Why is FIFA called ‘FIFA’? I don’t mean ‘why is the organisation FIFA called FIFA?’ That’s obvious. FIFA stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) I mean ‘why is the popular series of games in which football occurs called FIFA?’ Fans Imitate Football Administration? Football Interesting Football Amazing? It could be Forty Imaginary Floating Archbishops for all I know.
If I had never heard of FIFA (the game) and someone told me that EA was making a game called FIFA 16, I would guess it was the latest in a highly successful series of games about FIFA (the organisation) and that it had nothing to do with playing football. That would be a reasonable assumption, I think. FIFA itself isn’t football. It’s the governing body. I’m aware that there are management elements in the FIFA games, but still: it’d be like making one of those games about warfare in, say, the ex-Yugoslav states, with tanks and guns and rocket launchers, and calling it United Nations Security Council Resolution 713 (out July 2015 for Xbox One and Playstation 4).
Before I go on, I should make it clear that I have never played FIFA, although I have watched it over shoulders. I also used to play Striker, the primitive beep-boop football game released on about six consoles 22 years ago. That bordered on the entertaining, because it lacked any sense of realism. The little inch-high players moved about in a jerky eight-directional way, kicking a ball which obeyed such cartoony-physics that it might as well have been a drunk Golden Snitch, all to the haunting, repetitive, echoing cheers of an invisible crowd that hissed out of the speakers like ghostly waves. FIFA doesn’t benefit from this weird feel. It’s now so realistic that it effectively purports to be real football. I don’t like actual football, let alone pretend football.
Maybe that’s a better name for the game? Pretend Football. That works and it’d satisfy pedants. So let’s split the next FIFA game in two. Pretend Football (which would be the running-around-and-kicking-a-ball-game) and another FIFA-based game called something like Super Sepp 3 – Revenge of Qatar.
This would allow players to truly experience the day-to-day administrative tasks of FIFA and everything that goes on between those four walls in Zürich. Take control of Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, and enjoy non-stop legal wrangling with various sporting NGOs in 30 unique office environments! Hold down the B-button to negotiate with Russia! Head back to your office and avoid the Ethics Committee by tapping X to dash down corridors and Z to peer around corners! Train up your Sepp Blatter and gain experience in giving speeches, shaking hands and openings envelopes dramatically, then trade it over the internet with players around the world! And there wouldn’t be a football in sight. I predict that would be as least as popular as the current edition of FIFA.
New thoughts emerge: I wonder if there’ll come a time when the original FIFA video game is played more than football. At that point, will football become known as ‘FIFA in real life?’ National FIFA-playing teams would compete in a World Cup for the delight of millions of viewers; a few devoted fans would meet up on bits of disused grass to kick a ball about in a match of Real-Life FIFA. Oh, and here’s another Tales of the Unexpected idea for you. Today, FIFA-players pretend to be famous footballers, right? In yet another alternate universe, the skill of FIFA-players would be so great, and computer-brain interface technologies so advance, that we’d enjoy better games if FIFA-players could directly control footballers with games-console-style controllers. Famous FIFA-players, with million-pound salaries, would sit in specially adapted rooms at the top of the stadium, controlling the players as they run, kick and spit. You’d have to learn button combos to control swearing. More complicated combos would produce more colourful cursing.
I predict this would be especially entertaining. It’d be particularly good if the system experienced lag. Imagine the frustrated commentators: ‘And Rooney goes in to clear it. The ball has, of course, already been cleared. Torres on the header. Torres. Torrrresss! Oh! So close! He misses by 40 metres. No, wait, here we go, it’s bounced off a shin and is heading for the goal. And… and… it looks like the wireless has gone down. Has it? Yeah, the players have frozen. Give us a second. The ball has rolled out of play.’
‘Oh, forget this, I’m gonna go play Striker.’