Year-to-year, the FIFA video game franchise consistently ranks as the premier soccer video game. In 2016, according to Electronic Arts (EA), FIFA 17 was the top-selling console game, leading EA to generate over $1 billion dollars in cash flow for the first time in company history (Grubb). Customers repeatedly purchase the FIFA games to find updated teams, graphics, and occasionally features, such as The Journey, which I wrote about in my first game log. Consistently in my XBOX Live friends list I find friends playing FIFA 18 online, confirming my belief that fans of the FIFA franchise are the main customers who come back year after year to purchase the newest game.
Associated with this customer base that finds consistent overlap between FIFA games is a common understanding of sportsmanship in the games, or an “adherence to a body of written conventions and unwritten local norms” (Moeller et al.). I contend that in the FIFA video game community, an agreed upon game mechanic is that a player will fully commit to trying to score goals in order to make the game a fair, back-and-forth, entertaining competition. Ryan M. Moeller, Bruce Esplin, Steven Conway, authors of the article Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers, write that sports games are unique because while their mechanics are undoubtedly of a video game, the rules of the video game mimic the exact rules of real life sport. Moeller, Espin, and Conway explain that while many styles of play are permitted in the game, the gaming community agrees upon norms that are acceptable, one of which is sportsmanship. Within this category of sportsmanship is a commitment to making the game fair and exciting for both players.
Being a member of the FIFA 18 gaming community, I can attest that when both players are playing fair and free-flowing styles, the game is mutually enjoyable; it is when one player resorts to “conservative” tactics that the game becomes unfair and unsportsmanlike (for example of fellow FIFA players that agree with me, see the EA Sports FIFA forum).
For this game log, I set out to do exactly what every FIFA player hates: break that norm. In breaking this unsaid norm of playing fair and entertaining soccer, I hoped to discover “important things [sports games tell us] about human behavior, social interaction and sports culture in the information age” (Moeller et al.).
The first choice I made was a very strategic one. As Moeller, et al. explain, sports games like FIFA are unique because they mimic real sports in terms of rules, but the playing mechanics and norms may differ greatly. I chose to play as FC Barcelona in an “Online Exhibition” because FC Barcelona is known for a style of soccer that relies on extended possession, a style of soccer that FIFA players hate to play against. Therefore, this game is not entirely outside the realm of reality, but in terms of FIFA, this is a decision that goes against norms agreed upon by the gaming community.
I won the game 4-1 forcing my opponent to quit after 78 (sped up) minutes. The final statistics of the game are pictured above, and as you can see, I possessed the ball 80% of the game. In addition to playing a widely frowned upon style of soccer, I also watched every second of every replay for every goal I scored—a technique understood by FIFA players to get under the skin of the opponent. Overall, I played a style of FIFA the least sportsmanlike one could imagine—the only element missing from my play was the “trash talking” element.
Deriving from the results of what happened, when my opponent quit, it was a tactic for he or she to preserve their dignity by avoiding suffering a 90 minute loss. Moeller, et al. discuss that “Some online players simply disconnect their game systems when they are not winning; depriving their opponent of victory.” However, EA penalizes these “plug-pullers” by diminishing their online XP and rewarding the winners of the games with points.
What does this one game tell us about greater society? Acknowledging that one game’s result is not generalizable for an entire society, we can still make some assumptions, considering that this is not a random phenomenon—players “pull the plug” when they are losing in an unsportsmanlike manner frequently. However, these players that do pull the plug do not like to lose in a shameful way. When a gamer has no chance to win and are being humiliated in the process, they usually act in a manner to preserve their dignity, such as quitting or sending a insulting message. Though I hated the way I played this FIFA game, I am thankful for the generalizations that it taught me about the FIFA gaming community, and greater, society as a whole.
Grubb, Jeff. “EA: ‘FIFA 17 Was the Best-Selling Console Title in the World in 2016.’” VentureBeat, 31 Jan. 2017, https://venturebeat.com/2017/01/31/ea-fifa-17-was-the-best-selling-console-title-in-the-world-in-2016/.
Moeller, Ryan M., et al. “Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers.” Game Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, Nov. 2009. Game Studies, http://gamestudies.org/0902/articles/moeller_esplin_conway.