If you’re old enough to have played the early generations of football video games, then you’re sure to have sat back wistfully at some point in your life and muttered: “I just wish they were more realistic, you know?”. And you’d have had a point. Football in all its glory is a highly complicated game, and only in recent years have the game mechanics reached anything like the point where they can simulate it realistically.
While we can look at FIFA in the modern era and see how it has risen to become an esports stalwart with people making actual real-money bets on contests, the same wouldn’t have worked in the early 1990s. At that stage, where you could figure out how to beat the game AI within a few days of play, there wouldn’t have been many people heading to Openchange.org to put a few dollars on you beating your best friend in a best-of-three competition. But in asking for a bit more realism, have we unleashed a beast we cannot control?
Games will never be totally realistic
When we talk about realism in football games, what we generally mean is that things shouldn’t happen in those games that don’t happen in real football. Early video games were full of those things. Balls would come to a complete stop in the middle of the pitch with no player even in the frame. Goalkeepers would theatrically dive to stop shots that hadn’t been hit yet. Manchester United were good. (Actually that one was realistic for the time. Ask your dad.) But the thing is, with humans controlling them, football games aren’t going to be realistic, because as good as AI and motion capture get, you can’t model real football accurately.
Football games should never be totally realistic
We didn’t know it back in the first generation, but asking for a football game to be realistic is the ultimate in “be careful what you ask for”. As long as you knew what you were doing with the real old school FIFA games, a pass to a chosen player would go to that player and be controlled. Even real professional players – even Andrea Pirlo – misplace passes sometimes. Or they pass it perfectly, and their teammate shins it into the advertising hoardings before looking over apologetically and applauding the intent. As game mechanics have become more realistic, there is more of that kind of thing in more recent games. And it’s infuriating.
On FIFA 22, if you shoot like this , you'll miss sha… Keeper will catch it. pic.twitter.com/tJmtiHoQHk
— 𝕋𝔼𝔾𝔸™ 🦅🦍 (@Tegadeyforyou) May 30, 2022
We need football games to be at least a bit unrealistic
Even the most faithful football simulation, Football Manager, isn’t as realistic as we like to imagine it is. Page upon page of lovingly curated statistics. Evermore intricate tactics. Hurtful comments from the in-game news service when you draw 0-0 with Norwich. Yes, that’s pretty much on the money. Taking over at Plymouth Argyle, getting them to the Premier League by adopting the 4-1-5 formation and Bosmanning your way to a world-class squad? While we’d like to see someone try it in real life, we’ve a feeling it wouldn’t quite go like that. And that’s the point. You’re not Pep Guardiola, you’re not Kylian Mbappe, and if football games were realistic, they’d be too hard. Let’s enjoy them for what they are.