By dankempster 2 Comments
The gifts may all be opened and the turkey all gone, but here at DanKempster Towers, Christmas isn't quite over yet. There's still one thing that must be done, and I'm not talking about that mountain of washing-up in the kitchen. I'm referring to the writing of the final instalment in this year's three-part Christmas Mega-Blog. If you missed part one or part two, you can find them here and here respectively. While you get caught up with those, the rest of us will move on with today's entry into the esteemed Hall of Mega-Blogs:
Part Three - The Master League Mystery
A quick disclaimer to avoid any potential confusion: for the duration of this blog, I will be using the word 'football' to refer to the sport you American-types know as 'soccer'. I am not talking about American football.
Let's get this fact out of the way first and foremost - I am not a football fan. I have no real problems with the sport itself, which by all accounts seems like a perfectly fine game on the occasions I've played it with friends. My problem with football is derived purely from the professional game and everything that surrounds it. I cannot abide the whole 'money culture' of top-flight football - the fact that some players earn more in a week than a lot of regular folk bring home in five years, simply for kicking a bag of wind around, is enough to make my blood boil. It irritates me that several of the sport's most-revered players do nothing to earn the adoration they command, their behaviour in too many cases landing at the opposite end of the spectrum. The yob culture and hooliganism, which while no means widespread is nonetheless tolerated and even condoned by some fans, makes me sick to my stomach. That people can be abusive, racist, or even murderous over a fucking game of football was enough to convince me I wanted to play no part in the upholding of this sporting institution.
And yet, removed from the grimness of reality and transposed into a virtual realm, football becomes something that not only interests me, but also that I can become completely absorbed in. Yes - despite hating professional football, I thoroughly enjoy playing football video games. This year alone, I have invested a surprising seventy hours into Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, a time sink beaten only by some one-hundred-and-fifteen hours spent in Skyrim at the start of the year. Almost all of that time has been spent in the game's deep and involving Master League mode, in which the player takes a default team of fictional footballing no-hopers and, through a combination of training and transfers, tries to turn them into European champions. There's just something about virtual recreations of the sport that manages to captivate me in a way that their real-life counterpart could never hope to. I've long wondered what that something might be, and after giving it a lot of careful thought, I think I've got an answer.
I've been intending to write a blog about this for quite some time, but it's only while playing through more of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011's Master League mode over the last couple of months that I've started to feel that I can justify my willingness to play these games at length, in spite of my distaste for the sport they represent. In that two-month time frame, I've taken my team of promising young players from relative obscurity in the middle of the second division to competently holding their own in the English Premier League, vying for a potential qualifying spot in the lesser of two European tournaments. Part of it might well be down to the separation from reality inherent in these games - within the virtual realm, their ungodly wages don't matter, their inappropriate behaviour ceases to exist, and abusive fans are reduced to lifeless cardboard cut-outs sitting in the stands. All that's left, then, is the action that unfolds upon the pitch - the game itself, and as I've said above, I don't have any problem with that at all.
But if that psychological aspect plays any part in my enjoyment of modes like Master League and the FIFA series' Ultimate Team, I'm convinced it's just a small one. What really draws me into these modes, I think, are the same attractions that still draw me into vast RPGs - namely, the promise of character management and development, strategic battling, and several hours of progression from next-to-nothing status, ultimately paying off with an ultimate showdown. That probably sounds crazy, but give me a chance to explain:
- Character Management & Development - This is evident in the mechanics of squad management and player growth and decline. A big part of building a competitive team in Master League is picking up promising young players from the transfer market and encouraging them to develop into potentially world-class players through a combination of training and match experience, in much the same way an RPG player will see their characters grow and become stronger over the course of an adventure. I get an undeniable thrill out of picking up a tender youngster and turning him into a defence-terrorising monster or an unbeatable centre-back.
- Strategic Battles - This, unsurprisingly, refers to the meat and potatoes of the gameplay - the football matches themselves. While the mechanics can be explained reductively as 'get the ball and kick it into the net', there's a lot more than that going on in any on-pitch battle. Every player has their own individual strengths and weaknesses, the former of which can be used to one's advantage, and the latter of which should be guarded against as best as possible. There's nothing more exhilarating than identifying an opponent's weakness, exploiting it successfully, and being rewarded with a goal. Sometimes it happens the other way, of course, but such is the nature of football. These battles of strategy and attrition are a big part of what keeps me coming back for one more match in Master League.
- 'Zero-To-Hero' Progression - Pretty much every RPG ever conceived has been centred on the idea of taking one or more relative nobodies and, through the investment of time, money and experience, gradually transforming them into the most powerful force their world has ever known. Replace the fantasy world and tropes with a football pitch and you essentially have the core conceit of any Master League campaign. Building a squad to be reckoned with is no easy task - you have to scour the transfer market for bargains, allocate your training resources wisely, and then (most importantly) translate those purchases and statistics into a convincing performance on match night. Currently nearing the end of my fourth season, I've come a long way from my starting point, but I still have a long way to go if I hope to keep moving upwards and ultimately achieve my final aim of winning the UEFA Champions League.
So there you have it. That's the most likely reason why this anti-soccer fuddy-duddy loves football video games - because under the hood, they're essentially just great big football-themed Final Fantasies and Skyrims that stimulate all the same RPG-loving pleasure-centres in my easily-fooled brain. I'm sure Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 will continue to see several more hours of playtime well into 2013. If I ever lift that Champions League trophy, I'll be sure to let you all know. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading this year's Christmas Mega-Blog. I hope you've all had a brilliant Christmas, and wish you all the very best for the coming New Year. I'll be taking a brief break from my hectic year's-end blogging schedule tomorrow, but I'll be back on Friday night with the first instalment of my four-part End Of 2012 Awards. Take care y'all, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Sam & Max Episode 4: Abe Lincoln Must Die! (PC)