing against AI controlled opposition lack, that I find so enticing. You could run into any standard of team or player, they could know all of the skill moves and give you a right pasting, or they could be completely clueless and reckless, and, even better, there’s scope for everyone to develop their own distinctive style of play. Certain players prefer a slow possession based game, others operate at a frantic end-to-end tempo while some fall somewhere in-between the two.
FIFA 17 has authentic touches; everything is official and up to date (this matters to people as anal as I am), mannerisms and celebrations are tailored to specific players, but this dedication to surgical accuracy inhibits gameplay at times; the insertion of the whole charade of showing that utterly stupid injury rule of giving the ball back to opposition is tiresome and eventually starts to grate. Shooting accuracy feels erratic and scoring goals from outside the box is just too hard. Long range screamers are fun, and this game could do with more of that in general. Initially I suspected the decline of my motor functions, that begins to occur to us all in our mid-thirties, was to blame for me being crap at shooting, but the passing mechanics were relatively easy to learn and are the most varied I’ve ever utilised, so now I’m worried that I’m just as paranoid as Donald Trump.
No game is perfect of course (though Sensible Soccer 92/93 felt like it), so these are superficial quibbles. It’s the concept of FUT, and its implied promise, that is, on the surface, and without prior experience and investigation, a brilliantly enticing premise – earn the right to build your ultimate team – that I’ve developed a burning hatred of.
Quick tangent here – I always thought coincidences were a load of tosh, and this inclination has only strengthened in recent years – thanks to digitalism we’ve birthed a cultural nebula which is constituted of (mostly) derivative ideas and knowledge. This means true coincidences, which involve the element of surprise, are rare, or are mistaken as such due to momentary forgetfulness. In a lot of cases the striking suddenness of a coincidence is manufactured due to knowledge of esoteric irrelevant cultural trivia being remembered. I conjured a good example of this – addiction affects all echelons of society, but because this article was in its embryonic stages when I remembered that PES6 on the PC featured Brazilian striker Adriano on the cover (it also featured Kim Kallstrom, who was shite), it felt like a fitting coincidence and anecdote to use in this piece to neatly validate my position on FIFA 17. Adriano’s career quickly started to unravel not long after PES6’s release due to alcoholism. See what I mean about coincidences being a form of intellectual hedonism? At its worst it leads to comparing a disease, or complex emotional turmoil that’s manifested itself as destructive behaviour, with my petty frustration at the cynicism of a fucking game.
Nonetheless all addictions are cruel and malicious, and FUT is the ultimate virtual crack den. To most it’s only annoying in a mildly depressing way. It entices its users with the promise of earning packs (and therefore the chance of getting better players) by winning the various single player and online leagues, challenges and formats available. If the earning of packs was confined to such means, and the trading of players using coins which you gain from winning matches, then fair enough. But unsatisfied with the revenue from unit sales of the game and the product placement they allow within it, EA had to be really fucking greedy. God knows what year they introduced it, but instead of playing and earning packs, you have the option of buying FIFA points to procure packs instead.
Just as the next crack hit is guaranteed to dull the pain and misery, so the prospect of buying FIFA points to buy gold player packs to try and pack an inform Ronaldo, or hell, just even Phil Coutinho would do me thank you very fucking much, provides the same cyclical ruse. You’re offered a guaranteed window of happiness, where achieving pure blind luck is feasible. But just as crack cocaine wears off, FIFA points and coins are finite, unless you have more cash to spend, of course, and if you don’t, well, you’re often left frustrated and unfulfilled.
In the material world enticing folk who own nice things with the possibility of owning even nicer things is easy, the hard part is developing a system of extortion that shrouds its cynical nature. Sometimes that’s not even necessary, we know we’re being ripped off, but if it’s only our additional (disposable) income we’re wasting, and we may be able to glean some enjoyment from the process, then we can justify it. FUT successfully taps into that western/first world sense of entitlement. Most of us have had things so good all of our lives that we subconsciously believe we deserve even more happiness, or that it’s bound to happen to us, eventually, if we keep trying or playing.
FUT leaves you longing to rectify matters through building two forms of unshakable frustration that occur during and after the fact; that we’re not getting the rewards we deserve or that we should know better. I’ve experienced both, it’s exasperating when yet another pack opening brings you a slow centre back or flapping keeper with an unconscionably high rating. As with any successful opiate, it robs you of the things that matter most – pleasure, time, dignity and money. You’ve opened a bunch of packs and are now out of coins or FIFA points, so having invested so much of the things above you convince yourself that the next pack is the one that has that Lionel Messi walkout. It has to be, because it just does, man. Playing the slot machines in Vegas is the perfect analogy here, if you put a coin in the slot enough times you know you’ll win, eventually, but just how many attempts will it take? How much will it cost you?
The first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem. So, here goes, I bought FIFA points. That’s my fucking problem, I succumbed, and it cost me £32. So yes, I’m motivated by bitterness, that my initial reaction to many failed pack openings was to buy more packs instead of a measured and constructive reaction (writing this piece), and because my temporary state of manic delusion ‘that it could/should be me’ put me one step closer to the kind of dodgy theisms that sees poor people give money to TV evangelists. Or maybe, just as depressingly, I’m as fickle as anyone else, and my perspective would be benevolent had I packed an inform Andres Iniesta or Mats Hummels? Maybe these TV evangelists are right and there’s still time for me to find Jesus? And if I do, perhaps my donation wouldn’t have been a waste after all.
Speaking of media related scams, the worst part, or result of FUT, is FUT YouTubers, who are disingenuously, disgracefully and successfully proliferating this pack buying culture. This lot have built a cachet (I wish this use of the word was ironic) or followership, through buying up thousands of FIFA points to make videos of them reacting to a series of pack openings that the normal player simply couldn’t afford to buy, either with real money or in coins earned through in-game achievements. There’s little doubt the videos are heavily edited, not showing you the hundreds of dud packs they go through just to get to something worthwhile or rare. They’re able to do this only because they receive ad revenue through a high number of video views. Think about this equivalent; say Keith Richards, a millionaire, with access to the purest form of smack, decided to open a YouTube account advertising the virtues of his seventies lifestyle to unemployed folks on a housing scheme. People would rightly lose their shit.
I understand why they’ve accumulated such popularity. For someone who has played the game, invested significant time playing FUT and gotten nothing from their pack openings, would be interested in seeing some get walkouts. Like a UFO sighting, seeing is believing, they show you that it does happen. I’d provide links as examples, but that would just help these bastards, and they don’t need or deserve it.
I’m no communist, so normally I don’t begrudge other people their success, but I’ll make an exception with these fucking cunts. They’re fake as a pair of page three tits. Don’t watch their videos. Part of me wonders whether EA co-operate, via revenue sharing, with these people to promote the culture of buying FIFA points? Because remember, there’ll be a FIFA 18, and there’ll be FUT in that too.
This makes me try to think of solutions. The most extreme of which is not playing FIFA 17. A less drastic act is not playing FUT. Maybe next year I’ll try PES instead? Or perhaps I should just admit that the game is up, and that these forms of unfettered digital capitalism have corrupted virtual football too.