Video Game Videos Are Reality TV For Gamers

When the media talk about football video games, they most often mention EA Sports Fifa and Football Manager. They are, after all, the best sellers in their category, and they have a lot in common, at first glance. Yet, although FIFA and FM are both sports video games, they not only belong to different genres but also to different cultures.

Part of this difference is in the gameplay, but there are also fundamental differences in how the game design interacts with the real world. For FIFA, gameplay and game design are influenced by a very specific aspect of football: its television broadcasting. For FM, the influence is more in the world of “big data”: the quantification of football and its economy.

“Fifa” and television

A simple look at FIFA makes it clear that this game seeks more to simulate the TV broadcast of a football match rather than an actual football match. In-game elements such as camera angles, close-ups, audio commentary, pre- and post-game analysis, and even goals and their “replays” ensure that the player does not become immersed in the game as a football player or coach, or even as a supporter, but as a viewer.

Such an aesthetic wasn’t so dominant in the 90s when many football afk arena tier list

video games hit the market. Some of these early football simulations depicted the pitch as a two-dimensional view from above, something radically different from what you see on television; the gameplay was also very different: the emphasis was not on the individual player but rather on team play, with a quasi-cartographic representation inspired by wargames .

In time, the gameplay of FIFA resembles the “highlights” , these summaries of a football match, where the goalscoring opportunities are compacted in a video of two or three minutes. The game design and match engine are focused on producing as many scoring chances in three minutes of play as in a real life ninety minute match. And just like those TV summaries, goal celebrations take up much of those few minutes, highlighting the cheering players more than the goals themselves (not to mention making the rest of the game invisible).

This television realism is consistent with a heroic portrayal of football. The over-representation of player celebrations amplifies the impression that football is a star duel , to the detriment of tactical team play, which would require wider television shots and fewer untimely close-ups. In FIFA, real-life football stars are essential to the game, and their avatars are the heroes the player (and viewer) identify with. In this logic, the simulation of the football game depends largely on the individual characteristics of the modeled football heroes, more than on the collective team spirit, a characteristic largely neglected.

This influence of TV on FIFA is also sometimes reversed. The so-called “dead fish” goal celebration taken up by Jimmy Briand in real life, in front of the television cameras, caused a stir because it was directly inspired by the game FIFA. Today’s football players belong to a generation that has actually played FIFA since a young age, which in turn influences the way they play football.

“Football Manager” and big data

FM gameplay does not rely on TV broadcasting at all. FM’s stated goal is to simulate a coaching career. Its ambition is similar to a deterministic scientific model where football players are modeled and quantified, football match scores are solved by systems of equations involving as many parameters as possible, which incidentally makes the game very demanding in computing power. To build a successful soccer team, the gamer has to crunch a lot of numbers, and his job is more like that of a “data analyst” than that of a trainer in tracksuits on the pitch.

The Football Manager game website . Soccer Manager

Football Manager quantifies hundreds of thousands of real football players (some of whom play in obscure leagues) and the reliability of this constantly updated database is essential for gameplay. Football players in FM are not avatars heroic like in FIFA. They are the countless anonymous and tiny quantitative representations of an entire world of football, translated into a database built by the gaming community themselves.

In recent years, the success of the database (parallel to the commercial success of the series) has reached the point where vivid examples of real football players have become football stars a few years after FM predicted their success . These success stories (Lionel Messi is often quoted, but there are also famous flops) are enough to give FM a credibility that goes beyond the gaming world and begins to be recognized in the real world of football. In a few years, the quality of the database has acquired in real life a notoriety of predictability of future talent. This is the game’s first performance. In the mid-2000s, it was suspected that real-life football clubs signed players based on intelligence taken from the FM database. Nowadays, clubs openly admit it, and this database is even sold independently of the video game.

At the same time, the “big data ” fashion is gradually spreading in real football. Companies that offer metrics to quantitatively assess players on data collected during matches are flourishing. A regime of “techno-scientific promise” is set up, linked to a market: the transfers of football players in real life are quantified in tens of millions of euros, and the usual recruitments are based on an opaque rationality. Clubs are becoming more and more data-hungry in the hope of streamlining their investment in players. Additionally, the thriving sports betting industry is paying more and more attention to defining new metrics to improve its own calculated profits . There is a huge global financial challenge at play here, in terms of the relationship between football metrics and business models.

The conversation is in this context that the first performative successes of the FM database appeared. FM metrics are inspired by existing data analytics in football matches. The popularity of game metrics is such that they in turn influence how to define the metrics of companies that collect data in real matches. This leads to a situation where the line between football stats and game metrics becomes blurred. This is the second performativity of the game: the FM deterministic model is inspired by data analysis in football, but this model also designs metrics that, in turn, penetrate into real-world data analysis. Like the first performativity concerning players and their quantification, this second performativity in terms of metrics is the result of a mutual influence between the world of football and the world of Football Manager.

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